23 June 2023

'Don't be afraid to ask': Griffith screen forum inspires future filmmakers

| Oliver Jacques
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Coralie McKenzie and Elijah Ingram next to each other

Coralie McKenzie and Elijah Ingram have some major projects planned. Photo: Oliver Jacques.

“Don’t be afraid to ask” was the key message delivered at a Griffith screen industry forum on Saturday (17 June), which featured a series of panels and presentations to help participants take their first step towards a career in film or television.

In a type of forum rarely seen in rural NSW, organiser Oumi Karenga-Hewitt was able to secure the services of some big names in the entertainment industry to impart their knowledge to the next generation of aspiring actors, producers and directors.

‘”[The] forum attracted an incredibly diverse cohort of 49 people across age, gender, hometown, cultural background, stage of career, and experience,” she said. “Aspiring actors and directors, videographers and graphic designers, government, arts management workers, and more, all came together in one place to chat screen.”

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The ABC’s Jenevieve Chang, Screen Australia’s Imogen Gardam and Leeton’s ex-Home and Away star Jake Speer were among a big line-up of presenters.

Participant Coralie McKenzie, who produces and directs plays, said she learnt a great deal from the day.

“I think the biggest takeaway is to not be afraid to make approaches to people in this industry,” she said. “I think the other thing I’ve learnt is their willingness to share those skills and their understanding for someone like ourselves. Bottom line – start at the bottom and work your way up, there’s no shortcuts for me.”

The 62-year-old from Temora says it’s never too late to learn a new skill and to try to make it big in a new field.

“I’m not adverse to challenges at any age. I was 58 when I started studying animation at Charles Sturt University … I recently wrote and directed the play A Coo-ee to Marie, which was performed in Temora at the Bundawarrah Centre and told the story of ‘Australian Queen of Irish Song’, Marie Narelle. My next goal is to complete the production Here, there and the fair, to be performed in Temora next year.”

Group of people in a room

There were 49 people at the Griffith screen forum held on Saturday. Photo: Facebook.

Ms McKenzie said she was impressed by the work of panellist Elijah Ingram, a Wiradjuri man and creative officer from Western Riverina Arts, who is also working on some exciting projects.

“We were asked to go to a conference in Switzerland next month started by a group called Initiatives of Change. It’s called Healing the Wounds of the Past. It’s about reconciliation. I’ll be talking about the films I’m doing and the preservation of our language and history.”

Mr Ingram believes the sky is the limit for the Riverina.

“I’d love to move into directing and producing as much as I can and setting up an industry in their region that means we can attract large scale feature films here.”

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Ms Karenga-Hewitt was grateful to the many organisations and individuals who helped make the forum a success.

“The event would not have been possible without the support of Western Riverina Arts through the Create NSW Country Arts Support Program, Griffith and Regional Association of the Performing Arts and Country Universities Centre Western Riverina. Denise Eriksen and Media Mentors Australia delivered the event and there are just no words to describe how much I admire and appreciate all their work and support … a big thanks to Lisa O’Meara and the entire Screenworks team … finally, a specific thank you to the following women who, let’s be honest are doing more than their fair share of keeping things rolling along while keeping me sane (-ish) at the same time: Aanya Whitehead, Shiron Kirkman, Peta Dummet, Jess Wainwright, Melanie Toscan, Sally Atkinson, Kat Vella, and Bonnie Owen,” she said.

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