life through a lense

Wangaratta Chronicle - North East Regional Extra - - Front Page - by KYLIE WIL­SON

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 at­mad­

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.

PHOTO: Man­i­feasto Pho­tog­ra­phy

FO­CUSED: He­len New­man, a ded­i­cated doc­u­men­tary maker, has spent many years telling the stories of oth­ers through film.

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