Dialog Box

Community | Education | Health & Wellbeing | Indigenous | Rural | Social Justice | Welfare | Youth
Backtrack Boys

Rusty, Zach, and Alfie are on a perilous course toward ‘juvey’ until they meet up with a rule breaking jackaroo, Bernie Shakeshaft, and hit the road with his legendary dog jumping team. This inspiring coming of age story follows the boys as they strive to turn their lives around - and the dogs that help tame their wild ways.

SYNOPSIS: The Backtrack Boys features the rough talking, rule breaking jackaroo, Bernie Shakeshaft, and the youth program he runs from a shed on the outskirts of Armidale called Backtrack. It’s a place where the kids can feel safe, continue their education, but most importantly it’s where they learn to support each other and pursue their dreams. 

This observational documentary follows Zach, Alfie, Rusty and as they hit the road with Bernie’s legendary dog jumping team and travel to rural shows across NSW. The dog shows started out as a way to teach kids self-discipline, calm their emotions, build trust, and boost their communication skills, but now they have become the world record holders. 

Universal themes will play out as these young boys strive to pull their lives together. Their personal survival and futures are at stake. This story will explore Bernie’s philosophy in action and through the journey of the boys in his care. It will look at how he helps kids navigate their relationships, deal with personal trauma, take responsibility for their own decisions and gain practical job skills so they can eventually create a sustainable life for themselves. After ten years and a crime rate that has halved, the entire community of Armidale is now behind Backtrack and they’re stepping in to lend a hand. It’s a great example of what happens when all stakeholders in the community join together to tackle these complex issues. 

On the road the boys camp out around the fire and sleep under the stars but the trauma from the past is never too far away. The boys must constantly step up and push themselves and some days can be hard. Filmed over a year, this inspiring story reveals the challenges these young people face as they try to find their place in the world – all with the help of Bernie and his trusted dogs in tow.

LINK TO TRAILER https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3QIAcuyXZxQ&feature=youtu.be


How does the project meet the aims of a philanthropic foundation?

The Backtrack Boys provides a unique insight into youth at risk in rural Australia. Kids that fall between the cracks in the education system and face a range of issues from family breakdowns, to violence, suicide, drugs and crime. 

 This is a story about a rule breaker and his unconventional youth program that is turning kids’ lives around. The film will ask - why is Bernie’s program working when so many others fail? What do these kids need from the rest of us in society so they can successfully launch into the world and escape the poverty-prison cycle? 

 This story presents a real model that could be rolled out in many other rural towns grappling with the same generational social crisis throughout Australia. Australian grant-makers are keen to help young people develop skills to become actively engaged within their local communities. Many have a strong focus on developing young leaders, addressing core social issues that lead to delinquency, while others offer schemes to enhance employment skills to avert social problems. 

This documentary speaks to all these areas of focus and could attract strong philanthropic interest and support. This project is particularly timely in light of the Don Dale Detention scandal. The shocking footage and damning report has the entire nation asking why do we continue to incarcerate young people? Who do we send into detention and why? What are the effects of detention, and what are the alternatives to incarceration? While this documentary explores how Bernie’s program operates it offers an alternative view to how we often approach working with kids at risk. Ultimately The Backtrack Boys is a small town, local yarn that addresses some of the most daunting social issues of our time.

Aims & Objectives

What outcomes do you hope to achieve by making this film and how will you measure its impact?

The major outcome of The Backtrack Boys is to stimulate debate around the film’s core issues – at the national level throughout Australia and on the wider international stage. How do we as a nation provide the resources and opportunities for young people to thrive in rural communities today? 

 We will measure the impact of The Backtrack Boys by how much debate the film stimulates – with audiences at community screenings, film festivals, cinemas, broadcast media and other online outlets. Our aim is to shift the current framework and reshape national discussion in mainstream media and politics. The documentary will provide a platform for communities and policy makers to explore these social challenges. 

It has the potential to enlighten audiences and foster a more in-depth understanding of the issues so desperately needed to develop successful, long-lasting social reforms. Expanding the national debate around youth and crime is also an essential step in bringing the Australian public on board to advance more forward looking policy initiatives. An informed public will help pave the way and embrace community efforts to set up innovative services that will help save kids and set them up to have a better life. 

 By participating in screenings, the film’s characters will also benefit personally by the experiences of being spokespeople on a wider stage. It cannot be underestimated how the process of making the film, and later presenting it, provides a unique opportunity for the young people involved. To see their accomplishments and remarkable transformations through the eyes of the audience can be an important part of their learning and development as they go out into the world.


What is your education and outreach strategy?

The public fund-raising campaign via a website and Facebook page will form the platform for the education and outreach strategy, establishing a large base of loyal ‘fans’ to support the film and boost awareness. From the start of a proposed crowd-funding campaign through to the film’s premiere, the website will promote interactive communication with the characters, building a strategic audience around the film during the process of making the film and not just at the end. On the film’s completion we are planning to take The Backtrack Boys on the road for screenings host organizations, screening at rural shows with Q&A sessions with our characters. 

 80 MINUTE FEATURE DOCUMENTARY for theatrical release in cinemas, as well as screenings at film festivals both locally and internationally. It will also be aimed at special purpose community interest groups, such as youth groups, RSL clubs, and animal advocacy groups. It can be used for specific purpose community screenings through organizations to individual counselling services and outreach programs for trauma and violence. 

58 MINUTE TELEVISION DOCUMENTARY VERSIONS directed towards public broadcasters, such as ABC or SBS. Our intention would be to reach as broad a general audience as possible. The tone of the film will lend itself to primetime documentary slots on flagship channels, such as ABC1 and SBS1, however, it would also be suited to ABC2 or SBS2. There are also cross-platform opportunities, with the extended 80-minute feature cut of the film available on online streaming services such as ABC iView and SBS On Demand. 

 28 MINUTE EDUCATIONAL DOCUMENTARY VERSION tailored for use in high schools, TAFEs, community colleges and centers. We will also work with ATOM (Australian Teachers of Media) to create an education kit to be used in schools, as addition to in-class screenings, with questions and activities to better engage students about the realities of young people today in rural communities. The education kit will also contain information on the relevant organizations and where individuals can seek help.

Catherine Scott
Catherine Scott
Total budget
80 Minutes