Shining a light on race, identity and belonging

Interview with Nick Batzias, producer of highly anticipated documentary The Australian Dream

One of this year’s most highly anticipated documentary features, The Australian Dream, will have its world premiere on opening night of the 2019 Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF). Written by Walkley Award-winning journalist Stan Grant, the film explores Australia’s complex relationship with race through the events surrounding the final playing years of champion footballer Adam Goodes.

We spoke with Producer Nick Batzias, of Melbourne-based GoodThing Productions, to learn how films can drive change, why impact filmmaking is on the rise, and what audiences can expect to take away from the film.

The Australian Dream is a film about race, identity and belonging. Why do you think sports documentaries are good vehicles for encouraging conversations on broader universal themes?

Sports and culture are very intertwined in Australia (and elsewhere). Through our love of sports and our engagement with them, we are opened up to issues within the sport itself or to issues that impact those people we get to ‘know’ through the sport, issues that perhaps would be less likely to be on our radars. Sport and sports documentaries can therefore make some of these broader themes more relatable and relevant to a wider audience.

The events in the film occurred in 2013. Why is now a pertinent time to tell this story?

The events covered in the film span Australia’s history, however we do obviously focus our lens on this through the experiences of Adam Goodes through the years 2013 to 2015.

There certainly feels like there is a ‘readiness’ to hear the perspectives of those in and around both the incidents of that time and the wider context – obviously from Adam himself, but others such as Stan Grant, Brett Goodes, Gilbert McAdam, Nova Peris, Nicky Winmar, Michael O’Loughlin, Lindy Burnie, as well as Adam’s coaches Paul Roos and John Longmire and commentators Eddie McGuire and Andrew Bolt.

GoodThing Productions produced the film with UK Producer John Battsek’s Passion Pictures. How did this collaboration come about?

We have had a long standing relationship with Passion Pictures, who are world-class filmmakers. We had touched on the possibility of such a film a couple of years ago and then as it became a reality GoodThing very happily came on board in early 2017.

This is a quintessential Australian story. What are the benefits of having a director from another country to help tell the story, in this case British documentary director Daniel Gordon?

The film is certainly Australian, though we do feel its themes will resonate internationally. Having Daniel Gordon direct allowed us to interrogate the events of 2013-15 and the wider Australian context with ‘fresh’ eyes and without too much assumed knowledge or preconceived notions around the issues.

GoodThing Productions is committed to impact filmmaking. Two of your productions – That Sugar Film and the recently-released 2040 – are within Australia’s top 10 highest grossing documentaries. What’s the secret to your success, and why is impact filmmaking on the rise?

I don’t know that there is a secret! With That Sugar Film and 2040 we continue to have great feedback and engagement with audience through our outreach, and we have learnt a lot along the way. The Australian Dream was always going to benefit from these learnings, particularly given there is so much great work already being done around the issues addressed in the film.

Whenever one is making a film, documentary or otherwise, that has social issues/causes at its heart or key to its themes, there is the potential to have impact on these issues. Whether it is aligning with the subjects of a project or around organisations that already work in the space (often these collaborators emerge as you research your project), hopefully the result is that the film can assist those people to raise greater awareness around the issue and leverage this to make a greater impact, be it through advocacy, education or otherwise. In many ways it gives the film greater purpose and a longer life, using storytelling to shine a light on an issue or work that perhaps otherwise might struggle for cut through or attention. I think many filmmakers have recognised this, both here and abroad and there are some great practitioners specialising in the space and looking to assist filmmakers around their impact plans and goals.

Film Victoria supported The Australian Dream with production funding. How did this funding assist the production?

Film Victoria’s funding was an essential part of our finance plan, allowing us to realise the film in the way that we had always discussed it with Adam and Stan.

What impact do you think Adam Goodes’ story and The Australian Dream will have on audiences at home and abroad?

I hope that the film offers the opportunity for a wider audience to understand how the incidents of 2013-15 impacted on Adam and the Indigenous community at large.

Beyond that, we hope people can develop deeper understanding of the issues and history that need to be addressed if we are to avoid such a thing happening again and to make real and lasting change. With that understanding comes an opportunity for a broader, more rounded context to have conversations in Australia that haven’t been properly had to date.

Internationally, issues of race and identity occur in sport and beyond. The audience abroad will not only bring a different focus to issues in Australia, but there will perhaps be an alignment to similar issues in other countries such the legacy of colonisation and its repercussions. In working through our own issues in Australia there is much we can learn from what has and hasn’t worked elsewhere.

The Australian Dream premieres at the Opening Night of MIFF 2019. Visit the MIFF website for other session times and tickets.

The Australian Dream will release in cinemas on 22 August.

This interview has been edited and condensed. The views and opinions expressed in this interview are solely those of the individual involved and do not necessarily represent those of Film Victoria.