By Holly Miller
In the years leading up to 2020, the experience of studying my postgraduate degree had been highly anticipated. Having heard so many wonderful anecdotes from plenty of alumni students, I was thrilled to finally ‘have my turn’ and accept my position as a producing student at the WA Screen Academy in 2020. Knowing exactly how busy the year would be, I would tell everyone I knew in the lead up to commencing the course that I would be “disappearing for a year to focus on my studies”, with my catchphrase becoming “I’ll see you again in 2021!”.
The year started off brilliantly, when in January I received the news that I was selected as a Leading Lights recipient – one of a small handful of promising, emerging documentary filmmakers in Western Australia to attend the Australian International Documentary Conference at the State Library of Victoria in early March. The most incredible way I could ever imagine to start my postgraduate year, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of mingling with the world’s best documentarians, sharing in the joy of storytelling with friends both new and old. At the time, I recall walking the crowded streets of Melbourne, gleefully meeting new people, enjoying handshakes aplenty, immediately before the pandemic took hold. It was simpler times – before I knew that a handshake or a hug would become a distant memory, simple gestures we had all taken for-granted.
Returning to Perth following the conclusion of the conference, it would be barely a matter of weeks before our carefully planned out year of production and learning at the WA Screen Academy would be completely flipped on its head. Many of my fellow students had planned for this year just as I had, with high expectations and a great deal of excitement for the production challenges that lay ahead of us. Little did we know that as we had just began to bond, we would be going from energetic, excited gatherings with each other in the hallways, to waving at one another through Zoom meetings from the confines of our homes. At first, it felt almost as if we were being cheated of the year that we had all greatly anticipated – not just the practice of filmmaking and production itself, but the shared experience of bonding together during what would be some of the most challenging, yet rewarding months of our lives. The uncertainty of not knowing what would lie ahead was exceptionally concerning, but a sobering reminder that sometimes life doesn’t always go to plan. Although, there was one thing that was for certain – a choice would need to be made – adapt and build resilience, or throw the towel in.
I chose to adapt.
A decision not to be taken lightly, it was important that the decision was mine and mine only. In making my decision, I understood that this new, reframed learning experience, carefully put together by our incredible leaders steering the ship at the WA Screen Academy, would not simply teach me what was at surface level – filmmaking in a COVID-19 world. This decision and resulting experience would be so much more than that – it would teach me the importance of art, in particular screen content, and reveal to me my place in the world. It would show me the reward of not giving up. It would show me that my role as an emerging documentary filmmaker was now far more important than I could have ever imagined in the first place – it is now not only my duty to provide a voice for my subjects, it is now also my duty to lift up my fellow filmmakers and encourage them to take on the shared responsibility of both supporting and rebuilding our industry, which has taken a huge hit during these tough times. It would show me that teamwork extends much further than the pre-production, production and post-production stages of filmmaking. It would remind me of the importance of resilience, and how developing this skill would be necessary to stand up to our decision makers and show them the importance of the arts and its power in our society to empower, to educate, to entertain and to build a better world – one that we can all be proud of.
Holly Miller is a postgraduate student currently undertaking a Master of Screen Studies, specialising in Producing and Directing at the WA Screen Academy within Edith Cowan University. In January of 2020, Holly was one of 36 emerging documentary filmmakers across Australia, selected as a Leading Lights recipient to attend the Australian International Documentary Conference (AIDC2020). An emerging documentary filmmaker, Holly has a special interest in films that inspire social change. Endeavouring to use film as a format for social impact through storytelling, Holly’s vision is to provide a voice for subjects who are yet to be represented.