• Industry

Indigenous Storytellers Come To Hollywood

Through our annual grant program, the HFPA helped non-profit group ‘Australians in Film’ to support IndigenousLA, a program to bring Indigenous filmmakers to Hollywood for the first time, to expand their career.


Warwick Thornton is one of Australia’s most acclaimed filmmakers. His 2010 debut film Samson and Delilah was shortlisted for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language film and last year, he won the Venice Film Festival’s Caméra d’Or for his English-language film, Sweet Country. But the Indigenous filmmaker admits he still wasn’t expecting the warm welcome he received when he came to L.A. as part of the IndigenousLA program.

“L.A. is a big scary town,” Thornton said at the end of the five-day inaugural program partially underwritten by Australians in Film as first-time HFPA grant recipients. “It’s nice to know that not all the doors are locked or harboring crazy people. I had such a wonderful experience meeting so many amazing people.”

The program hosted five Indigenous filmmakers in L.A. for a series of networking opportunities and meetings with top Australian and American executives. Joining Thornton was: actor, writer and director Leah (Wentworth, Cleverman) Purcell; writer and director Steven (Sweet Country, Mystery Road TV series) McGregor; Erica (My Bed Your Bed) Glynn and Danielle (Queen of Hearts) MacLean. They were also joined on the trip by non-indigenous filmmaking partners Greer (Sweet Country, Mystery Road) Simkin, David (Mystery Road, Sweet Country) Jowsey and Charlotte (Queen of Hearts) Seymor as the Australian Federal Government screen agency Screen Australia co-hosted the trip on the 25th anniversary of their dedicated Indigenous department.

“This week was one of the best of my professional career to date,” Leah Purcell also agreed. “I’ve had my own production company since 1996 but to meet some of the best studio and independent production companies Hollywood can offer and pitch them my film and TV project, The Drovers Wife: The Legend of Molly Johnson, was a standout for me as an independent Indigenous writer, director, and producer. We met some of the biggest players in town; Endeavor Content, Netflix, Amazon, 20th Century Fox to name a few. In between those meetings we got advice from some of the best showrunners, writers and producers in the business and I’m confident as a result of this fantastic week something really amazing is going to happen for us.”    

Kate Marks, president of Australians in Film, added proudly, “The Australians in Film Foundation was established to provide opportunities for Australian screen creators to develop their craft in the U.S. market, so we are excited to be working with Screen Australia’s highly-acclaimed Indigenous Department to bring some of the top Indigenous Australian filmmakers to Los Angeles, along with the incredible support of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association.”

Hollywood embraced the group in the spirit of encouraging diversity and global voices, welcoming them to their offices for advice and support. Participants included; Ryan Murphy, Ian Brennan (Ryan Murphy TV), David Levine (HBO), Keli Lee (ABC International), Emily Rudolf, Lauren Tuck (OWN, Harpo), Kate Lambert (FX), Dede Gardener and Caroline Carms (Plan B) and head of Amazon Studios, Jennifer Salke, who was joined by COO Albert Cheng and other top executives at a wine and cheese reception they hosted with the delegates at their Culver Studios home.

At the welcome reception held at Spartina on Melrose earlier in the week, HFPA president Meher Tatna made a speech welcoming delegates and praising guests who came to lend support, including executives from Netflix, hulu, Apple Originals, FX and Amazon. Also attending were: director Taika (Thor: Ragnarok) Watiti, producer Bruna (Big Little Lies) Papandrea and executives from Lucky Chap (Margot Robbie’s company) and Blossom Films (Nicole Kidman’s company).

Meher Tatna, delegate Erica Glynn and director Stewart McDonald.

courtesy australians in film


“We are so proud to support the first delegation of Australian Indigenous story-tellers coming to Los Angeles,” Tatna told the group. “We are foreigners and write about film around the world so we see the power that stories can have when they travel and bring cultures together.”

Australian director Phil Noyce hosted a BBQ for the group on another evening and others who participated in work dinners or sessions included: writers Stuart (Pirates of the Caribbean) Beattie and Luke (Lion, Beautiful Boy) Davies, Gentle Giant Media CEO Greg Basser, Macro CEO Charles King and FX showrunner Aida Mashaka-Croal.

Penny Smallacombe, Head of the Indigenous Department at Screen Australia, admits they all had some amazing pinch-me moments throughout the week. “It was fantastic to be able to offer this incredible opportunity to luminaries of our own industry,” she adds. “This program is about fostering new relationships to ensure that our Indigenous stories can continue to find international audiences and financing beyond Australia. We were excited to discover there is definitely an appetite for our stories in the U.S. and interest in what our creators can deliver.”