Beyond the walls of the prison, the artists' quest for freedom is truly exposed.
Interview with Writer/Director/Producer Alex Siddons
Congratulations! Why did you make your film?
Two defining factors that lead to the creation of the film. I was gifted a painting that was created inside Fulham Correctional Centre by Indigenous artist and Torch participant called ‘Dreamtime Spirits’ by Leroy Mclaghlin. Shortly after I received the painting I met Robby Wirramanda and his beautiful family months after Robby’s release from prison. Robby had reconnected with his passion for art during his recent sentence and invited me to a Torch exhibition. It was clear that something special was forming and rising around me.
Imagine I’m a member of the audience. Why should I watch this film?
The film is an uncompromising insight into the inmates’ quest for cultural identity and spiritual healing as they prepare for The Torch’s annual Confined exhibition and for life on the outside. This narrative documentary both analyses and humanises the over-representation of Indigenous Australians within the prison system, whilst seeking answers and striving toward solutions. The role of art in the lm is similar to that of basketball in Hoop Dreams (1994), providing the inmates with hope and an opportunity to transcend their cycles of imprisonment whilst strengthening their fractured connection to culture and identity.
From deep inside Fulham Correctional Centre the artists complete their works while painting the audience a contemporary insight into the deeply ingrained incarceration epidemic of Australia’s first people. The film clearly and profoundly explores greatly misunderstood issues such as cultural disconnection, inter-generational trauma, addiction and institutionalisation.
The Art of Incarceration will start the conversation that Australia has neglected for too long.
How do personal and universal themes work in your film?
Every artist in the film is unique and purely individual. I adopted a character-driven approach to telling the story in an attempt to demystify conversations and understandings around Indigenous incarceration. The further we go into the creation of art, the deeper we got into the character. Each artist has different struggles and different hopes and aspirations for their future.
Through the deeply introspective and personal moments that we experience with the artists, we begin to understand aspects of their struggle through a deeply humanistic and contextualised lens. Through this intimacy universal theme such as the grapple for identity, re-connection of family, freedom and hope rise from within the film. The audience sees different parts of themselves in the different artists and perhaps we don’t feel as distant at the end of the film to what we felt at the start of the film.
How have the script and film evolved over the course of their development?
After shooting over 100 hours of footage over 16 months the development process of the film was and has been completely gruelling and immersive. Over time every aspect and element of the film has become more refined.
I suppose the great challenge was that there is so much to be said about each of the artists and the factors that have led them to their incarceration. I really had to gain as much context and insight as I could and then boil that down to the rawest and fundamental ingredients to tell the story as honestly and as captivatingly as possible.
What type of feedback have you received so far?
Pretty amazing feedback we are starting to get from those in the inner circle who have watched test screenings. Mostly that the film is a journey that you go on with the artists and that you learn a lot about them and yourself along the way. To see people connect with the film so deeply is very inspiring and constantly re-affirming for the artists and myself as well. The artists seem to still be digesting the effect of their stories and contributions to the film are having on the viewer.
When I first met Christopher Austin I remember he said ‘we are blackfellas in jail, no one cares about us.’ So to see the effect that the project is having on people is very inspiring.
A lot of feedback about the practicality and effectiveness of The Torch which then leads to conversations about other programs and projects that can reduce re-offending and give inmates an opportunity for something more. Lots of feedback about Troy’s unique poetic expression and Robby’s beautiful family and narrative throughout the film. Lots of amazing feedback about Jesse Gohier- Fleet’s cinematography and Theo McMahon’s debut score.
Has the feedback surprised or challenged your point of view?
Initially challenged because I wanted the feedback to be challenging. I feel like filmmaking and the process of it is being immersed in the films state of imperfection. All I wanted from the feedback is to be challenged. Quite a brutal process.
Currently, as we approach the final final final cut the feedback is starting to be surprising in a very pleasant way.
What are you looking to achieve by having your film more visible on www.wearemovingstories.com?
Build and connect with the good inspiring folk out there.
Who do you need to come on board (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists) to amplify this film’s message?
If I told you how much money and with how many people we made this film with you would not believe me. Independent filmmaking in the rawest form.
What type of impact and/or reception would you like this film to have?
Highlight the incredible work of The Torch and create more opportunities and avenues for the artists within the program.
For the lead artists involved, Robby Wirramanda and Christopher Austin, I would love for this film to do big and productive things for their careers.
From a filmmaking perspective, I would love for it to showcase the work of my team. The average age of my crew upon the first shoot day in jail was 24.
Now roughly around the 27 marks, I think this is something we can truly be proud of and I'll do all I can for the film to reach the audience it deserves.
What’s a key question that will help spark a debate or begin a conversation about this film?
How is it that in such a wealthy and resourceful nation, that Indigenous Australians have the highest rates of Incarceration and disadvantage in the world?
What other projects are the key creatives developing or working on now?
The next project is the next phase. Getting ready to release the beast. How far we can take it and to what height it can climb is up to us.
Interview: June 2019
We Are Moving Stories embraces new voices in drama, documentary, animation, TV, web series, music video, women's films, LGBTQIA+, POC, First Nations, scifi, supernatural, horror, world cinema. If you have just made a film - we'd love to hear from you. Or if you know a filmmaker - can you recommend us? More info: Carmela
The Art of Incarceration
Beyond the walls of the prison, the artists' quest for freedom is truly exposed.
Director: Alex Siddons
Producer: Alex Siddons
Writer: Alex Siddons
About the writer, director and producer:
ALEX SIDDONS s a Melbourne based writer, director and producer. He is a self-taught filmmaker who began telling stories through his role as Head Producer at PLGRM Media. Alex’s film works include The Busker, The High School Lawyer and The Saints of St Kilda, his controversial insight into the infamous Gatwick Hotel. His early works predominantly consisted of narrative-driven documentary content and gained praise from the likes of The Guardian, The Huffington Post, the ABC and The Age. Alex left PLGRM in 2016 to begin working on his debut feature documentary titled The Art of Incarceration.
The Art of Incarceration explores The Torch Program and the issue of Indigenous incarceration in Victoria. In creating this film, Alex was granted unprecedented access to Fulham Correctional Centre in Gippsland. The film is an uncompromising insight into the inmates’ quest for cultural identity and spiritual healing as they prepare for The Torch’s annual Confined exhibition and for life on the outside. Over 100 hours of footage was shot over 16 months of production. The Art of Incarceration will premiere at the closing night of the Melbourne Documentary Film Festival on 28 July 2019.
Key cast: Alex Siddons (Writer, Director, Producer) Victor Paolini (Editor), Jesse Gohier-Fleet (Director of Photography) Robby Wirramanda Theo McMahon (Associate Producer), Theo McMahon & George Farrah
Looking for: sales agents, journalists, film festival directors, producers, buyers, distributors
Facebook: The Art of Incarceration
Hashtags used: #VictorianPrisonDocumentary#TheArtofIncarceration #TheTorch #IndigenousArt #FeatureDocumentary
Where can I watch it next and in the coming month? Melbourne Documentary Film Festival