Dialog Box


Inspiring stories and ways of working together 

The following is a story of a partnership between Sarah Barton, a documentary producer and Action for Community Living - a charitable organisation working for people with disabilities.

Untold Desires/No Limits

Sarah Barton (Producer)

I have been a documentary writer and director for twelve years. My first film UNTOLD DESIRES looked at sexuality and disability and won the first ever Logie Award for SBS in 1995. The film still resonates with it audiences and is especially well regarded in the disability community. It still sells well in the non theatrical market and is used widely as an educational tool in universities, family planning offices and libraries. It is also still selling internationally and returns modest royalties every year. After UNTOLD DESIRES I made another film called SECRET FEAR also for SBS, in 1997. SECRET FEAR looks at anxiety disorders and obsessive compulsive disorders and also still sells well in the mental health sector, libraries and tertiary institutions. Both of these films have changed people's lives and attitudes about issues that are frequently supported by the philanthropic sector.

More recently in 2003 I began producing a community television show about disability called NO LIMITS. Although I am no longer the series producer of this show it is still on air and more than 80 episodes have been produced funded entirely by the philanthropic sector and Department of Human Services (Victoria) grants. The show is produced on a shoestring budget ($5000 an episode) with a combination of paid and volunteer staff. Having secured more than $150,000 in philanthropic grants for NO LIMITS I know my way around the sector pretty well and I know which funds are more likely to be sympathetic. At present they all demand ITEC and DGR status so the money must be paid into a registered charity. NO LIMITS affiliated itself with such an organisation and they held our funds for us and paid our bills.

The relationship we had with Action for Community Living (the charity that supported us) was very much a two way relationship and was a valuable resource for the TV show in more ways than just financial management. They brought insight and connection to the community so that the disability community felt a genuine ownership of the show and felt that it was truly representative of their views. NO LIMITS became a project of Action for Community Living and that brought benefits as well as some difficulties in terms of being able to attract funds.

The relationship between the charity and the project (in this case a television production) needs to be more than just a financial one. The charity needs to provide genuine support and involvement in the project and have a genuine connection and interest. Accessing philanthropic funding can be relatively easy once you have your charitable status established. I found many of the philanthropic trust to be very supportive and excited by our project and the success rate for applications was generally in the realm of 1 in 3 or 4 which is much better than the film and television agencies. It's important to find out which trusts are likely to support your particular project. Many trust managers are ready and available to discuss your application. I have found that most grants fall in the realm of $10,000 - $50,000. There are many smaller grants around but I found that the time spent preparing an application was better spent chasing bigger grants. Grant makers do require reports on how the funds have been spent but the reporting procedures are generally much less arduous than they are with film funding agencies.

Sarah Barton

The next story is from the filmmaker Sian Davies who worked with young people of a project for Big Hart a, non profit working in the area of youth issues:

Knot at Home Project

Big Hart

"When I first went to work on KNOT AT HOME PROJECT I was pretty nervous about the whole thing. I was assured that I would be able to work into it slowly. But, as it happened, on the first day I met Kiri and we went straight into her story. It was an intense and emotional, totally shattering experience for me. It made me realise how personal KNOT AT HOME PROJECT would be. It was very challenging to try and keep a distance. When someone opens up to you like that it is so tempting to want to make it all better for them, to save them. But that was not my job. My job was to assist them in documenting their story themselves.

It was then another challenge going from a country town where the young people were very welcoming to trying the same process in the city where the young people were more cynical. I remember spending time walking young people around in circles so they didn't nod off, due to their drug use and lifestyle. And then facing the challenge of assisting them to make something that was respectful to them when you weren't sure whether their judgment of what they were doing or saying would be different tomorrow when they were not in such an altered state.

One of the best things was when I watched the final cut of STORIES OF SURVIVAL and watching Kiri talk about where she was now and remembering how she felt when we first met. Back then Kiri was saying "I'm leaving school and I've got no future". Now I think she has basically realised that all the stuff that she thought was wrong with her is what is great about her. Things could have turned out so differently for her. But it was her doing; she dealt with all the challenges.

From a creative point a view I was really moved by how, when people accepted the camera, they expressed the things they normally don't. Experiencing emotion is in itself healing and cathartic. When you have had difficult experiences it is healthy to create an environment when you can feel things and be supported. It's effective to start you back on a path and to realise that maybe you won't die if you feel this stuff.

It was amazing from an artistic point of view to be involved in such a direct expression of people's experience. I think that is what artists can fundamentally do: to channel stories from people back to the bigger society. I was reading that Australia is in the top 4 OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries in terms of having the biggest gap between rich and poor. Through programs like KNOT AT HOME PROJECT artists can be part of the process of creating metaphors so that average  Australians will be able to see people at the edges of the community and not pretend that they are not there."

Sian Davies (Mentor Director)



"In 1999 BIG HART put film equipment into the hands of 250 young people from five towns in Northern NSW. In each town, the young people worked with the BIG hART team for three weeks, writing, performing and producing this film.

And what is BIG HART? Apparently, it's a non profit body that tries to help disillusioned young people "reengage in the community". 

And if HURT is a typical example of its work, I say, let's hand over more cash. Tellingly, for the 'this is a film by .' credit, the screen becomes an indecipherable sea of names. HURT is a wonderful collaboration indeed."

Sacha Molitorisz, Show of the Week, The Guide, The Sydney Morning Herald

"It's given me something. It's made me feel like I've got a chance" - Cast Member, HURT.

Beyond Empathy: The Art of Documentary


Beyond Empathy is a not-for-profit organisation using its own unique model and the unlikely medium of art to influence positive change among the most serious cases of at-risk young people.

Beyond Empathy goes where other programs are not willing or able to go - it reaches out to hard core welfare recipients and those that have fallen from the system.

The Beyond Empathy model uses art based projects to build relationships between young people, support agency staff and the community so that the groups can work together to address community issues.

It uses many art forms including visual art, music including hip hop, film and documentary, dance and other forms of new media and art to engage young people.

The art of making documentaries is central to Beyond Empathy's intervention work. In the communities Beyond Empathy works in, disadvantage is endemic and in most cases, intergenerational. If a person has spent their life marginalised often the only thing they have left is their story. Working with their story, supported by an artist and a creative environment can become the pathway outward from disadvantage.

The documentaries which are often very short in length and simple in detail are conceived of and directed by the participant, about any topic and mentored by an artist/documentary maker. The products are often used as a self reflection tool, a conduit for personal expression and can be a measure of how far a young person has come. With the permission of the subject, the products are used by BE as an advocacy tool, a social commentary and a way in which to reach new audiences, including government, local support agencies and the broader community.

Beyond Empathy uses both the product and the process as a focal point for social and artistic expression. The process of making documentary can become a way for participants to understand their story and experiences through the eyes of another viewer.
The use of documentary as an arts intervention tool is a craft Beyond Empathy uses to grapple with highly complex issues. The public outcomes and local screenings can lead to social action in a community once understanding is increased. The products can be a tool for social justice - giving voice to the silent.

The documentaries made by BE are often sociological or ethnographic examinations, following the life and experiences of an individual their family and in some cases their community over time. What these products also serve to do is measure the impact our work is having on an individual. Documentary can take the form of a longitudinal study and follow as person's journey over an extended period of time. Because our work is for the long haul we can do that."

Kim McConville, Executive Director, Beyond Empathy



The Partnering Toolbook, 2003, Ros Tennyson
ISBN No. 1899159 08 8

Managing Partnerships, 1998, The Prince of Wales Business Leaders Forum
ISBN No. 1 899159 84 3




Phone:02 9397 1497

Mail:52 Victoria Street - Paddington NSW 2021 - Australia