Australians in Film (AiF) and Screen Australia have selected the five emerging Australian filmmakers for Untapped, a talent development program for the next generation of undiscovered and underrepresented Australian screen voices.
This initiative will help launch the international careers of Kylie Aoibheann McDonnell, Linda Chen, Kalu Oji, Sophie Smyth, and Shannan Tamby Lim. The Los Angeles-based cultural foundation AiF will connect the five selected filmmakers and their projects with Oscar and Emmy-winning production companies ensuring they receive robust development notes and strategic pipelines to develop their early or debut work for the global market.
“These five talented Untapped finalists were chosen out of a rigorous selection process of over 700 applicants. With the diversity of their lived experiences and fresh approach to storytelling, they represent an exciting and vibrant creative intersection coming out of Australia, a country that has been celebrated for its auteur writer/directors, actors and other screen creatives,” says AiF Executive Director Peter Ritchie. “We are beyond thrilled to be able to open the doors to the business in Los Angeles and guide them through the next phase of the Untapped program.”
Screen Australia CEO Graeme Mason added “Screen Australia is excited to be supporting these five selected filmmakers as they take the next steps in their careers, and wish them all the best further developing their projects with support and mentorship from world renowned production companies. Untapped, along with the Talent Gateway program and the Global Producers Exchange, are providing Australian creatives with pathways to global audiences and we look forward to continuing to work with Australians in Film on discovering untapped voices and supporting Australian practitioners connect with key decision makers in Hollywood.”
Launched in April this year, the Untapped program has included four open-access online masterclasses for all eligible applicants, featuring conversations with Sarah-Violet Bliss and Charles Rogers (Search Party), Nisha Ganatra (The High Note, Late Night), Alma Har’el (Honey Boy, Bombay Beach) and Warwick Thornton (Mystery Road, Sweet Country), giving Untapped applicants a window into the artistic processes and strategies for creative success from some of the most innovative artists working today.
The five finalists and their projects now move forward into the Untapped Development Lab where they will receive individualized mentorship, story consultation, creative feedback and professional development support from top industry mentors including executives from Made Up Stories, LuckyChap Entertainment, See-Saw Films and Truant Pictures.
Untapped is one of three new professional development programs that Australians in Film and Screen Australia are presenting, including Talent Gateway and Global Producers Exchange. Supporting Partners include Screen NSW, Film Victoria, South Australian Film Corporation and Scripted Ink. Industry Partners include Australian Directors’ Guild, Australian Writers’ Guild, Screen Canberra, Screen Producers Australia, Screen Queensland, Screen Tasmania, Screen Territory, Screenwest and Screenworks.
The selected filmmakers and their projects in development are:
Kylie Aoibheann McDonnell (NSW)
DEADNAME, a supernatural horror feature film. Logline: Returning to her creaky family home after her mother’s untimely death, a 20-year-old transgender woman is haunted by the grotesque apparition of her younger “male” self, which seeks to reclaim what belongs to it.
Kylie describes herself as “just your average transgender, lesbian and asexual filmmaker, telling the raw, intimate genre stories you want to see”. After graduating from the Australian Film Television and Radio School (AFTRS), she co-founded the production company Inner Pictures with producer Oliver Ellis. She wrote and directed the documentary Farewell Happy Fields, a gritty portrait of anorexia and depression featuring award-winning author Fiona Wright which screened at multiple international festivals. Kylie then collaborated with the Deaf community to write, direct and co-edit the psychological short thriller See for Yourself, and, later this year, she will direct Asexy, an asexual love story based on her experiences growing up.
Linda Chen (ACT)
HOW DID WE F*CK THIS UP?, half-hour dramedy series. Logline: The drily humorous, disdainful, discontented life of a suffragette is miraculously and immaculately reincarnated into the body of a modern day, pansexual Asian woman as she runs into many of the same frustrations she did a century earlier.
Linda is an actor, writer and multidisciplinary artist hailing from Ngunnawal and Ngambri country (Canberra) whose work spans film, theatre, interdisciplinary art and applied drama – often exploring notions of identity, home, sociocultural structures and agency. Developed in its early stages through Screen Canberra’s AcceleratorPOD, her UNTAPPED TV concept How Did We F*ck This Up was a finalist in Screenmakers’ Conference’s Pitch-O-Rama and Melbourne Webfest’s Pitch iView. In 2020, Linda presented her one-person-show-turned-audiovisual-installation what is saudade is yuánfèn is longing (Shopfront Arts) and was an Early Phase grant recipient at The Street Theatre, completing a full concept treatment for her play Linger.
Kalu Oji (VIC)
PASA FAHO, drama feature film. Logline: Amidst the downfall of his longtime shoe business, Azubuike’s son, Obinna, flies down to Melbourne for the summer holidays. With familial pressure mounting and news that his rent is being raised yet again, Azubuike’s hopes of recovery spiral further into decline; the growing stress placing a steep wedge between father and son. When Azubuike loses a family member back in Nigeria he is pushed to reflect, realizing that the most important decision may still lay ahead of him.
Kalu Oji is an Igbo-Australian writer, filmmaker and visual artist based in Naarm/Birraranga. His work primarily explores notions of identity, in particular the African-Australian experience. Kalu graduated from the Victorian College of the Arts in 2018 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts (Film and TV). His graduate film, Blackwood, screened at the BFI London Film Festival, Palm Springs Shortfest, and Chicago International Film Festival, and picked up multiple awards, including the Filmmaker to Watch Award (Atlanta Film Festival), Luggi Waldleitner Award for Best Screenplay (Filmschoolfest Munich) and Best Cinematography (Flickerfest). Kalu’s most recent film, The Moon and Me, received postproduction funding from The City of Melbourne and just had its world premiere at the Oscar Qualifying, Pan African Film Festival in Los Angeles.
Sophie Smyth (VIC)
UNLOVEABLE, half-hour dramedy series, Logline: Reeling from the rejection of being dumped on her birthday because of her autism, twenty-something Sophie faces the prospect of dating as an autistic woman. She’s flung headfirst into the throes of modern dating, hookup culture, and complex relationships desperate to prove that she! is! loveable! damnit!!
Sophie is a singer, actor, writer and sometimes dancer. She was a finalist for the 2021 Rebel Wilson Comedy Commission and her cabaret show, The Aspie Hour, a poignant and hilarious look at autistic life, co-written and performed with Ryan Smedley, played to sold-out audiences across Australia. For this she was awarded a Green Room Award for Best Writing in a Cabaret, a Fringe World Weekly Award for Best Theatre and an Adelaide Fringe Weekly Award for Best Emerging Artist. Theatre credits include Helpmann Award Winning musical Robot Song with Arena Theatre Company and Motor-Mouth Loves Suck-Face: An Apocalyptic Musical at La Mama Theatre. Robot Song was presented at the 2020 IPAY (International Performing Arts for Youth) Conference in Philadelphia in the US. Sophie is a passionate disability advocate for authentic neurodivergent representation across film, television, and stage.
Shannan Tamby Lim (VIC)
SALTY, one hour horror / drama series. Logline: Salty is a supernatural family drama about multiple generations of a Malay dynasty in Melbourne, navigating careers, love, life, and their salt importing business, while hiding the fact that they are non-human entities from Malay folklore.
Shannan is a writer and artist based on Kulin Country. He has lectured in film and digital media at the University of Western Australia and taught physical theatre to adults and children at RMIT University and ArtPlay. His work has been performed at Griffin Theatre, the State Theatre Centre of WA and Melbourne International Comedy Festival. He has received the Multicultural Arts Victoria Award at Melbourne Fringe, the New Director Award at Nice International Film Festival and was City of Melbourne Artist-in-Residence at Boyd Studio. Most recently, he was a Wheeler Centre Hot Desk Fellow, a consultant on the First Nations and Diaspora series for Arts Centre Melbourne and a participant of AFTRS and Film Victoria Talent Camp.