Greta Thunberg and Rainn Wilson.
After working in the US for 11 years, Australian filmmaker Christel Cornilsen is keen to shoot a feature film in Australia next year, while maintaining her base in Los Angeles.
Earlier this year, the DOP, writer, producer and director completed An Idiot’s Guide to Climate Change, a six-episode short docuseries starring actor Rainn Wilson (The Office) and climate activist Greta Thunberg.
Now available on the Participant Media-owned digital company SoulPancake’s YouTube channel and on social media, the part-comedy, part-investigative series sees Wilson interview scientists and activists on how drastic climate change in the Arctic is impacting the rest of the planet.
It was her third documentary collaboration with Wilson but her first series as a director and lead writer.
“I was mostly in post-production for An Idiot’s Guide to Climate Change at the start of the pandemic so we shifted to working remotely, recording voiceover with talent, using centralized software for post-production and archive footage to convey story,” she tells IF. “As a director, the pandemic brought its technical challenges but it ultimately ended up enhancing the work.
Before that, she served as the DOP on Speaking Grief, a feature documentary and digital series commissioned by public media channel WPSU Penn State in Pennsylvania in collaboration with The New York Foundation. Distributed to PBS channels throughout the US, it premiered in May.
Written and directed by Lindsey Whissel Fenton, the film featured interviews with 20 grieving families and world-renowned grief experts to help viewers better understand and cope with the heaviness of grief. It’s available to view for free online at www.SpeakingGrief.org,
She also produced, wrote and directed Her American Dream, a short doc for MOSTe, a non-profit organisation for the education of disadvantaged girls.
For the past few years she has been writing and shooting two hybrid docuseries pilots, which she plans to pitch to networks in the US and Australia next year.
“I’d love to take my skills back down under and shoot there next year,” she said. “I’ve been developing a feminist coming-of-age, feature film script set in Australia, which is ultimately the story that made me become a filmmaker.
“I recently became a member of the Australian Directors’ Guild so I hope to starting building connections and bridging the gap between Hollywood and Australia. But no matter where I am, I want to create work that pushes the envelope both cinematically and ideologically.”
Aged 21, Christel set off for LA after graduating from UTS with a degree in Creative Writing and Cultural Studies.
Initially she worked as a camera assistant on Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman, music videos, feature films and documentaries – collaborating with such luminaries as Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg, Will Smith and John Travolta.
From there she moved up to producing, mainly documentaries and unscripted TV, while directing and shooting her own films on such subjects as ex-gang members in downtown LA, dominatrix dungeons in uptown Manhattan and women in rural Malawi.
” It takes a certain amount of grit and determination to become a documentary director from the ground up,” she said.
“I felt, in order to become a good director and intelligently control the gaze from a female’s perspective, I needed to learn technical inside out. This gave me the independence to execute the scenarios I was writing.”