Jazz musician Alan Hicks has directed just one feature documentary, Keep On Keepin' On, but he’s just won a $50,000 prize.
Hicks has been awarded the David and Joan Williams Documentary Fellowship, intended to reward creative ambition, intellectual rigour and innovation in documentary cinema.
“Alan, whose debut film attracted international critical and commercial attention, is on the threshold of what promises to be a bold and exciting career,” said Bob Connolly, speaking on behalf of the selection committee.
Keep On Keepin' On is based on the life of jazz legend Clark Terry (Quincy Jones's first teacher) and his relationship with 23-year-old blind pianist prodigy, Justin Kauflin whom Terry first taught at William Patterson University and with whom he continued to work despite his failing health.
The doc premiered to rave reviews at the Tribeca Film Festival in April 2014, where it won the Audience Award and the Best New Documentary Director Award.
"This music doc is an absolute delight, and moving and inspirational to boot," enthused Film Journal International's Kevin Lally. "A long overdue biography of a music icon… it’s something much more: a joyous and poignant tale of intergenerational nurturing."
Former Foxtel and News Corp CEO Kim Williams created the fellowship in memory of his parents, who died in 2008 and 2009.
The prize will enable Hicks to explore, expand and challenge his filmmaking practice and raise the bar of excellence in Australian documentary.
Hicks said: “I am extremely fortunate to have discovered documentary filmmaking in an unconventional fashion. I was a student of the late Clark Terry, and also played drums in his band. I felt that Clark’s was an important untold story, and I was in a unique position to tell it. I was surprised to discover that it was Clark’s teaching that would guide me through the filmmaking process.”
The fellowship has been awarded byannually the Australian International Documentary Conference and has now transferred to the Documentary Australia Foundation and in future will be biennial.
Williams said, “I am committed to supporting great effort in documentary for some years to come – it is a vital crucible to examination and thinking in accessible and creative ways which matter, driving necessary national conversations.”
The committee comprises Connolly, Victoria Treole and Julia Overton, supported by former AIDC director Joost den Hartog. Previous recipients are Jennifer Peedom, Matthew Bate, Juliet Lamont and Lynette Wallworth.
Hicks added: “What I learned studying jazz with Clark Terry was how to use patience and diligence to produce art. This was the key to his teaching of jazz and—thankfully—it translates across art forms. Patience mixed with diligence, while developing an eye for "connection", was how we achieved a high level of storytelling in Keep On Keepin' On. Although it was my first film, I treated it like I was studying a new instrument. It took five years to complete, but I consider that to be just my first five years of studying the craft of documentary filmmaking.”