Sydney- based writer/director Heidi Lee Douglas can tell you first hand how crucial the Metro Screen and Screen NSW Breaks program has been in helping her launch her broadcast directorial career. In 2013 Heidi made two Defendant 5 mini documentaries with support from this program. These two 5 minute web movies became invaluable teasers that landed her an international co-production partner for her half hour documentary Defendant 5, which airs next week on ABC2 on Monday December 8, 9.30pm.
Defendant 5 is the personal story of one young woman who learned that fighting for what she believed in had repercussions beyond her wildest imagination.
“This is a modern day cautionary morality tale for big business, told by an ordinary individual who was bullied by a corporate giant,” says Heidi of Defendant 5.
Heidi began filming the unfolding saga of the community conflict over logging in 2001, following her hunch that this was a story that needed to be told.
“I’d heard about the Tasmanian wilderness when I was growing up, but going there was even more awe inspiring. I’d never seen forests as ancient and beautiful as in Tasmania”.
In 2004, logging company Gunns Ltd reacted by suing Heidi and 19 other critics for $6.4 million dollars. Heidi turned the camera on herself and recorded video diary entries, as well as filming interviews with defendants and key events. Over the five-year long court case, she continued to cover the story, and began looking for broadcast interest in the film.
In 2012, producer Trish Lake introduced Heidi to Simon Nasht, a highly established producer who, through his company Smith&Nasht, specialises in social change storytelling.
At this point, the court case was over for all of the defendants, Gunns had fallen into receivership, and it was clear there was a Shakespearian story arc for the film.
“Simon recognised the universal truths in what happened, but also suggested I focus on telling it through my own personal story”.
In 2013 Heidi made two Defendant 5 mini documentaries with support from Metro Screen and Screen NSW’s Breaks program. These mini-documentaries gave Heidi her first chance to tell the story from her personal perspective, and allowed her to find her “voice”.
“At first I wanted to use more of the interviews I had shot, but this diluted the story, so instead I had to let the audience into my motivations and discoveries through my first person narration”.
Ruth Cross came on board as Producer and Simon Nasht as Executive Producer, and Heidi was then successful in pitching a half hour film on her personal story as part of ABC2’s Opening Shot season.
Following the ABC commission, the producers approached Al Jazeera and with the help of the Defendant 5 mini documentaries made through the Breaks program, they secured a co-production partner for the half hour documentary, expanding the potential audience reach to 260 million homes worldwide. This outcome sets a precedent as the only Opening Shot film ever to have partnered with an international broadcaster.
“I knew from the moment I got sued that I needed to make a film about the court case, but it took a long time to find the right way to tell the story and get the production funding. Dogged persistence and a willingness to push my comfort zones as a filmmaker are the two characteristics that enabled this film to eventually get made.”