To celebrate National Youth Week, SBS launched a competition inviting 14- to 20-year-olds to submit a video pitch about their identity, the prize, a chance to have their short film on air. The response was overwhelming with many inspiring entries from across the nation. Five finalists were invited to attend a residential storytelling workshop in Melbourne, and with the help of SBS and the Foundation for Young Australians (FYA) produced a short film about their story.
Winner Atak Ngor, 18, was born in what is now South Sudan during the Second Sudanese Civil War. His film is dedicated to those he left behind.
“A film is like a loaded gun.”
When Atak Ngor talks about his identity he doesn’t pull any punches. “I’m an artist. I’m a filmmaker,” he says immediately. “Writing, directing and producing are my passions.”
For him creating a film about his own identity didn’t mean putting himself in the frame, it was about the opportunity to tell someone else’s story.
“I made that decision because I believe that I don’t make films for myself, I make them for other people,” he says.
Storytelling is something the 18-year-old, originally from South Sudan, has always gravitated towards.
For a while Atak worked as a theatre actor but when Australian film and TV director Rowan Woods invited him onto the set of Australian drama series, The Kettering Incident, while it was being filmed in Tasmania, he was hooked on filmmaking.
He soon found himself diving into all things film, directing and producing short films, music videos and commercials.
“Filmmaking is the most powerful way to tell a story,” he says.
“It is a loaded gun.”
He says that for him filmmaking is about challenging people, not necessarily trying to change their minds. It is something he thinks is particularly important around the portrayal of the South Sudanese community in Australian by the media both for the community themselves as well as others.
“The way we South Sudanese are portrayed by the media is at a point where we believe what the media says to us about us, which we know deep down are lies.” he says.
“If we South Sudanese believe what’s in the media is true, what will other Australians think of us?”
Deciding to put his hand up to create a film about identity was a simple choice for him and something he jumped at.
His film is poignant a single shot of two young South Sudanese children talking to each other and was inspired by his own childhood experiences.
“They’re talking about something any kid in Australia could talk about.
“The film gives people a bit of where we came from.
“If it makes people reflect, that’s good. But, I think many might return to eating their dinner thinking ‘poor kids’ and forget about them.”
In particular he wants his films to create a platform that gets people talking, whether they see themselves in his work or not.
“By sharing those stories it helps people talk about their experiences, and helps these who are brain-washed by the media.” he says.
“For the majority of people who have never been to these places, being able to be open to understanding other people’s ideas, beliefs and cultures (is important).”
Atak says the experience has helped him further develop his craft, particularly in relation to storytelling and cinematography.
The 18-year-old is working to take his filmmaking further and hopes to eventually graduate from short to feature length films or a TV series.
With two screenplays already written, he’s well on the way.
“I want to tell other people’s stories and stories that are not being told, specifically, African stories. There are not enough African stories written and directed by Africans,” he says, pointing to films like Hotel Rwanda, Blood Diamond, and Beasts of No Nation as a few examples of African stories that have been made by Europeans or Americans.
“I think it’s dangerous because if you have an African filmmaker and they’re doing a story about their country, you get a more truthful story.
“The way Hollywood does films is that they look at a particular theme and they have a market (in mind).”
He says that when you watch a film you see everything through the eyes of the director, which is why diversity is so important.
He points to Timbuktu by Abderrahmane Sissako as his favourite film and one of the few he knows to fit the criteria.
“It was profound and beautiful. There’s not enough films like that.”
Words by: Maggie Hill
Mentor Director: Hannah Moore
Mentor Cinematographer: Sherwin Akbarzadeh
Mentor Producer: Emily Franke