Ben Steel in ‘The Show Must Go On’.

While the impact of coronavirus on the screen industry has been sobering and tough for all, producer Sue Maslin is particularly concerned that the documentary sector is falling through the cracks.

Independent documentary – distinct from reality and factual entertainment, often associated with larger enterprise – is particularly vulnerable at this point in time, Maslin says.

The vast majority of such filmmakers work in either small companies, as sole traders or as contractors, with many falling outside of government support nets such as JobKeeper and potentially isolated. COVID has also coincided with the ABC cutting $5 million from independent commissions (much of which will come from the factual slate), and there is downward pressure on philanthropic funding due to the economic downturn.

Indeed, even prior to COVID the doc sector was vulnerable, battling market changes and diminished funding from broadcasters and screen agencies. Many such filmmakers self-fund development, often work in small teams and deal with difficult subject matter, which can lead to issues such as vicarious trauma.

Sue Maslin.

On Thursday, Maslin’s Film Art Media will present a free webinar for documentary filmmakers focused on mental health and wellbeing, supported by Screen Australia and the Documentary Australia Foundation (DAF).

“Our question for documentary filmmakers is very simple: Are you okay? I’m very concerned that documentary filmmakers have been under the radar in the broad conversations that have been taking place to date around the response to COVID,” Maslin tells IF.

The webinar forms part of the Wellness Roadshow, the centrepiece of documentary The Show Must Go On‘s impact strategy. Directed by Ben Steel and produced by Maslin, the film premiered on the ABC last October during Mental Health Week, highlighting mental health challenges faced by those working across entertainment in areas such as screen, music, dance and live performance.

Victoria University and Entertainment Assist research from 2016 showed that anxiety symptoms for those working across entertainment are 10 times higher than for the general population, sleep disorders seven times higher, and symptoms of depression five times higher. Suicide attempts in the industry are double the national average, and suicide ideation six times greater.

Over the past six months, Steel, Maslin and impact producer Diana Fisk have run panel discussions for hundreds of entertainment workers across Australia to discuss mental wellbeing; sessions aimed at providing resilience and resources to deal with to the challenges that come along with working in this industry. The events are put on in partnership and with support of organisations such as Entertainment Assist and the Arts Wellbeing Collective.

Initially, Maslin hoped to spark a national conversation around mental health, helping to remove stigma and encourage open discussion. However, the impact of COVID has “turbocharged” the conversation around financial, structural and mental health challenges in the industry as a whole. Wins have included getting the Support Act helpline extended to cover all sectors of the arts.

“We’ve gone way beyond fear of stigma. We are, as an industry, openly talking about these issues now because we understand the fallout and the consequences of COVID.”

Thursday’s session, tailored for docomakers and moderated by Maslin, will feature a panel that includes director Ben Steel; DAF director of impact and education Clara Williams Roldan; producer Pauline Clague, who manages the University of Technology Sydney’s Cultural Resilence Hub, and psychologist Julie Crabtree.

It’s Maslin’s hope that the session will give documentary filmmakers a forum to come together to realise they’re not alone, and give them vital resources. Ultimately, she wants to empower the documentary community.

“Don’t suffer alone. There is help. We’re here to help point you in the right direction, and drive an awareness that will hopefully make for better outcomes for all creatives, but particularly documentary filmmakers in this instance.”

To register for the webinar, go here.

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