2014: the year of big successes for Big Stories
2014 was a pretty big year for Big Stories. We turned six, and celebrated the only way we know how; by heading out to communities and collecting some incredible stories. Last year we had five residencies running across Australia and the Asia Pacific region: Coober Pedy (SA), Cowra (NSW), Beaudesert (OLD), Queenstown (TAS), and Raja Ampat (West Papua). We worked with dozens of professional and emerging filmmakers and hundreds of community members, all of whom brought their own unique talent to the Big Stories project.
On top of that, we made a bigger push to connect with people online through Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and blogging, and met a lot of amazing people and heard some incredible stories through those platforms, further proof that big stories really are wherever you choose to look for them.
To list every one of our successes in 2014 would probably take most of 2015, but luckily one project in particular has really embodied the massive steps forward we have taken in the past twelve months. Beaudesert, a town of just under 6000 in the Scene Rim Region of Queensland, was the site of one of our most successful residencies so far, with greater funding, community involvement and unique creative ventures.
For this residency we were lucky to have a number of generous and engaged sponsors, both local and national organisations from a number of different business sectors, including arts organisations, government bodies and educational facilities. We had support from Artslink, the Scenic Rim Council, the Regional Arts Development, the University of Queensland’s Centre for Communication and Social Change, Screen Australia, the Media Resource Centre, to name but a few. Not to mention all the amazing locals and Queensland based artists who gave up their time to participate in the project.
Community participation was a major highlight of the Beaudesert project; we had an overwhelming community response. In addition to the hugely generous people who shared their stories with filmmakers, more than 40 people braved our scarred Skippy Deluxe caravan to tell their stories, which were featured at the community screening in September. We had over 70 people attend filmmaking, media and storytelling workshops held in Beaudesert, plus 60 students who came to workshops at UQ. The community response to project, particularly after seeing the finished films, was overwhelmingly positive:
What a wonderful gift you gave to the community[…] It was just another jewel in the crown of how the arts, culture and heritage are slowly being valued in this district.
To say you done a tremendous job is an understatement…for me… it was astronomically out of this world.
But the aim of Big Stories has never been to show off filmmaking skills using small towns as a vehicle, but to empower communities to engage with their own stories, to honor the participants as makers of their own histories. By engaging with the community through local content producers, workshops and a highly collaborative process, we definitely achieved this in Beaudesert:
I am so proud of what we have achieved in such a short period of time and to have you with us on this journey. As community service workers, you don’t get to see the affects you have on people, or the finished product so to speak, such as a carpenter sees his house completed. Having you with us has shown that we are heading the right direction. We are still only in the beginning of our journey, this road is a long one, but when we have people like yourself and other services all walking in the same direction, the destination is irrelevant, the most important aspect is that we are together!
By working so closely with locals, we were able to focus clearly on the stories that meant the most to the Beaudesert community. We covered an array of community sectors and issues, notably exploring cultural and Indigenous issues with the Vanuatu and South Sea Islander Community and the Mununjale community and studies of significant social events, such as the closing of the meatworks. One of the most outstanding projects was the series of films focused on the local Young Men’s Group which encourages young men to engage with their cultural heritage and their community.
Not a lot of people know my heritage from my father’s side, and I am still learning more and more as I get older myself …The story touched me deep within my soul, questioning, creating tears, emotions & curiosity. This story has changed me from within & now I finally see!
– Sharne Iselin, Young Men’s Group
We had the privilege of working with a lot of young people, not only from the Beaudesert community but also the filmmakers and communicators of tomorrow with Students in the University of Queensland’s Master of Communication for Social Change playing a major role in the project. Sarah Ryan was the producer of the entire project and many of her fellow students assisted in filmmaking, photography, and a fantastic text mapping project. Local content producer Elijah Cavenagh produced a stunning series of films, but also represents a fantastic new element of our program: mentoring the new filmmakers. We first met Elijah in 2013 and assisted in the production of his Blackbird series. We can’t wait to see what he achieves in the future.
In the end, we produced over an hour of high quality documentaries, a flood of photo essays, and inspired a range of new creative projects. There were over 80 people directly involved in the filmmaking process and over 400 people attended Big Stories Beaudesert events.
The films and photos have been archived by both the Beaudesert Council and the National Film and Sound Archive: our small town big stories are being recognized as an important part of our nation’s history. If nothing else, that’s a lasting legacy that we can be proud of.
Here’s to doing again in 2015.