“When dealing with controversial and uncomfortable subjects, sometimes raising the conversation and getting people talking is all part of it.”
UNE Master of Arts student Kate Bonney knows a thing or two about being courageous in storytelling. Conditioned to stories of hardship heard over many years as a social worker, and shaped in her early years by her grandmother’s love of Celtic music and performance, the ingredients for creating a compelling narrative have long been percolating.
“I feel like a love of connecting with people has bled through into my passion for storytelling and filmmaking,” Kate says.
“Finding a mode to portray the pains and joys of life is a goal for me.”
Having always loved film, Kate gladly enrolled in the film units on offer at UNE as part of her Master of Arts, which she is completing simultaneously with an Advanced Diploma of Acting at the Adelaide College of the Arts.
The opportunity to create a major project of work under supervision as part of her master’s has enabled her to put the practical and theoretical sides of all of her learning to the test – and testing it has sometimes been.
“This was my first official screenplay which I co-produced and acted in so it was a culmination of wearing many hats for me,” she says.
“I have absolutely had my periods of doubt and we’ve also had setbacks. Filmmaking is not easy. This three-year passion project literally was built over blood, sweat and tears. We had weather warnings, bushfires and heatwaves which prohibited filming and re-scheduling but with the right crew and cast you can pull together what you need.”
For Kate, the effort has been worth it to tell a story she felt needed to be told.
“The film, Waiyirri, is about women, motherhood, grief and loss,” she says.
“I became obsessed with researching the stories of white colonial women in Australia after having a dream about a corset in the red dust. This image really became a symbolism of the film and the concept of cross-cultural fertilisation during a period of history marked by bloodshed and immense misunderstandings.”
In Waiyirri, Mary, wife of a missionary, settles in the colonies with her strong ideas of Christianity. But she meets Ngarrindjeri woman Lacardi who introduces her to the Dreamtime, and they connect through shared experiences of grief and loss.
“Through my research and readings I came across texts, poems and songs that indicated the vital role the first nation women had in showing these pioneer ‘white invading women’ the ropes and practically and emotionally supporting them as they came to terms with a new life in a seemingly harsh climate.
“I read stories about children drowning in the Murray River and the Indigenous women diving in and saving these non-indigenous children, drying them in front of a fire whilst an Elder told Dreamtime stories.
“This was the essence of the story I wanted to capture,” Kate says.
Kate says there are many measures of success – “Writing a film and getting funding for production was a thrill in itself” – but her skill and dedication has also now been publicly acknowledged: her film received the prestigious honour of being selected in the line-up of this year’s Adelaide Film Festival.
“It was incredibly validating and humbling, and such a rewarding result for our whole creative team,” she says.
Now, while navigating the busyness of life, Kate is also planning a range of exciting future projects to stretch her creative skills.
“We will continue to enter Waiyirri in many film festivals and hope it will be seen by many audiences around the world as it contains an important message about the resilience of women, spirituality and challenging the concept of the outsider.
“For now, I am focusing on motherhood, completing my studies and hope with COVID restrictions easing there will be many opportunities to collaborate further on future projects, including developing a new comedic web series with some actor friends.”
And her tips for other budding filmmakers? “Make sure you have enough budget saved up for film festival entries as that part is expensive!” But overall, “Be tenacious, surround yourself with supportive people and don’t give up.”