Dialog Box

Arts | History | Human Rights | Indigenous | Social Justice


$2,440 Raised of


In this feature documentary, Melbourne opera singer Tiriki Onus, in his film directing debut, sets out to solve the intrigue surrounding a mysterious 70-year-old silent film recently uncovered inside a vault believed to be made by his charismatic Aboriginal grandfather William Bill Onus. A Yorta Yorta/ Wiradjuri man from Victoria, Bill Onus is a truly heroic cultural and political figure who revived his people’s culture in the 1940s and 1950s and ignited a civil rights movement, which he captured on film. His enormous talents as entertainer, business entrepreneur, theatre impresario, the first Indigenous filmmaker and television host were all used in service of winning social justice and equality. He generated international support from stars like Calypso singer Harry Belafonte, a close friend of Martin Luther King, and African American actor Paul Robeson. 

As Tiriki pieces together clues to the 'lost' film’s origins, he unearths dark intrigues that shape the story into a real-life thriller about a murky secret campaign to stop Bill’s rising international influence and to halt the rise of the Aboriginal civil rights movement. Through never-seen-before archival footage, state-of-the-art animation, vividly created digital motion graphics, striking recreations and eye-witness accounts, Ablaze tells the compelling story – part detective story, part contemporary opera – of how Bill and a handful of supporters brilliantly orchestrated their campaign for equality through performance, entertainment, film and sheer audacity to outsmart mighty opponents seeking to destroy Indigenous cultures, languages and communities. This is an entertainingly-told tale of cultural resilience and passionate resistance that will resonate across generations. An inspiring film for today’s turbulent times.


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

Ablaze proudly celebrates the ingenuity, strategies and successes of a handful of dedicated Aboriginal activists who, against enormous odds and whilst under constant surveillance by internal security agents, prevented the Australian government’s plan to annihilate their culture, language and communities. This important film will have a universal appeal to both young and older viewers, Indigenous and non-Indigenous. It brings to light a yet untold, extraordinary story of Aboriginal resilience and resistance that will create an awareness for future generations of how the freedoms and cultural practices they enjoy were fought for and won by Aboriginal people and their supporters.

This documentary project meets the aims of any philanthropic foundation that seeks to create positive social change in Australia and a more reconciled society. The film aims to further the place of Indigenous Australians in our national consciousness by celebrating Indigenous contributions to our culture and social equality. The Ablaze outputs - a feature documentary and a stylishly designed educational website - will strengthen cultural pride amongst Aboriginal people by connecting them to their history, stories and culture in a way that is both invigorating and empowering. They will inspire a new generation of Indigenous and non-indigenous activists and leaders for equality by generating an understanding of how social justice can be achieved. They will also educate viewers of the necessity of an on-going guardianship of the world’s most ancient culture and communities from those forces who seek to dismantle them.
Aims & Objectives

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

Our aim in making this film is to engage all Australians in a national conversation about social inclusion and identity. We want to provoke vital discussion and debate around the importance of history told from an Indigenous perspective, the necessity of maintaining cultural practices and community self-determination. This film will bring to light, for the first time, aspects of the relationship between black and white Australia in its more recent past. This new knowledge will help the nation to advance its national dialogue towards a more reconciled and tolerant society. Ablaze will foster reconciliation through its wide viewer access via cinema, television, international film festivals, a website and an extensive educational distribution.

The film is also targets young Australians. We seek to inform and inspire a new generation of Indigenous and non-Indigenous cultural and social justice activists and leaders.

We will measure the impact of Ablaze through screenings, followed by forums, in film festivals, cinemas and Indigenous communities, especially those represented in the documentary, as well as Indigenous cultural, media training and educational organisations throughout Australia. We will measure a wider audience reach through cinema and television broadcast consolidated ratings and media coverage. We will also measure the impact of the documentary through responses and forums on the website and other social media.

What is your education and outreach strategy?

Ablaze has the potential to reach and educate a wide cross-section of Australian and international audiences. The wider public outreach strategy for the documentary film throughout Australia will include film festivals, cinema releases, network broadcasts, community tours and a web site.

The first phase of outreach will be to premiere Ablaze at film festivals, both here and internationally. This will generate press coverage and awareness of the film.

The second phase is a cinema release across Australia. For this purpose, the highly-respected and experienced distribution/exhibition agency, Umbrella Entertainment, is already attached to this project. This phase will include a wide promotional release through press, social media and engagement with target audiences. The cinema release will coincide with a major exhibition of the film works of Bill Onus at the ACMI (Australian Centre for the Motion Image) in Melbourne. Other events in major cities are being negotiated. This will be followed by a touring release to Indigenous communities featured in the documentary and to cinemas in regional centres.

The third phase specifically reaches out to educational organisations, teachers and students. In preparation for this release, we will develop a culturally sensitive educational study guide, in collaboration with ATOM (Australian Teachers of Media) and close consultation with the Australian Institute for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) and other Indigenous representatives.

Additionally, we will develop a website that will be stylishly designed to attract wide viewing, especially youth, and be accessible to educators and students. It will feature the study guide, extended testimony interviews, source information about the archival documents and footage used in the project. It will also provide
detailed historical background to events in the film.

We will then implement our outreach strategy through the major education distributor Ronin Films and targeted educational distribution networks. Ronin Films will distribute the film in Australia and New Zealand to a wide range of educational outlets. We will engage with special interest groups to reach audiences via their Networks. Outreach to Indigenous communities and organisations will be through a grass-roots distribution approach, including local community screenings, exhibitions and discussions. We have secured the services of a highly reputable distributor, Poorhouse International UK, for international screenings and educational outreach.
Total budget
85 Minutes