Interview: Damon Gameau

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Damon Gameau

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Actor-turned-documentary filmmaker Damon Gameau (That Sugar Film2040) is currently on a national tour with his latest think-piece, Regenerating Australia – a 17-minute short film based on a four-month interview process with a diverse group of Australians who shared their hopes and dreams for the country’s future.

Set on New Year’s Eve of December 2029, a news anchor is ending the nightly bulletin with a look back at the decade ‘that could be’. A decade that saw Australia transition to a fairer, cleaner, more community focused economy. The film is a construction of news reports and press conferences featuring real journalists, politicians, business leaders and citizens.

Cinema Australia recently caught up with Gameau to discuss the film.

Note: This interview is a transcript from a recorded interview which appeared on CRN.

“We even had the president of a gun club in regional New South Wales talking about amplified indigenous voices saying that these people have lived on the land for 70,000 years. Why the hell wouldn’t we consult them if we need to start repairing the land?”

Interview by Matthew Eeles

I watched this film a few nights ago before I went to bed, which I instantly regretted because I couldn’t stop thinking about it all night. The film hits like a sledgehammer emotionally because personally I find our current government’s inaction towards climate change to be infuriating. So congratulations on this one, I think is going to interest a lot of people.
Yeah. I’m touring it around the country at the moment. And we’re about 33 screenings into about 38 and certainly getting a really spectacular response and full cinemas and great discussion afterwards. And I think people want to come together as a community. A lot of people haven’t done that for a long time, but also just the topic and the subject matter and where we’re at, especially with what’s happening in the country right now, and the floods and the amount of water we’ve got. So I just think it’s the right time to have this film showing and the conversations that follow on from it.

How have audiences been responding during these Q&As?
It’s very emotional, actually. I think I sort of suspected that some people might react emotionally to it, but yeah, that’s been a bit of a surprise and differing emotions. I think obviously the optimism and the hope. A lot of people saying, “Gosh, I needed to see that. Or I just didn’t realize that we still had these things we could do.” And especially the younger generations, some of the teenagers that are in the audience, and I’ve done a few screenings now for tertiary groups. And to be honest, they’ve been the most moving. The kids have been coming up afterwards in tears. Some of them just saying all we hear about is how dire things are and how full of plastic the ocean is, or how koalas are being endangered. We don’t see the solutions and the careers of the future that we’re going to have to implement if we want to turn these things around.
So that’s been incredibly heartening. And just for people that might need some context about the film, it’s sort of not my vision of the future in 2030, it’s based on a pretty intensive four month listening campaign that we did with a really diverse group of Australians from farmers to tradies, to indigenous groups, people in cities, teenagers, and basically ask them what kind of country they want to see after COVID? Like, what changes would they make to this country and what would that look like by 2030? So it’s just a collation of all that feedback put into this narrative, which is set in the future in 2030, looking back at this decade of transition that Australia could go through. And we’ve structured it as a news report, with Carrie O’Brien and Sandra Sally reading all these news stories that we hope we’re going to hear in the next ten years and I think that’s having a very emotional impact on people because they’re getting to feel temporarily what it would be like to live in that future.
And I deliberately tried to make it as authentic as possible and not use actors and use real people so that it felt very believable and plausible. And I think that’s part of the emotional engagement that people are experiencing is that they just want it to be real and they get for 17 minutes to pretend that it is real and check the emotions that come up in the that.

Kerry O’Brien in Regenerating Australia.

That’s great to hear that so many young people are coming out to watch the film. And you just mentioned this large group of people you interviewed for the film. I am curious to know a bit more about these people you interviewed. I believe it was around about a thousand people?
That’s right. And it was sort of made up of deliberately trying to find different political persuasions or different backgrounds. So we used a lot of research from a group that had worked up in Gladstone and some other coworking areas to get their feedback. Then a lot of them were done on zoom. Like often we’d have six or six to eight people. And so we had groups that like say around Mallacoota that had been through the bushfires. We had groups of younger people in communities, tradey groups. We really just tried to mix up so that it wasn’t just a particular type of Australia that wanted these things, but there was a broader demographic. And what was really interesting was just hearing how many things we do have in common as Australians.
We use different language so obviously people in cities and younger generation were really talking about stronger climate action, but even some of the conservative farmers were talking about wanting greener hills again, or cleaner rivers or an Australian landscape of 30 years ago. They wanted that back. We even had president of a gun club in regional New south Wales talking about amplified indigenous voices saying that these people have lived on the land for 70,000 years, why the hell wouldn’t we consult them if we need to start repairing the land? So real surprises that popped up and I think that’s why again, the film is being received by some really interesting people, not just more progressive environmentally focused groups, but we’ve done screenings for the various government groups and whatnot that you wouldn’t expect or business sectors and the response has been really similar. So I think it does present an opportunity for us to unite and come together over a shared vision.

Tell us a bit about the indigenous voices who contributed to the film?
So that was quite an in depth process, obviously, because even within the indigenous community in Australia, there are differing views on what needs to happen there in terms of a voice to parliament and what that would look like and what it would actually mean. So that was probably some of the more, the delicate process that we had to go through to make sure that we were really listening to lots of different voices in there, and that took quite a bit of time to get right. But what came through more than anything from that group was that, if we’re going to do a voice to parliament, it can’t just be a token of expression, it has to be fundamentally embedded so that’s why in the film, you can see there’s the rise of bush food organization that are Aboriginal run and owned because right now, there is this resurgent in Bush foods, but only 1% are owned by indigenous Australians.
So how do we do that properly? What would it mean to actually repair and restore our landscapes, whether that’s controlled burning or other regeneration projects, how would we really embed indigenous ranges and different indigenous groups to work with farmers, get out on the land? So again, if we’re going to do these changes, how would we do it properly and as we’re seeing right now, we don’t have any time left to not do it properly. We can’t tinker around the edges or just do things piecemeal. We actually have to look at how we value what we measure in this country. It can’t just be this narrow metric of GDP anymore, because while we’re doing that, we’re just making invisible all the damage that’s doing in terms of, we know climate’s the obvious one, but Australia’s now a global leader in wildlife extinctions.
We’re clearing a patch of forest or bushland every 86 seconds, the size of the MCG in this country. Like all these things are shocking to people when you tell them, but we’re just not measuring them. We’re not seeing them on the news. And so they’re just falling apart without us even knowing about it. So we do need to really rethink about how we measure, what we measure, what we show, what we talk about and how we truly integrate that first nation’s knowledge that again, has been embedded in our landscapes for 70,000 years. This acute observational science that we would just really do well to incorporate into our own Western thinking at this moment.

Damon Gameau in Regenerating Australia.

It’s interesting that you mentioned that this is the kind of stuff we don’t see on the news. Is that why you decided to present this as a news report?
I guess it’s trying to show that this is what we’re going to have to start talking about in the news in the future. If we are going to turn this round, we’ve just got such a dire point now that we have to act, and it’s going to take fundamental change in doing things in different ways that we haven’t done before. it’s interesting, I often start the night with a short sort of presentation of a graph, just showing where Australia’s actually at ecologically and the boundaries that we’ve breached and I did a screening recently in Ballarat for about 300 of their local sort of business committee groups. And a lot of them are completely disengaged with this subject, but afterwards, obviously they resonated with the film, but most of them were coming up to me and saying, why don’t we know that? I’ve got kids, how can we not be hearing about this?
So I do think when, when people are made aware of it, they care deeply. They’re just not enough people understand it right now or know about it. So I guess that’s the point of this film and hoping other storytellers and artists and poets and musicians and whoever it might be can start to really use their skills to disseminate some of this messaging and use art and culture to amplify these stories more because I think we have fallen into a bit of a track with our storytelling of destruction and numbing, which is distracting people from the realities of what’s happening. And so I think everyone who is a creator of some form has to really think about the stories they’re putting out there and what they’re contributing, because we really are at the precipice and not just in climate but through a range of factors and we need our storytellers to engage people and humanize this in a better way.

We currently have 4000 plus displaced Australians who don’t have a home right now, which in part can be blamed on climate inaction. And we have this election coming up soon, but we don’t seem to be hearing a lot from these political leaders about climate change. It seems to be an afterthought to them. What would you like to hear them saying in the media and in the news?
Yeah, I think that’s why we’re seeing this rise of independence is that the public are very aware of the action that’s required. And certainly that came up in our interview process was just that frustration with the political system from all sides of politics in our interviews, people just felt so disillusioned by the amount of money, the hidden money that’s in politics, the lack of transparency, and just that a lot of these representatives don’t actually represent the values of the people in their communities. And so it makes sense to me why we’re seeing this community rise. And look we even saw the IPCC report again, come out yesterday. I mean how many do we need in terms of a code read for humanity, the window is closing, now or never. So I think the general public are seeing that and seeing the disconnect with our leadership or the capture that we have now in our politics of the fossil fuel industry and whatnot, and that capture of our media as well largely, that they’re sort of taking responsibility and action into their own hands which is something we have to do.
I think we can’t just expect our leaders to solve it all for us. We certainly need them to change some of the policies that are blocking this stuff happening faster and faster. But I guess what the film shows that I’m trying to is that there’s opportunity here that the solutions have all these cascading benefits to communities and people’s well being and the native animals in this country and the soil health and the landscape and our decentralization of energy. That’s all for grabs here.
So if we can tell those stories, we’re more likely to get people involved. Whereas if they’re just hearing stories of sacrifice and deprive and all the things they have to give up for climate change, which has been the dominant narrative, they’re going to switch off and watch more Netflix and I get that. I completely understand more why you would want to do that. So I guess this is trying to have an intervention on that and say, no, no, we have an extraordinary opportunity in this country, which I think a lot of people are starting to realize, to really get out ahead and create enormous wealth and value and meaning in our communities and we just got to start now.

A scene from Regenerating Australia.

Have you ever thought about a career in politics?
No. I mean, I can ask that a bit, but I really have seen the potency of storytelling and even with this film, the amount of screenings I’ve done to different political groups as well or political leaders, I think there’s huge value in that and actually showing them what we could do and sharing that vision. And then hopefully they can enact some of this. So I’m really comfortable with … I think it’s so messy in there anyway that I think often even our political leaders are informed by story and so we just need to tell better stories.

You have a powerful tool in the palm of your hands with your storytelling and the opportunity to screen this at cinemas all around the country. What’s the plan for the film when the national tour wraps up in mid-May. Where will people be able to see it?
So there’s a couple of options. So one of the offerings we’re making as an action that people can take up, they see the film is to host their own community screening and they’re free. So we’re not beholden to any distributor with this film, which is pretty a first time for me. And so anyone can actually just share it at that school or work or the office or at home. And we’ve already had an almost over 400 requests for screenings already now, just in the three weeks we’ve been on tour, which is really encouraging. And you just think of the impact that can have of people sharing those messages. And then obviously there’s the fund to as well, this multimillion dollar fund that people can apply for to bring to life that solution.
So we really want them to have a community discussion, show the film, and then talk about how you might be able to apply for some of that funding to bring to life one of these solutions in your community. And then I think what we’ll probably do is, and then just put it out online for free. So I think a couple of streaming platforms have agreed to show it for free and then we’ll be on YouTube and all those ways. We just want as many people to see it as soon as they can.

Damon Gameau is currently on a national Regenerating Australia tour. You can find out where you can see Regenerating Australia here


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