Producers - Ian Darling, Mary Macrae
Jane Tewson from the charitable organisation Igniting Change invited us to visit Port Philip Prison, to discuss a film project with a group of young first time offenders in the Youth Unit. Immediately we were impressed that the inmates had conceived a documentary project called STORIES FROM THE INSIDE. When they asked if Shark Island Productions could help them make their film, we jumped at the opportunity.
We believe in the importance of documentary, in telling real stories, and raising awareness about important social issues. We discovered that this group of inmates in the maximum security prison also believed in the power of documentary, and that their film could potentially make a real difference. We could see their genuine intent in wanting to tell their own stories, so that other young men and women would learn from their mistakes, and not make the same bad decisions that ended these guys up in prison. There seemed to be a good fit with both of our objectives.
From the outset we were keen to ensure that it would still be the inmates film in all respects. At the end of the process it was important that they could proudly and genuinely say that they had directed, edited and filmed the documentary. They showed us some of the interviews they had already filmed, and whilst their first attempts were admirable, we thought that with a bit of support, their film could be improved and make a greater impact, with a far wider audience. We set about planning a training program that would include directing, operating the camera, shot composition, interviewing techniques, story construction, still photography, editing and finally the design of the web site and DVD. We would then raise enough philanthropic funding that would enable us to create an education program, that would include a study guide and the possibility of streaming the film into every high school in Australia as a free curriculum resource.
Like all good documentary filmmaking, both time and trust are important ingredients in the process. In order to maximise the impact of the training program and the collaboration of making the film, relationships needed to be established in the unit, and this would take time. We felt that having a filmmaker who turned up every day in the unit would be an important ingredient to this process. Jaque Fisher was the perfect documentary maker for the task. He was young enough for the inmates to treat him as an equal, and an excellent cinematographer with all of the required editing skills. Jaque did an extraordinary job, and not only trained the participating inmates in all aspects of the filmmaking process, but created the perfect working relationship of commitment, reliability and respect. The inmates didn't feel threatened and alway felt that their original intent was being honoured.
We decided to use the same Canon EOS 5D cameras that we had shot our previous film PAUL KELLY - STORIES OF ME with. These cameras provided simple and effective ways of using multiple lenses, with different focal lengths and depth of field capabilities, assisting with the need to keep the identity of the prisoners hidden at all times. Two camera were used in all of the interviews, with one focussed primarily on the eyes, to humanise the interviews as much as possible, given the amount of heavy pixilation we would need to use in most shots to disguise the identities of the young prisoners.
Like all films, this has been a truly collaborative project. The daily support and guidance of Anne Hooker, the Youth Development Officer in the Youth Unit has encouraged the inmates every step of the way and enabled the film to now be a reality. Equally the support of the management team at G4S and Port Philip Prison has enabled us to deal with all elements of the approval process as smoothly as possible. The invaluable support from Jane Tewson and the team at Igniting Change provided much of the philanthropic support and guidance for the entire initiative. The team at Shark Island Productions have overseen all aspects of the production process, with Mary Macrae's excellent producer and production management skills, together with Sally Fryer's experience and guidance as consulting editor. And again we'd like to congratulate the inmates of the Youth Unit, together with Jaque Fisher, for what they have all achieved.
We hope this will educate a whole group of school kids, to ensure they don't make the same mistakes. We hope this film will stimulate active discussions in school classrooms across the country about the choices these young men made, and how students can learn from these events. We also hope that the filmmaking exercise had been extremely powerful for the inmates, and will prove to be a real and lasting part of their own journey toward reform, full employment on release and their engagement as active and positive participants in the community again.
Shark Island Productions