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Little Island, Big Screen and A Whole Lot To Tell

Dec 12, 2023
Article by Elaine Chennatt

It’s been a big year for Tasmania making its mark on global screens. Deadloch (2023), a crime-comedy series, was a significant production created by ‘The Kates’ — Kate McLennan and Kate McCartney.Shot in southern Tasmania, the showis accessible to viewers in 240 countries through Amazon Prime Video, showcasing the picturesque southern Tasmanian landscapes to a global audience.

Another eagerly awaited drama series, Bay of Fires (2023), was filmed primarily in the West Coast towns of Queenstown, Zeehan, and Strahan. Co-creator Marta Dusseldorp described it as a “love letter to Tasmania,” emphasising its unique portrayal ofthe region.

Tasmania’s state goverment has highlighted the significance of Deadloch as one of the largest productions entirely filmed in Tasmania, featuring a considerable ensemble of Tasmanian cast and crew. This series embodies a substantial investment in the state and boosts Tasmania’s growing screen industry, with a portion of the investment benefitting regional areas, stimulating employment, and supporting local businesses.

Other series, such as the wildly (to pardon the pun) successful reality show Alone (2023) and The Platypus Guardian (2023) — a production by Tasmanian filmmaker Nick Hayward aired on ABC TV and iView — underscore the high quality of Tasmanian storytelling, affirming the region’s significance on both a national and international scale.

But Tasmania has consistently been featured on the big screen, even before this current surge in interest. Tasmanian Gothic, a distinctive subgenre of Gothic storytelling, finds its essence in Tasmania’s mysterious and haunting landscapes, rich history, and unique culture. These elements become a canvas for filmmakers, providing an eerie and evocative backdrop for their narratives. The Nightingale (2018) spoke to Tasmania’s colonial past, drawing heavily from the Gothic tradition but incorporating a distinct Tasmanian flavour, encapsulating the island’s remoteness, wild terrains, isolation, and dark history. The film won the AACTA Award for Best Film and Best Lead Actress and a host of other awardsand nominations.

“Contrary to common assumptions, we do possess the necessary equipment and resources to compete on a larger stage,” advises Alex Laird (pictured), a local filmmaker whose recent short film, Tabernacle (2019), depicted the local housing crisis through the Tasmanian aspirational middle class. “Another recent success story garnering significant attention is the self-financed and produced feature film Beaten To Death, which serves as a testament to our pockets of local talent and their ability to shine on the national and international stage,” Alex goes on to explain.

Tasmania’s unique and dramatic rural environment provides a rich creative backdrop for filmmakers, providing no end of scenery from which to spring characters into a range of plots. It’s something The Kates have affirmed in interviews for choosing Tasmania as the location for Deadloch. And while there will always be opportunity for Tasmania to shine in this regard, Alex believes the creative heart of Tasmania lies beyond detective whodunnits and gothic depictions of the wilderness.

“Deadloch managed to shake up the formula slightly and represent the substance of Tasmania in more detail, but I think we’ve reached critical mass on work of that style for a while,” says Alex. “I believe in the untapped potential of our state and in depicting the full spectrum of experience here. Tasmania, and its characters, offers an endless well of inspiration. There are dreams, fears, contradictions, triumphs and letdowns to explore, and that excites me every single day.

“The industry’s significant growth over the last six years, sparked by Tassie’s unique and accessible natural landscape, alongside state government incentives, highlights how its potential went underappreciated for an extended period due to its limited exposure,” Alex shares. “While these productions have contributed positively by involving local talent, these efforts alone are not enough. Striking a balance between hosting external projects and nurturing local talent is essential for building a sustainable and resilient Tasmanian film industry.”

Supporting the film and screen industry is something the Department of State Growth has placed a high priority on. With their Cultural and Creative Industries Recovery Strategy: 2020 and Beyond, the Department is ensuring that creativity is put front and centre. The strategy acts as an umbrella to guide existing program delivery, broader collaboration, and to identify opportunities for future growth. It also acknowledges the role of screen production in providing significant economic benefits as well as its role in providing creative outlets for sharing Tasmania’s unique talent, stories and locations. The current rise in productions on our island home speaks to this, and, as Alex says, there’s plenty of room for more.

“I think if your story has a shred of honesty and truth, that shines through and registers for people,” says Alex. “We should view the production of new work, like films or streaming series, as a testament to our creativity. Let’s not produce works only to have them languish in a content library but ensure they’re bold and personal visions that highlight our artistic strength.

“We have so many interesting stories on every street and in every pocket of our state, just waiting to be put on display for the world.”

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