Filmmaker Profile: Alex Kelly

As part of MWFF's commitment to promoting Australian women filmmakers, we interview women screen creatives and workers to encourage them to speak about their professional development and experiences.

Alex Kelly has a variety of credits as a social impact producer and she is a filmmaker, artist and communications and campaign strategist who is highly committed to social justice. Alex’s short documentary, The Island (2017), is screening during MWFF 2019’s Sinister Shorts program.

We CanCan  action at the Moulin Rouge, Paris, France during the COP21 climate negotiations 2015  (photo by Kim Bryan)

We CanCan action at the Moulin Rouge, Paris, France during the COP21 climate negotiations 2015

(photo by Kim Bryan)

Alex worked for ten years with Big hART as Creative Producer of Ngapartji Ngapartji (2005 – 2010) and was National Producer from 2012-2014. Alex’s documentary credits include producing Island of the Hungry Ghosts (2018), The Island (2017), Nothing Rhymes with Ngapartji (2010) and co-producing The Namatjira Project (2017), production managing Coniston: Telling it True (2013) and directing Queen of the Desert (2013). Alex was the Global Impact & Distribution Producer on Avi Lewis and Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything project (2015). She is currently working on Maya Newell’s forthcoming film In My Blood It Runs as associate producer & impact producer.

Alex has defined her work as a combination of providing leadership in identifying urgent local issues, fundraising skills to draw on philanthropic support, developing partnerships with stakeholders (i.e. people directly affected by the issue explored in a film or program), and organising community outreach events which are promoted through marketing and social media strategies.

Alex has distinguished herself as one of Australia’s leading social impact producers. In 2013 she was awarded a Churchill Fellowship and explored models for social change documentary impact and engagement in the UK, Canada and USA. She also directed and co-founded the Something Somewhere Film Festival in Alice Springs, Central Australia and was a 2016-2017 Sidney Myer Creative Fellow.


Why has it been important to you to use film as the art form or medium to express your ideas?

I think all forms of storytelling can be powerful tools to contribute to change making. We are facing an absolute crisis in the form of climate change and we are also facing a crisis of inequality. Storytellers are powerful players and need to take this responsibility seriously. Film is a powerful way to transport people and create windows in to worlds they may not otherwise visit or engage with. This engagement can (it doesn’t always of course) provoke empathy, anger, sadness – an emotional response, that can in turn inspire and encourage action.


What filmmaking or artistic traditions have particularly inspired your work?

DIY, grassroots, activist and guerrilla filmmaking around the world have been enormously influential. Instances where film has been used as a tool to expose, bear witness, protect, share information and is strongly connected to social movements are deeply inspiring to me. In the late 1990s I took part in the Jabiluka Blockade against the proposed uranium mine in Kakadu National Park. Soon after that I met Pip Starr an incredible independent documentary film maker who directed the Fight For Country film about that campaign. Pip’s film had a massive impact on my understanding of the role of media in political movements and I soon became involved in community television, working for a number of years on SKATV’s Access News program – which was broadcast weekly on Channel 31 in Melbourne.


How did you learn your craft and what were the most valuable lessons?

I learnt an enormous amount at Access News from a number of very generous mentors including Pip, alongside Jeff Riley, Campbell Manderson and Ntennis Davis. I am forever indebted to their patience and generosity. At SKATV I got involved in setting up Melbourne Indymedia and a whole range of grassroots media projects. I travelled with films across parts of Indonesia and Europe and met independent media makers and documentary filmmakers from around the world. This community of media makers engaged in robust critique of the role, power and influence of the media – both mainstream and grassroots. This understanding of narrative, networks, structures and systems was such an important foundation for me as I was starting out.


Do you think that women filmmakers have a particular voice or approach that distinguishes them from their male counterparts?

I would love to be able to reject this binary outright, but unfortunately the cultural systems that influence us – namely the patriarchy - does mean that there are some different kinds of gazes and perspectives. However, I don’t think these are limited to just male and female filmmakers – lived experience and other identities in addition to gender are also incredibly influential on storytellers. Obviously male filmmakers dominate the mainstream landscape and I think this is deeply frustrating and limiting. It is also a kind of echo chamber. We really need to explode that and amplify the greatest range of voices as possible. We would all benefit from a rich and complex media landscape – Australia would be a different place if we had a more dynamic media ecology. 


Do you feel that it is important for women filmmakers to somehow make a feminist statement through their work?

I feel like it is important for all filmmakers to address inequality – which includes feminism, but also an awareness of other oppressions related to class, gender, race, and abilities. I don’t expect every film to make a statement on each of these intersecting issues, per se. However, I think that at this moment in history it is crucial to the process of making a film; who is in front and behind the camera, how representation is understood and agreed as well as the content of a film itself needs to address injustice or, at the very least, be providing new ways of thinking about the world, otherwise I don’t think it’s doing enough.


What are the biggest obstacles you have faced in progressing your career or completing a project?

Finding funding is always a slog and at times convincing funders and broadcasters to support political projects can be difficult. I think starting out on zero budget community media with a strong commitment to justice has served me well, especially in terms of not expecting this work to be easy, but in understanding why it is important. 


Which Australian woman filmmaker do you admire most?

I am a huge fan of Brindle Films – Rachel Clements, Trisha Morten Thomas and Anna Cadden, they are such a grounded and smart team. Maya Newell, Hollie Fifer, Soda Jerk, Gabrielle Brady, Sophie Hyde, Caro MacDonald, Naina Sen, Danielle MacLean, Lynette Walworth, Zanny Begg, Rachel Perkins… there are so many amazing filmmakers here and we certainly need MORE! Especially transgender women and women of colour and women from different class backgrounds. I think documentary can still be quite extractive at times and I think we need more people telling their own stories, not just being subjects in other people’s films.


Who do you consider as an outstanding woman filmmaker outside of Australia?

Joslyn Barnes is an extraordinary Producer – I love everything she has made! I am a huge fan of Nancy Schwartzmann, Rachel Lears, Rachel Falcone, Joanna Natasegara, Brenda Coughlin, Violeta Ayala – all outspoken and powerful filmmakers!


What do you think is the best way to encourage women to work in the film industry?

I love the work that is being done by the Raising Films project. There are so many barriers and they make some really practical suggestions in terms of work hours, travel and childcare for women who are parents. We also need to value different voices and the perspectives of different makers more as audiences and demand more films by women.


What film project are you working on at the moment?

I am working with Maya Newell on the impact distribution of her brilliant documentary In My Blood It Runs. I am also wrapping up a short film with Buzzfeed on reparations in Australia (due for release in late January) which serves as the part of the development of a bigger feature film project - Pay the Rent. I’m also working on a speculative futures project called The Things We Did Next – watch this space!

Behind the scenes on the shoot for  Queen of the Desert , Areyonga community, NT 2012  (photo by Josephine Wright)

Behind the scenes on the shoot for Queen of the Desert, Areyonga community, NT 2012

(photo by Josephine Wright)