DocWeek or Hello Adelaide, You’re Looking Fine!

The opening screen at DocWeek 2014 announces the Opening Address from Screen Australia CEO, Graeme Mason
The opening screen at DocWeek 2014 announces the Opening Address from Screen Australia CEO, Graeme Mason

It was dark when my fellow producer, Ben Steel, and I navigated the freeway towards the airport in Melbourne this morning, weaving between the slowly building traffic consisting of office workers, delivery trucks and other Melbournites heading off to different climes, like us.

Sally on her way up the gangway ready to fly to Adelaide early this morning.

As dawn broke, we were standing outside Tullamarine Airport, filming a piece to camera for the “Behind the Scenes” (which I’m now referring to as “The Making of a Miracle”), as commuters of a different kind waved goodbye to family, dragged heavy suitcases or grabbed that last cup of coffee on land before taking to the skies.

Day #1 of the Australian International Documentary Conference was upon us. As we made our way through check-in, past security and through the boarding gate onto the tarmac, it dawned on me (literally) – the event we had been preparing for over the last month or so had finally arrived. We were off to Adelaide to attend this year’s celebration of Australian documentary – DocWeek 2014.

After a (thankfully) uneventful flight, during which we mainly discussed the various people we had pre-booked meetings with and what conference events we should attend, we landed in Adelaide on time and with a spring in our step. (Well Ben did. All I wanted was another cup of coffee – I’m not really a morning person!).

The first thing we noticed was the heat. Wow. Does Adelaide know how to turn on the sun! Off came the jackets and we wandered down to collect luggage and a taxi.

A 15 minute wait at the cab rank, followed by another 15 minute cab ride later and we were at our accommodation with an apartment all ready for us to walk straight into, despite being several hours early for check in. Lovely people, great service, more about them later.

A quick dropping of bags and a refresh and we stepped out into the bustle of the Adelaide CBD.

For those who know Adelaide, you may find that previous sentence odd. Adelaide, while a great city by the sea, is not known for being crazy busy like Melbourne or Sydney (which is part of it’s charm). But there is one month of the year when it really hots up (both literally and figuratively). The locals refer to it as “Mad March” (according to our taxi driver – another lovely local), due to the amount of events the city hosts over these four weeks. The Adelaide Fringe Festival, the Adelaide International Festival, the Adelaide Comedy Festival, WOMAD, a car race (which I can’t remember the name of) and DocWeek.

I’m sure I’m missing something on that list, but needless to say, there were a lot of people wandering around with lanyards or similar, denoting their respective affiliations to one or more of these events. I’ve taken to thinking of it as Adelaide’s version of Edinburgh in August – for exactly the same reasons.

Ben and Sally registered and ready to go at DocWeek 2014.

A 10 minute walk later and we were at the Intercontinental Hotel and officially registered for AIDC (DocWeek) 2014. The eagle had landed.

The Opening Address was delivered by Graeme Mason, the new CEO for Screen Australia. I found him to be straightforward, passionate and right on message. He naturally spoke primarily about the documentary community and their relationship with Screen Australia and the rest of the world, but kept reminding us that what he was talking about also applied to the rest of the production sector in this country. “We need to recognize that we are part of the global market.” As far as I am concerned, the minute I heard that statement, I breathed a sigh of relief. It will be interesting to see how our screen business develops under Graeme’s direction – and I’m hopeful for the future.

Then it was off to meetings at the “Let’s Talk” marketplace part of the Conference. We have several meetings scheduled over the next four days and I was curious to see how this would play out.

All I can say is that it is a joy to be able to speak to smart, passionate and truly lovely people about a genre of filmmaking we are all passionate about. Ben and I laughed, listened, pitched and learned. All the meetings today were different, but all were invaluable and we are both feeling quietly encouraged about our documentary and it’s place in the market as a result. Opportunities have already presented and we will see where they take us in the coming days, but just as importantly, we truly enjoyed spending time with people who know their stuff and are so generous in sharing their time, energy and knowledge.

We also got to meet the lovely Amanda who is running the marketplace section of the Conference and has been so helpful in the lead up to our arriving today. She is fantastic – fun, passionate, unruffled and so generous with her time and advice. We couldn’t feel more welcome.

It was then back to the last session of the Conference for today – the Keynote Address from Stephen Lambert from All3 Media America and Studio Lambert UK, responsible for such documentary TV formats as “Secret Millionaire”, “Undercover Boss” and “Gogglebox”. Stephen is ex-BBC and I realised that he and I had been working for the Corporation around the same time – in different departments – he in Factual, me in Music & Arts. Naturally I felt an immediate bond, as I always do with those who share having the Beeb as part of their formative filmmaking past.

Denise Eriksen hosted the session, asking great questions and skillfully guiding Stephen from one topic to the next. It was an entertaining and enlightening way to end the day and we left the world of the possible in factual to deal with our own immediate reality – grabbing some groceries for dinner before heading back to our apartment.

Ben carries the groceries to the apartment, sporting his “A Life Unexpected” bag

Ben is currently attending one of the Opening Night films “The Last Impresario”, directed by Gracie Otto. I am working on materials for tomorrow so I can get an early night (Did I mention that Ben is the one used to early mornings – whereas me? Not so much).

Despite wishing I had the stamina to go see that film tonight (and it is one that I really want to see), as I sit here on our apartment’s balcony, watching the sunset turning the buildings red and orange around me with the azure blue sky above, I find myself so grateful for the experiences this documentary has given me to date. From interviewing Sir Roger Bannister and Sir Chris Chataway in the UK and Ulick O’Connor in Ireland 18 months ago, to knowing I have four more days of being surrounded by fascinating people and projects and all the creative juice that provides, I know I am very blessed, whatever the outcome of this already very interesting week.

Must sleep now … sun has set and first meeting tomorrow is 9am …

‘Till next time …

Sally McLean
Director/Producer
“A Life Unexpected”

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