Eight female Indigenous writer-directors selected for RED Anthology

West Australian Indigenous production companies PiNK PEPPER and Ramu are teaming up with the NZ powerhouse behind successful portmanteau feature films 'Vai' and 'Waru' to make one with an Aboriginal focus.

Screenwest has announced the eight female Indigenous writer-directors who will take part in a development process to make ten-minute stories that combine to form one scripted eighty-minute feature film exploring the theme of ‘missing Indigenous women’.

A talented and impressive bunch, these WA female writer-directors all have significant and varied media experience stretching over decades. They are: Kodie Bedford, Debbie Carmody, Jub Clerc, Kelli Cross, Karla Hart, Chantelle Murray, Ngaire Pigram and Mitch Torres.

The WA producers behind the RED project are Taryne Laffar of PiNK PEPPER and Jodie Bell of Broome-based Ramu Productions. They’re teaming up with executive producers Kerry Warkia and Kiel McNaughton of Aotearoa (New Zealand) company Brown Sugar Apple Grunt.

The kiwi company Brown Sugar Apple Grunt have already proven their skills in bringing this kind of tricky multi-voiced project to fruition. They made Waru in 2017, shot by eight individual female Māori filmmakers to form a narrative weaving around the death of a young boy in a Māori community; and their next portmanteua film Vai (2019) was by nine female Pacific filmmakers and filmed in seven different Pacific countries. (I caught the opening night screening of Vai at the Melbourne Women in Film Festival in February 2020, and was impressed by its ability to showcase many different female stories within a unified and deeply affecting whole.)

PiNK PEPPER’s Taryne Laffar is one of WA’s real movers and shakers, immediately recognisable by her pink hair which gave name to her production company. A producer, writer, director and casting director who descends from the Bardi and Jabbir Jabbir nations, Laffar’s credits include series producing ABC iView comedy KGB and Cornel Ozies’ short documentary Our Law about WA’s first Indigenous-run police station (available here on SBS On Demand).

Image: Taryne Laffar, courtesy Screenwest.

In 2018 Laffar was the recipient of Screenwest’s year-long Spark initiative and in 2019 she was selected for Screen Producers Australia’s ‘Ones to Watch’ program, where she won the $15,000 SBS First Glance development deal. She’s also been selected for Screen Australia’s Indigenous Producer Program and Developing the Developer. She’s co-facilitating the No Ordinary Black Indigenous short film initiative, alongside Charlotte Seymour.

In the Screenwest media release, Laffar said: 

‘As a Western Australian Indigenous woman, I can barely express my utmost pride and acknowledge the privilege of PiNK PEPPER working on anthology feature film RED. Producing with Jodie Bell of RAMU, our Executive Producer’s Kerry Warkia and Kiel McNaughton of Brown Sugar Apple Grunt and these wonderful Western Australian Indigenous Writer/Director women is going to be super fun, very satisfying and some beautiful hard work.’

Also quoted in the release, Kerry and Kiel of Brown Sugar Apple Grunt said: ‘We are absolutely thrilled to be working with such a talented Indigenous team of writer/directors and producers! It’s great to have the support from Screenwest who see the value in the methodology and framework used for creating Vai and Waru. We can’t wait to get started!’

The workshops will take online for the moment, due travel restrictions. It’s anticipated the project will go into production in mid 2021, once it is fully financed. Looking at the talent involved, there’s sure to be a Kimberley, Broome North Western Australian vibe to at least some of the stories.

Screenwest says it will be making approaches to potential partners interested in supporting the anthology.

Here’s a little more about the eight writer-directors who’ve been selected.

  • Jub Clerc’s first feature film, Sweet As, produced with Arenamedia, has recently been greenlit for production. Her credits include a piece The Turning anthology and directing episodes of The Heights.
  • Mitch Torres was SBS’s first Indigenous Presenter in 1988 and went onto do her cadetship with ABC TV based in Perth. Her first short drama was for the Shifting Sands Initiative, and her documentaries include Jandamarra’s War and Whispering in our Hearts, a historical doco about the Mowla Bluff Massacre in the West Kimberley.
  • Kodie Bedford started as a cadet journalist for SBS in 2008 and then moved to the ABC as a researcher for flagship Indigenous documentary series Message Stick where she directed and produced her first documentary in 2012. Her work as a freelance screenwriter includes episodes of Mystery Road and children’s series Grace Beside Me. In 2019 she made her directorial debut with short film Scout as part of the Dark Place Indigenous horror anthology, selected for the Sydney Film Festival, Melbourne International Film Festival, CinefestOZ, and nominated for Short Film Production of the Year by the Screen Producers Australia Awards. Kodie is mentored by Yahlin Chang who is executive producer and writer of The Handmaid’s Tale; a mentorship set up by Australians In Film.
  • Ngaire Pigram, a Yawuru and Wajarri woman, is an emerging writer and performing artist from Broome, Western Australia. She’s best known for her acting work with credits including Mad BastardsBran Nue Day, The Heights and Mystery Road. She made her writing and directing debut in 2014 with short film Dark Whispers and is also developing a solo theatre work, My Name is Cora.
  • Karla Hart’s producing, writing and directing credits include NITV documentary series Family Rules Series 1, 2 and 3 (NITV) and On Country Kitchen Series 1 an 2 (NITV) and she’s currently Executive Producer of weekly sports entertainment show Yokayi Footy for AFL and NITV. 
  • Kelli Cross is a Nyoongar/Malgana/Wadjela woman from the Fremantle area of Perth. She won her first award for Best Indigenous Film for One Fine Day at the 2014 Shorts Film Festival in Adelaide and was recently nominated for other awards, such as the Australian Directors Guild Awards and the Melbourne Webfest in 2018, for directing the web-series Aussie Rangers (ABC iview). She completed an attachment to Rachel Perkins on Jasper Jones as a part of the ADG’s Directors Attachment Scheme in 2015 and has directed episodes of The Heights Season 2 as part of their director mentorship program. Cross is currently developing her first feature film script, Black Sheep White Xmas.
  • Debbie Carmody is an Anangu woman who began broadcasting in 1984 with ABC radio in Kalgoorlie, Perth and Sydney and has worked extensively in community radio as well as working on the development of documentary Our Law.
  • Chantelle Murray, a Proud Bardiwoman, began her career as a performer in Queensland, but found her true passion off-screen as a writer and director developing her own content with a focus on Aboriginal History. Her debut directing piece My Name Is Mudju was selected to screen at the Bronze Lens Film Festival, Melbourne International Film Festival, CinefestOZ and won best short film at Rotorua Indigenous Film Festival. Her second film Shed (2019) was  supported by Screen Australia Indigenous Department, ABC and SQ screened at the Sydney Film Festival.

Read: Moving incredibly fast, it’s Family Rules for Karla Hart

Rochelle Siemienowicz is a journalist for Screenhub. She 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. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram