Brown Paper Bag follows young indigenous boy, Jayden, as he discovers the world of reading with the help of a cheeky principal and Australia’s most inspiring Storyteller – Boori Pryor. Also starring John Wood.
Interview with Director Jon Staley
Why are you making this film?
After hearing Boori tell the story orally I wanted to work with him to shape it into a film as it is just such a lovely story and reflection of his work and the impact it has. I wanted to show the beauty and simplicity of what Boori does – the purity of the connection that he creates with audiences as a storyteller. Not simplicity in terms of execution for it takes a master to do what he does but simplicity in terms of the purity of the exchange between storyteller and listener. When listening to Boori the audience becomes immersed- in that moment all that exists is the story and the look on a young person’s face as they move from tension, to delight, to anguish, to joy and back again in a kind of rapture is something remarkable.
I wanted the film to capture that and then the boy’s journey into the world of reading. As someone who loves the physical act of reading I wanted us as an audience to see Jayden opening up to this experience in simple ways, lying on his bed tracing the words with his finger, reading as he walked, reading by torch light yet still hiding the act from his mum as if it is somehow an act of shame/self rebellion.
Finally I wanted the film to gently expose a number of windows into the broader context – why is this young indigenous boy not reading in the first place, why is the act of Boori as author and storyteller coming to the boy’s school so potent in this context, why does Mum blame herself when she hears from the Principal, why would Mum feel like that in the first place? These questions expose us to the wounds in our collective history and also in a fashion to the medicine. The exposure is gentle but profound if you are prepared to go there.
This film was self funded by Youthworx Productions. We are a youth media social enterprise/film production company that trains and employs young people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness in creative and commercial media. youthworxproductions.org.au. Three young Youthworx trainees worked as crew on set.
Why is the film called Brown Paper Bag?
The principal in the film smuggles books out of the library for the young boy in brown paper bags. We love the idea that in this instance the contents of the Brown Paper Bag are a book, words, stories, ideas as opposed to money/drugs or some other form of contraband.
Can you discuss the collaboration between Boori Pryor and Youthworx?
Boori is a regular fixture at Youthworx when he is in Melbourne, part of an extended community and is loved by all. He regularly drops in to share a coffee and a laugh, get some ad hoc IT support, give everyone a hug and talk project ideas. Boori has worked on projects with Youthworx Manager Jon Staley since 1998 when Jon tracked him down and got him to come and tell stories to the students at Northland Secondary College where Jon was teaching at the time. The continued collaboration reflects a shared passion for storytelling across a range of mediums.
What type of feedback have you received so far about the film?
We have received extremely positive feedback so far based on a small sample of people who have had access to initial rough cuts of the film.
Has the feedback surprised or challenged your point of view?
To this point as the film has not been publicly broadcast - it has not been exposed to a broad audience and to this point the feedback has been very positive. We look forward to the film travelling far and wide and being critiqued by many.
What are you looking to achieve by having your film more visible on this platform?
We are really hoping that the film will be very widely seen as we think it is such a lovely, gentle and ultimately thought provoking story that deserves a wide audience. We also would really love Boori to be a household name as he truly is a National Treasure and while he has been very successful as a writer/storyteller we think he should be one of those names like a Cathy Freeman who is part of the National consciousness. His personal story is extraordinary and he is someone all Australians can and should be proud of.
Who do you need to come on board (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists) to amplify this film’s message and audience?
We need sales agents, distributors, buyers and support to get the film out into the world
What type of impact would you like this film to have in Australia and internationally?
As discussed we would like this to be widely seen – the story has universal elements that make it appropriate internationally while having a uniquely Australian feel. It is a film that will be great fodder for high schools given its indigenous context, introduction to Boori as a storyteller and the reflections it raises in relation to literacy and ownership of story.
Lastly, what’s a key question that will help spark a debate about this issue and film?
Why would the young indigenous boy in the film refuse to go to the library? That question is at the heart of this story and is a window into Australia’s colonial history.
Interview: March 2016
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Brown Paper Bag
Current Status: In post-production
Writer: Boori Pryor and Jon Staley
Director: Jon Staley
Producer: Kelly West
Looking for: Distributor, sales agent, media interest, marketing support
Funders: Youthworx (self funded)