Screenwest has announced a group of eight powerful female Indigenous writers and directors as part of its creative project, RED.

Driven by Western Australian Indigenous production companies PiNK PEPPER and Ramu Productions, as well as Aotearoa/New Zealand company Brown Sugar Apple Grunt, the writing and directing initiative will see participants create an 80-minute anthology of stories from a female Aboriginal perspective.

The women—Kodie Bedford, Debbie Carmody, Jub Clerc, Kelli Cross, Karla Hart, Chantelle Murray, Ngaire Pigram and Mitch Torres—will each develop one ten-minute short film that will make up the larger anthology.

Taryne Laffar, founder of PiNK PEPPER, said the women would be telling their own stories, with a shared concept.

“There’s something remarkable about working with the collective nature of women. We have so many historical and contemporary issues about women not being included or respected in spaces,” Laffar said.

Nyoongar/Malgana/Wadjela actress and filmmaker, Kelli Cross, was one of the eight women selected to be a part of RED. She said it was exciting to have such a “visually stunning platform” to tell these unique stories, without being reduced to the “sound bite of a crazy Blak woman with a chip on her shoulder”.

“As an Indigenous woman, you’re going to have universal struggles that we’re all going to relate to, that other people will never understand,” she said.

Cross said she hopes the film will act as a vessel for people to understand the struggles of Blak women.

“I’ve found that over the years, the Blak woman has a gentle mallet with which to hammer in the truth to ignorant people.”

The film will dive into the theme of “missing Indigenous women”, a prominent issue that has recently gained international traction with the ratification of Savanna’s Act, an Indigenous Bill from the United States Government.

At the end of last year, the issue struck a chord with Screenwest Indigenous Manager, Devina McPherson. She said the statistics blew her away.

“It stood out to me—it needs to be spoken about more and highlighted. With RED, it’s an all-female writing initiative so I think it will be amazing to get an all-female perspective on this issue,” she said.

McPherson is hopeful when it comes to what the film can achieve. She said the possibilities of its impact are endless, and that it even has the potential to influence the reopening of unsolved cases.

For Laffar, the topic is both important and personal.

“I’m missing women in my life, so it resonated with me immediately,” she said.

“RED aims to talk about missing Blak women. By that, we mean they could be missing because of Stolen Generations, they might have died young because of bad health, or they might not be psychologically there. They’re all missing—it’s about being disconnected from grandmothers and aunties and Country,” she explained.

McPherson said RED received 40 applications from talented Indigenous women across Western Australia, which made for an “insanely hard” selection process.

The net was cast wide, with women from various sectors of the industry, including theatre and radio invited to apply.

“They’re all spread everywhere. They’re very deadly and strong and innovative in their own ways so it’s going to be very exciting,” McPherson said.

One of the most striking elements of RED is its community mindset. Many of the women who applied will be involved in the production, based on their different strengths and talents.

Although COVID-19 travel restrictions have forced pre-production to move to an online space, the RED team is confident that spending longer on the development is a good thing.

McPherson, Laffar and Cross all hope the film inspires young Indigenous people to pursue creative careers and talents.

“Inspiration is what I want to come out of it first and foremost. It’s only been in recent years that we’ve started to see Blak faces all over the place, and getting into the mainstream. I want our stories to be there … we do a drama like nobody, you know?” Cross laughed.

Blak representation is also at the forefront of McPherson and Laffar’s minds.

“I have such a vivid memory—when Deb Mailman was on Play School, my sister Katherine was about three or four,” Laffar said.

“We all crowded around her, watching her watch a Blak woman on screen. We all got goosebumps and cried—this little kid was ecstatic.

“If you can’t see it, you can’t be it. That’s an example of how profound it is to see one person who looks like you who’s making it—it’s all you need.”

The production timeline for RED is still in the works, but the team will begin working on their scripts in the coming months.

By Imogen Kars