Producer Donna Lyon fights to honour sexual abuse survivors

Left / Write // Hook started in the aftermath of Lyon's 18-month journey into competitive boxing.
'I came to the sport because I was angry,' says Left / Write // Hook producer Donna Lyon. Image: Ella Sowinska

Hi Donna. Can you tell us about Left / Write // Hook?

‘The project started in the aftermath of my 18-month amateur journey into competitive boxing. After clocking up more losses than wins, I realised I wasn’t pursuing boxing to be a fighter – instead I was using the sport to empower myself and physically connect to my body. I came to the sport because I was angry, which I knew was directly connected to my trauma as a survivor of childhood abuse.

‘I quickly realised boxing was more than anger – it was a delicate interplay between the physical and mental. I needed to be focused and present, yet agile and free. I found it incredibly difficult but also a wonderful mindful practice. I decided to set up a workshop for other survivors like me, but bring writing into the fold as a way to creatively talk about our experiences and then physically release them through boxing.

‘I ran the project successfully at my local gym then took it into the research space at the University of Melbourne. We got a creative arts and wellbeing research grant and worked with a small group of survivors. After two weeks of the project starting – which was also being filmed with the potential of making a documentary – COVID-19 hit.

‘We pivoted online and spent all of 2020 meeting on Zoom, doing the workshop in our homes. Out of this, came a huge volume of writing and we decided to turn our writings into a book publication. Now, we are working more on the documentary together. It’s been two years with this group so far and quite a profound journey of healing and transformation.’

Left / Write // Hook, edited by Donna Lyon. Loving Healing Press.

And now you have a film in the works about it?

‘The film received documentary development in 2021 through Film Victoria. Writer, Director and Producer Shannon Owen and myself as producer are excited to announce that Alice Burgin and Gal Greenspan from Sweetshop & Green are on board as producers and production company. So the team is growing and so is the project as we continue in its development stage. We hope to finance the full film this year and release next year.’

How important is it to you to tell this story?

‘This is a story about a group of survivors who fight every day to regain a sense of self and to eliminate the shame that was forced on them. Our stories are a microcosm of a much larger and pressing societal issue that is happening in our homes, institutions and communities. I believe our film will further this conversation and help other survivors to feel less alone. Telling this story is important to honour the survivors I work with and to provide hope and validation for other survivors who have experienced childhood sexual abuse.’

You were heavily involved in the film Disclosure – can you tell us a bit more about that?

‘I produced Disclosure, by writer / director Michael Bentham. We were  thrilled to end our theatrical run in Australia with an AACTA nomination for best indie film.

‘We then went on to win the ATOM award for best fiction feature film. Disclosure is on iTunes and looking to go on an SVOD platform soon. If you haven’t seen it yet … you should

Read: Film Review: Disclosure is a taut and mature debut

How do you balance being involved in such a hands-on way with film projects and working in Film at the VCA? 

‘The fortunate thing about being an indie producer is I generally only take on a couple of projects at a time (most producers have seven or more films or projects on the go). I am also lucky that at VCA my filmmaking practice feeds into my research work. Actively producing makes me a better teacher and thankfully I get to spend some of the time working on my film projects because it is all interlinked.

‘I am in a privileged position because I can focus on all the things I love when I’m at VCA rather than feeling like I’m missing out. Sometimes though, I long to sleep in to midday.’ 

Find out more at LEFT / WRITE // HOOK

Paul Dalgarno writes novels: A Country of Eternal Light (2023) and Poly (2020); memoir: And You May Find Yourself (2015); and creative non-fiction: Prudish Nation (2023). He was formerly Deputy Editor of The Conversation and joined ScreenHub as Managing Editor in 2022. Twitter: @pauldalgarno. Insta: @narrativefriction