When environmental activist and 7th-generation Tasmanian Mike Cassidy falls ill with terminal cancer, his daughter Heather returns home. As Mike retells old tales of a life spent fighting for the wilderness, Heather finds herself compelled to follow in his footsteps — to trek into the wild southwest and raft the Franklin River. To uncover his part in the greatest act of civil disobedience Australia has ever seen.
It is the story of a community refusing to back down, fighting a corrupt government, and saving an environmental wonder that in the early 1980s came within a whisker of destruction. It is the famous fight to stop the Franklin Dam.
Interweaving interviews and archival footage with a modern-day pilgrimage down one of the world’s most famous white water rivers, A River Made Us illuminates a profound moment in Australian history when environmentalism entered the mainstream.
We discover stories from likely and unlikely participants, from Aboriginal Elders Jim Everett and Aunty Patsy Cameron to household names Dick Smith, David Bellamy, Bob Brown, and Prince Charles. All while Heather faces the gruelling physical and emotional challenge of the river, and all that it means.
Directed by the award-winning Kasimir Burgess, the film uses the latest 4K technology to showcase the extraordinary landscape to a generation that, until now, has grown up without knowing the story of the Franklin.
In a world besieged by environmental catastrophe, A River Made Us dares us to find hope in each other. We’ve won before. We can win again.
How does the project meet the aims of a philanthropic foundation?
The saving of the Franklin River is a pivotal moment in time for environmental and social justice organising, and as such offers a wealth of insight and knowledge which is gradually being forgotten as the older generation passes on.
Like individuals, philanthropic foundations give because they believe what they are doing will create change in the world. A River Made Us will assist in creating that change by demonstrating the important principles of the Eight Stages of Social Movement Success, as first outlined by Bill Moyer in 1990, and the five Theories of Change. The story of the Franklin contains examples of each of these and therefore will become an invaluable learning tool in training new as well seasoned activist in courses offered by Change Makers and various other campaign and community engagement training bodies in Australia and beyond. A River Made Us also offers a bridge between generations working with different methods and theories of change as the baton is passed from one to the next.
We are also exploring ways to develop a package which fits with school curriculum. The late Lincoln Siliakus - a prominent environmental lawyer, major contributor to the No Dams legal strategy and a big believer in change through law - spoke with us the year before he died. He told us if he were making this film he would hope it will inspire young people, who are considering a career in law, with the knowledge that the law can be used for good. An informal survey we conducted revealed that generally people who live outside of Tasmania do not know the story the Franklin River unless they were alive at the time (and remember seeing the blockade in the nightly news) or because they have studied the high court case in high school legal studies. We believe there is an opportunity here to connect the deeper more impactful story of the Franklin with young people who may only be exposed to it through formal text books.
What outcomes do you hope to achieve by making this film and how will you measure its impact?
Aims & Objectives
This is a film that will inspire anyone who gives a damn. A reminder for why we must stand up for the things we believe in.
We’ll be targeting campaigners and activists from the past, the present and the future.
For the younger ones – who are very aware of the world’s pressing environmental issues, but often feel too overwhelmed to act – the film will illustrate the triumphs of yesteryear to show that they too can be part of a proud and continuous tradition of activism.
For the older audience, the film will provide a nostalgic reminder of what their generation once achieved – that it’s never too late to fight the good fight – and will inspire them to pass on their stories and knowledge to the next generation.
For the broader population, the film will revive a story of national significance framed through Heather’s very personal story, her quest for connection to land, and a white water adventure.
Our success will be measured in the usability of the film and the associated resources to educate and motivate, and the implementation of these tools in a combination of use in school curriculum and advocacy groups for years to come.
We would like to see core supporters in several advocacy groups become empowered with the use of their own stories in conjunction with these tools, to be more affective change makers in a world that need them more than ever before.
What is your education and outreach strategy?
Our outreach strategy will reach a large audience by leveraging the following relationships:
Bob Brown is signed on to be an interviewee for the film and has committed to help us through his foundation. (See attached letter of support.)
Heather currently works at Tasmanian Conservation Trust and has strong links with The Greens in Tasmania and Victoria, having trained with and campaigned for them before. Heather also has strong connections with The Wilderness Society – of which Mike was a very early member.
Patagonia, the global outdoor clothing company, has funded a number of successful impact documentaries including 180’ South, Damnation and Jumbo Wild – all of which resonate with our cultural ethos and outreach objectives. Producer Chris Kamen has contacts with Pata-gonia in Australia and global HQ, and will pitch them the project once the teaser has been completed.
Dick Smith would make a great interviewee and potentially a philanthropic donor as he was heavily involved in the original Franklin River campaign. We plan to reach Dick through his filmmaking partner Simon Nasht, principal of Smith & Nasht, who we have already begun dialogue with and are considering partnering with for production (and possibly distribution through their subsidiary company Screen Impact).
We have started the conversation with Greenpeace and will work to deepen this relationship and grow it into a formal partnership for the purposes of promoting the film to it’s significant membership base in Australia and around the world.