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Dark ode to Whyalla scoops SA film awards

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Emerging filmmaker Claire Bishop has scooped five of the 20 South Australian Screen Awards with a short documentary that conveys mixed feelings about the seaside mining town of Whyalla in which she grew up.

Described as a dark ode exploring the “beauty and harsh reality” of a one-industry township, Iron Child won Best Short Film, Best Documentary, Best Non-Narrative and Best Direction at the SASAs, with Bishop also taking home the Emerging Filmmaker Award.

“I wanted to do something to reflect how I felt every time I went back to Whyalla,” the 25-year-old says of the documentary, which she directed and produced as her graduating project at MAPS Film School.

“It’s about people who grew up in small towns and moved away when they were 18 and how they feel about that town when they go back.”

Iron Child has no narrative, but is accompanied by a slightly sinister musical score created by Adam Ritchie. It features imagery of the landscapes in and around Whyalla, as well as streetscapes and interesting sequences filmed at the OneSteel steelworks, which gave the crew generous access.

Bishop, who moved to Adelaide almost as soon as she turned 18 and has always harboured an interest in filmmaking, says she is glad she grew up in Whyalla. As a child, she felt a sense of safety and freedom to explore, with easy access to the beach and bush.

But she says many teenagers in the town don’t feel they have a choice of career. Working at the steelworks can feel like a “natural progression” after school, and there are also other factors that trap people in the town.


The poster for Iron Child.

“I was thinking about how to talk about Whyalla but in a way that wasn’t forcing a message down people’s throats – it’s kind of positive and kind of negative.

“It’s not meant to be an ad for Whyalla; it’s more a collection of feelings.

“Photographing Whyalla was the best way to explain what it feels like to live there. The landscape is very iconic; it’s got a feeling when you’re there … it’s kind of melancholic.”

Bishop and several of her fellow film school graduates have now established a film-house, Sharptooth Pictures, and she hopes the SASA wins will help it gain recognition and build on her success.

The awards, which seek to promote new and emerging talent in the South Australian film industry, were presented on Friday night at the Mercury Cinema.

Best Feature went to The Infinite Man (directed by Hugh Sullivan and produced by Kate Croser and Sandy Cameron),  which was filmed in the SA outback and has been well received nationally and internationally for its story of a scientist who tries to use time travel to woo his girlfriend. It was up against acclaimed new psychological thriller One Eyed Girl.

Post-apocalyptic sci-fi western Wastelander Panda (director Victoria Cocks, producer Kirsty Stark) took out the Best Web Series for the second year running with its latest series Exile, which was commissioned especially for ABC iView. It also took out the craft awards for Best Cinematography and Best Composition.

Other winning films included I’ve Been Everywhere, Man! (Best Animation), Doomsdays (Best Comedy) and Injury Time (Best Drama), while actress Sarah Jeavons won Best Performance for her role in Too Dark.

South Australian Film Corporation CEO Annabelle Sheehan says the SASAs play a valuable role in raising the profile of South Australian on and off-screen talent.

“It’s particularly pleasing to see new, young talent being recognised as they’re the future lifeblood of the South Australian screen industry.”

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