THE REAL DEAL
Acclaimed documentary I Am Heath Ledger leads the high-quality offerings on Foxtel’s new documentary channel, Fox Docos,
HIS documentary on late Australian actor Heath Ledger opened to widespread critical acclaim but there was one review that mattered most to co- director Derik Murray: that of the grieving Ledger family. Ledger’s parents, Kim and Sally, along with sister Kate, had placed tremendous trust in Murray’s team, sharing anecdotes and precious home movies for I Am Heath Ledger.
“[Ledger’s family] were in Australia and we were in Canada, so we had provided a link to the film. Not the actual finished film, but one that was in the advanced stage... with the story all in place,” Murray explains.
“We were very proud of it but were on pins and needles until they watched it. And their response was overwhelming. It was an emotional experience, but also a positive experience.”
The family later joined him at the documentary’s sold-out premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2017. The group held hands throughout the screening.
Convincing families of any legendary performer to collaborate on a project is often challenging.
“He passed away far too young [Ledger was just 28 when he died of an accidental overdose in 2008]. And it was something they were still trying to live with,” Murray says.
“Not that you’re ever going to get used to it, but it was still very early for them. They were reticent and they’d been approached on many different levels [to share their stories].”
The Ledger family only came on board after watching other chapters from the I Am documentary series, which feature intimate portraits of several deceased personalities, including Bruce Lee, Patrick Swayze and Steve McQueen. Having the support of the
Ledgers opened the door for the Brokeback Mountain actor’s inner circle to also feel comfortable taking part. Ledger’s former partner, actor Michelle Williams, almost became involved but ultimately opted out as she was mindful of shielding their young daughter, Matilda.
Murray respects her decision. Being considerate of families is why his team is trusted with such intimate information and memories.
“From our perspective, we would never reach out to the family of a departed icon in the early stages of that passage,” he says.
“We know people do, but we don’t. But sometimes what will happen is, third parties will introduce us to the families because they’re getting bombarded by people reaching out to them on a regular basis and they’re unsure of what to do.”
It was one of those conversations that led to I Am Paul Walker coming to fruition.
Walker died in a car crash in 2013 at the age of 40. Just like the Ledgers, the loss was still raw for Walker’s family. But after being hounded by other outlets for their stories, Walker’s brothers Cody and Caleb decided Murray’s team would safeguard The Fast And The Furious star’s legacy.
According to Murray, gone are the days of “old and stodgy” documentaries.
The huge appetite for the popular genre has prompted more investment in the artform, leading to a far higher quality product.
It’s also the reason Foxtel has launched its Fox Docos channel, with more than 600 hours of true stories, including the I Am series.
Murray reveals the documentaries have been so successful that they’re now expanding the series to include living icons, with several “Australian legends” among those who’ll make the grade.
“The incredible number of individuals who have put their mark on the world and come from Down Under is quite staggering,” he says.
“It’s extraordinary. Is there something in the water?
Or in the beer, perhaps?”
The I Am documentary series, Friday, 7pm on Fox Docos and streaming, Foxtel On Demand