life through a lense
AN urge to give a voice to others, tell stories and explore the unknown drive North East filmmaker Helen Newman.
Helen, who runs Nomad films, became involved in filmmaking after working with a group of refugees from Kosovo who were being forcibly returned to their country which was still in conflict.
“The camera became a way to give voice to individuals and families who were struggling to be heard, and that has been my primary focus for my work ever since - to give voice, explore the unknown and capture the magic of stories,” she said
Having worked as a filmmaker for 17 years, there is a common thread of humanity in the stories she tells, with her documentaries having covered topics such as the plight of refugees, the sex slave trade, and domestic violence.
“Wherever I film, I find that people, with very few exceptions, are fundamentally seeking the same things - to know love and joy, to live in peace, to see their children grow up safely and to leave the world knowing they lived a happy life,” Helen said.
“I think the power of connecting a viewer with the humanity of others potentially allows for positive change in the world.”
Helen’s career has been eclectic, with her past jobs including everything from piano teaching to working with survivors of violence and sexual abuse as a crisis counsellor and in community development, but she said her career has helped to shape her filmmaking work.
While she has filmed several documentaries overseas, she finds just as much inspiration right here in the North East.
“I have filmed across much of the North East and was born and grew up here, she said.
“I have a saying that ‘everyone has a story’ and this is as true for the North East as it is for anywhere else on the planet.
“Within this area I have covered a wide range of stories, including domestic violence survivors, farmers living through drought, Indigenous stories and individual struggles with mental health.
“I also regularly film theatre, circus and community events in the area.
“This is such a rich and varied area of Australia to be working in and I feel very lucky to have the opportunity to develop my craft within its communities.”
Among the documentaries Helen has filmed has been A Spiral Mind, telling the story of North East artist Kurt Saggers, who lives with mental illness.
She said of the project, “Kurt and I have been long term friends, and the collaborative process of creating a documentary about him was based on trust that had been built over previous years and decades.
“The project gave me a better understanding of both Kurt’s creative mind and the incredible amount of work he has done, and continues to do, to stay mentally well, positive, and ‘in the moment’.”
She also recently shared her skills with young people in Wangaratta at a guerilla filmmaking workshop, and said there are many skills needed to become a good filmmaker.
“Being a filmmaker requires you to step into the shoes of another person and honour the stories they share, so empathy and ability to imagine another person’s experience are much needed attributes, Helen said.
“Apart from being able to emotionally connect, a filmmaker also needs to have the technical skills to capture to the highest quality the visual and audio components to ensure they can create a story which an audience can connect to in some way.”
Helen said her most meaningful works have been “projects of passion” that she has found both challenging and rewarding, covering topics such as extreme poverty, the illicit sex trade, homelessness and child exploitation.
“These are the films where I most feel the weight of sadness and desperation in the stories,” she said. “However they are also the films I feel most hopeful will move people to create positive change.”
Helen said she was also passionate about highlighting the struggles of refugees.
“One of the most pressing issues we are facing in Australia and globally is the mass migration of people due to war, poverty and climate change, she said.
“I believe our biggest challenge is to find a way to traverse this time with humanity and wisdom.
“Shutting borders will not magically remove the people who are seeking safety, it will only move them somewhere else.
“The desperate mother who works for $2 a day to provide us with cheap clothes, the young man who was forced to fight or threatened to be killed, the dying child who has no access to medicine still exist.
“If we can re-imagine ourselves as global citizens connected to everyone then I think we could begin to also find ways to respond that will avoid us reaping a bigger problem in the future.”
Those interested in more of Helen’s work can find it at www.nomadfilms.com.au.
AMONG THE ACTION: Helen Newman during filming in Sadr, Iraq for her documentary film on a deported Iraqi family, Anthem, which won Best Australian Documentary of the Year in 2006 at the ACMI international documentary festival.
FOCUSED: Helen Newman, a dedicated documentary maker, has spent many years telling the stories of others through film.