Castlemaine Documentary Festival celebrates 10 years

The enduring and intimate regional event showcases top Australian and international documentaries, as well as career-building events for locals.
Cdoc Castlemaine Documentary Film Festival

Based in Castlemaine, in the heart of regional Victoria (about 90 minutes from Melbourne), the Castlemaine Documentary Festival (or C-Doc) is a unique factual film festival celebrating its tenth anniversary this year.

Supported and loved by the local community, as well as the larger Australian documentary sector, C-Doc is running between 14 and 16 June. Overseen by founder and festival director Claire Jager, and a board including documentary and broadcasting veterans and experts (some say ‘royalty’), C-Doc was once memorably described by former ScreenHub editor, the late David Tiley, like this:

‘Castlemaine (known to insiders as Upper Fitzroy) is a buzzing creative town, where even the railway station coffee is sold by an excellent actor. Each year the documentary festival gets better and better, so the films are carefully curated with excellent panels. They are screened in the Theatre Royal which is late goldfields, post-hippy shabby-chic and a great nest for a festival.’

Speaking about the festival’s tenth birthday, Jager said: ‘Our tenth anniversary is a milestone we’re thrilled to reach. It’s testament to hundreds of connections forged between filmmakers, films and audiences since the Festival’s inception.’

Jager said, ‘It also speaks to the enduring appeal of documentary cinema, which offers an extraordinary means of stepping into the lives of others, and brings out truths that are often more fascinating than fiction.’

This year, the festival features another curated selection. There are eight new Australian and international feature-length documentaries. Designed to foster conversations, screenings are accompanied by live and telecast Q&As, and all of the films will all be shown at Castlemaine’s historic Theatre Royal – the oldest continuously running cinema on Australia’s mainland.

Read: Trailblazers, Stan review: Matildas doco satisfies in snack size


2024 also sees the return of the popular ‘Locals’ program of short films in a competition that’s open to amateur filmmakers of every level, inviting them to submit a non-fiction work of up to six minutes’ duration in any style or genre. Films in the competition will be screened at an evening MC’d by Suzanne Donisthorpe and Tony Jackson.  

Jager said the Locals showcase ‘continues to attract more interest each year. Now in its third year, we’ve received our largest number of entries by far, with more films than we can program in a single session!’

She explained that Locals is supported by Club CDoc – ‘a year-round program of mentoring, skills-based workshops and presentations that encourages and supports amateurs and seasoned filmmakers alike. The program enables the supply of fresh new work to be submitted to our LOCALS film showcase at C-Doc each year, as well as creating career pathways within our region that otherwise don’t exist.’

‘Through Club CDoc activities to engage and support film practitioners, we’ve built a dedicated audience base within our community and are building the connective tissue that is so needed for a vibrant, collaborative creative scene in the regions.’

Jager said that operating the year-round program requires considerable curatorial and administrative support, and this year will see the launching of a membership drive to increase support, funding and reciprocal relationships.

Australian highlights

Australian highlights of this year’s Castlemaine Documentary Festival include opening night film Winhanganha, written and directed by acclaimed Wiradjuri poet and artist Jazz Money (also a guest of the festival); and the Australian premiere of activist animal doco Koalas, co-directed and produced by Georgia Wallace-Crabbe and Gregory Miller (also guests of the fest).

The eight feature films at the Castlemaine Documentary Festival 2024

Winhanganha (2023) – Opening night film

Written and directed by Jazz Money and produced by Elena Guest. ‘An exhilarating cinematic journey by acclaimed Wiradjuri poet and artist Jazz Money, Winhanganha (‘remember, know, think’) is a bold revisioning of Australian audiovisual history – encompassing contemporary television, feature films, sports programs and music clips – highlighting the complex ways in which archives represent and affect First Nations peoples. It features an original score by Filipino-Aboriginal rapper and composer Rhyan Clapham, aka Dobby.’

In Money’s words, ‘Working with archival footage has led me to consider the relationship between our recorded knowledges, and how we create new futures through which we inherit. My concept proposes an Indigenous perspective and lyrical journey through the NFSA collection, focusing on the human body as a location of expression and empowerment.’

Read: WINHANGANHA by Jazz Money to screen in selected Australian venues

Obsessed With Light (2023)

Obsessed with Light. Image supplied.

Directed and produced by Zeva Oelbaum and Sabine Krayenbühl, and co-produced by Christian Popp (Letters From Baghdad, 2022) Obsessed with Light is described as ‘a mesmerising rumination on the qualities of light and the enduring obsession to create.’

‘It pulls back the curtain on Loïe Fuller, who was a midwestern vaudeville performer (working with Buffalo Bill) before becoming an international star in Belle Époque Paris, and the very embodiment of Art Nouveau – the ‘Fairy of Light’. Wildly original, Fuller revolutionised early twentieth-century visual culture by inventing a new kind of spectacle – utilising dance, light and fabric in ephemeral, shape-shifting abstractions, and pioneering ingenious use of electricity for the stage.’

Starring Jerry As Himself (2023)

Directed by Law Chen, Produced and written by Jon Hsu and Law Chen. ‘This droll, fascinatingly unconventional documentary recounts the 2021 recruitment of a Florida family’s retired Taiwanese émigré father, Jerry, as a covert agent for the Chinese police – ostensibly to help expose an international money laundering ring. Tumult and insidious implications ensue, and notions of truth are turned upside down time and again.’

Getting It Back: The Story of Cymande (2022)

Directed and produced by Tim Mackenzie-Smith and produced by Matt Wyllie. ‘Cymande is the greatest 1970s band you’ve possibly never heard of. But if you’ve listened to the Fugees, De La Soul or the Wu-Tang Clan – or simply been on a dance floor anytime in the past few decades – you’ll recognise their irresistible, infectious sound. Formed in south London by nine self-taught Caribbean-born musicians, Cymande meshed funk, soul, jazz and Caribbean grooves to create a music that was political, spiritual, and brilliantly ahead of its time. This is their incredible untold story, embellished by interviews with Mark Ronson, Laura Lee and Mark Speer, DJ Maseo, Jazzie B, Cut Chemist and Louie Vega, among many other admirers in the industry.’ . Screening is followed by live music with The Afrobiotics.

The Gullspång Miracle (2023)

Directed and written by Maria Fredriksson and produced by Ina Holmqvist. ‘A “divine” sign leads two pious Swedish sisters to buy an apartment in the small town of Gullspång, where they find the seller to be near-identical to their elder sister, who died by suicide thirty years earlier. From there, all three women’s lives gradually unravel to their collective detriment; and a riveting, cleverly structured exploration of serendipity, faith, social divisions, family ties and personal identity unfolds.

The Koalas (2024) – Australian premiere

Co-directed and produced by Georgia Wallace-Crabbe and Gregory Miller. ‘In 2022 the Australian government listed the koala as endangered. After 25 million years’ survival, how can this iconic marsupial suddenly be at risk of extinction in the wild? Filmed in 4K on Australia’s east coast and in Ballarat, The Koalas investigates the devastating impact of habitat loss, and other mounting threats that necessitate urgent action. We meet many a koala along the way, together with a cluster of passionate, compelling characters – scientists, wildlife carers, activists and ecologists – who are united in their dedicated fight for the future of the species.

Apolonia, Apolonia (2023)

Directed and written by Lea Glob and produced by Sidsel Siersted and Malgorzata Staron. ‘When Danish filmmaker Lea Glob met French artist Apolonia Sokol in 2009, the latter appeared to have has a storybook life in the arts, having been born into an underground Parisian theatre group, raised within a community of artists and educated in her twenties at the prestigious Beaux-Arts de Paris.
But as Glob continued filming her friend while Apolonia sought her place in the art world, a far more complex story emerged. Thirteen years on, the women continue to reflect on each other’s paths in this captivating enquiry into art, love, sexuality, motherhood and representation. They also consider how women can succeed without compromising who they are at heart, in a world dominated by patriarchy, capitalism and war.

The Road To Patagonia (2022)

Directed by Matty Hannon and produced by Tye Markey. The Road to Patagonia is described as ‘a stunning, intimate, unflinching exploration of the human condition and the more-than-human world. Shot around the globe over 16 years, it’s a spectacular love story, a breathtaking paean to the natural world, and a heartfelt plea for our collective survival. The verité narrative begins with director Matty Hannon’s solo motorbike quest to surf the entire west coast of the Americas. Deep in the wilderness, his plans fall unexpectedly to pieces.

 The Castlemaine Documentary Festival is held annually in mid winter in central Victoria (90 minutes from Melbourne) in Castlemaine’s iconic Theatre Royal. The Festival offers a curated program of superb Australian and international non-fiction films. Audiences are introduced to a series of fascinating worlds populated by enthralling characters. The Festival provides a rich, multi-layered experience and connects audiences with film directors and contributors through in-venue and live telecast Q&A sessions. The aim is that the discussions continue long after the credits have rolled.

The 2024 Castlemaine Documentary Festival runs 14-16 June in Castlemaine, Victoria.

Rochelle Siemienowicz is the ArtsHub Group's Education and Career Editor. She is a journalist for Screenhub and is a writer, film critic and cultural commentator with a PhD in Australian cinema. She was the co-host of Australia's longest-running film podcast 'Hell is for Hyphenates' and has written a memoir, Fallen, published by Affirm Press. Her second book, Double Happiness, a novel, will be published by Midnight Sun in 2024. Instagram: @Rochelle_Rochelle Twitter: @Milan2Pinsk