Brushstrokes with Beck Cole
Beck Cole is part of a small cell of filmmakers who are bringing tough Indigenous stories to the big screen. Her debut feature, Here I Am, brings some of these filmmakers together: it’s shot by Warwick Thornton (Cole’s husband) and produced by Kath Shelper – the director/producer team behind Samson and Delilah. Set in suburban Port Adelaide, Here I Am follows a young woman’s struggle to rebuild her life and her family after being released from prison. We spoke to Beck and Kath in the week following the film’s premiere at Message Sticks Film Festival.
Beck – where did you get your start in the industry?
I started at Imparja (an Aboriginal television service in Alice Springs) as a cadet journalist, and then from there I went to Bathurst and studied Communications. [After that] I went to the ABC and ended up at the Indigenous unit there, under Rachel Perkins (Radiance; Bran Nue Dae). That was when I made my first documentary – maybe 13 years ago?
Was it luck or purpose that took you to Imparja in the first place? You must have been quite young…
I was, I was 16. And I didn’t want to go back to school – I was over school. So they said, ‘well you’ve gotta get a job then’. I did [the cadetship] for a year, and then I went back and did year 12 – because I’d decided I wanted to be a journalist – and worked in the newsroom after school. I guess it was pretty ambitious for a young girl, but it was fun – and there’s not a lot to do in Alice Springs!
How did journalism lead to filmmaking?
I started doing journalism [at Bathurst University] and didn’t particularly like it – and then the Media Production course was introduced and I said ‘I’ll do that!’ I’d always grown up with cameras around me, and influenced by Aboriginal media. [My family] has always been involved with CAAMA (the Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association). After I joined Imparja (I think the following year) my father became the director of CAAMA. Funnily enough, Warwick’s mother had just left that position!
BC: Yeah well in Alice, Aboriginal media, for people my age, has been a big influence – and I think these films that are coming out now are a direct result of that.
What was your first strong connection with cinema, growing up?
[Alice Springs] didn’t have even a cinema, so cinema wasn’t a huge influence – there wasn’t even a drive in. [But] I remember seeing Tracy Moffat’s Night Cries when it was first released [in 1990], and that was pretty amazing. I loved the film, I thought it was beautiful and intriguing. And I remembering seeing one of Warwick’s early films, Payback, which one of the lecturers showed us. Those films were quite influential – and I thought ‘yeah, I can do that!’
Kath – how did you and Beck come to work together?
I was working on a film in Alice Springs that Beck also worked on – Cold Turkey (2003), produced through CAAMA – so we spent lots of time together. It was a very tough shoot. And one day Beck said ‘I’d like to make a ghost story.’ And I was like, ‘Oh yeah, I’ll produce it!’ [Ed note: that film was Plains Empty, a 28-minute drama].
Beck – why did you feel so compelled to make Here I Am?
It was just this character [of Karen] – she got under my skin. She came from a concern I have about [the fact that] so many of those sorts of women are in prisons. I was possibly interested in exploring that through documentary, but then I thought [as a drama] it could be a good character study; telling the story within a set time gives you a beautiful opportunity to be observational, and really get to the heart of the matter.
What: Here I Am, Dir. Beck Cole
When: Opens June 2