Shari Sebbens is, like so many, waiting out the current extended New South Wales lockdown by doing a lot of streaming. We caught up with the Bardi, Jabirr Jabirr actor, Sydney Theatre Company Resident Director (and all around national treasure) over Zoom from her home on Gadigal land, to give us a some insights into what's on her SBS On Demand watchlist.
As our special guest curator, Shari has put together an excellent collection of comedies, movies, empathetic dramas, and series that defy easy classification (Atlanta, anyone?).
So what was her guiding principle in compiling her collection?
"I really just went, 'Oh, what did I like?' It's pretty much the easiest way to sum up my taste. But I was conscious of works by First Nations artists, works by Black artists, and works at focus on the world as it is now or the world we want to see. Or the harsh reality of the world that some of us live in, but that we might not all be privy to. And also I just wanted that little bit of humour because I'm a little bit slightly immature at times, perhaps! So a little bit of light and hope and reality and change, I suppose!"
The Breaker Upperers
"The Breaker Upperers is one of my favourite movies. I guess the reason it's one of my favourite movies is because it's about, two women and a best friendship. It's sort of a rom-com about besties, in the vein of Bridesmaids. Plus it's from our cousins over in New Zealand, so it's got that sort of mad blend of humour and pathos. It's moving, but also, you're just cracking up the whole time. It's a really good one if you're just looking for something silly, but fun, really fun to watch."
The Red Turtle
"I remember I stumbled across it by accident on SBS one night and I'm stumbled across it, like a more few times on SBS by accident. And I managed to watch it from start to finish one night. It's very stylized, it's an animation, but don't let that deter you in any way. I didn't think I was one of those people that could sit through a full length animated movie and be moved in the way that I was. And, you know, it's, it's sort of a meditative film and it plays on emotions in a really big and beautiful way. And I think we, um, we're very easy to discredit animation as something that can touch people's hearts and make them feel, and the red turtle is something that absolutely does that."
"Donald Glover, Childish Gambino. What, what can this man not do?! I remember reading the announcements of Atlanta and being like, 'Okay, cool. A TV series'. Then I watched it and it just exceeded any expectation I ever had. It's a deeply philosophical TV series. I can remember somebody described it as like 'The Wire-meets-Twin Peaks' or something, which was kind kind of mad but it feels in ballpark of that. One of my favourite episodes is called 'Justin Bieber'. Watch it and find out why.
"I love it so much because it feels really genuine in its approach to Black life in Atlanta. He has a really gentle hand in touching on things in a really subtle way. And you know, a two second scene between a man and a woman can absolutely break your heart and then a scene about an invisible car will pop up, and you're like, 'What the hell is happening?!'. It's really quite philosophical and it does have the sense of hope. And it's something that you've just got to go along with on this wild ride actually."
Both seasons of Atlanta are now streaming. Start here:
The Other Side of Hope
"I remember seeing or reading a little article about it when I saw the ads for it on SBS World Movies, but when I saw that it was available on demand, I had to watch it because there was something about the poster image that caught me, the bright colours. Then I read the blurb about a refugee, trying to make his way to safety, really. It's got a clever, clever sense of comedy to it, and it never feels like it's exploitative of the refugee experience. It's incredibly moving and it has a fantastic soundtrack. And it just looks really cool as well. Audiences come to expect certain things in traumatic stories and events and, you know, a movie that should tug at your heart strings to look a certain way, but this one just kind of came out of left field. And for so many reasons, it sticks in my head as a long-term fave."
The Whole Table
"It's a bit of a shameless plug: it's a television series that was between Sydney Theatre Company, NITV and SBS On Demand. It premiered in January of 2021, [after] the madness that was 2020. It's a three part talk show panel series with some of the leading indigenous artists in this country, and from around the world. We have Taika Waititi joining us. We have Briggs joining us. That means a hell of a lot to me, actually. It reflects, really closely on why we do what we do as artists. And the feedback that I've had from audience members over the last few months has been really incredible, in that it doesn't matter what industry you're in and it doesn't matter, you know, what your background is. Everybody found it really insightful and found that they could connect with something in this show. So please give it a watch."
The whole series of The Whole Table is now streaming. Start here:
The Whole Table emerged through Shari's role as Resident Director of the Sydney Theatre Company (STC). With countless stage and screen acting credits to her name, Shari made the transition to directing, after receiving strong encouragement from two trusted female colleagues.
"I was always terrified of directing! The idea of directing was just way beyond me. As an actor, you're very focused on your little piece in this larger machine. And I was always really terrified of The Big Picture that directors have to stand back and kind of render. I never thought I'd be able to do it, but about six years ago I was working on a show with Sydney Theatre Company called Battle of Waterloo. And the director at the time, Sarah Goodes pulled me aside and said, ‘What are you going to direct?’ and be associate director at the time, Paige Rattray, pulled me aside and said, ‘What are you going to direct?’
“So the seed was planted there by these incredible women. It started growing from there. And suddenly I got to the stage where I was like, you know what? I know a lot of dudes who've acted and written and directed and done things, and they’re not necessarily great at all of them. But they gave it a go. And there's the research that shows that we women don't give things a go until we feel like we're prepared for them. And the other thing that actually spurred me on was responsibility. I feel like I've been really fortunate as an actor to have built a career over the last decade.
"And I thought, ‘You know, if I direct, it means I can bring more actors into the fold and give more Aboriginal actors and actors of colour, and actors that meet any intersection: gender, disability, sexuality, culture, race and identity. I can bring people into the fold and open the door a bit wider with me because I've got the key. So it was an amalgamation of things, I suppose, but mostly a responsibility to make sure I'm bringing people through.
As a result of the Sydney (and subsequently, wider New South Wales) lockdown, the STC has suspended its 2021 season, and rescheduled Shari's production of Lorraine Hansberry’s 'A Raisin in the Sun'. Shari says, "thankfully we still have work at STC to keep us busy, which is something that I am so incredibly grateful for". Writer development programs have transitioned to online - "thank the gods of Zoom".
"You know, The Whole Table came out of 2020 and out of being locked down. Now it's like, 'Well, what else can we do? What else? You know, we brought STC virtual. I think everyone's feeling a bit different this time around in lockdown. It's like, what can we give people that acknowledges the situation we're in, and acknowledges the work that we'll try and create, and give to the community."
Catch the rest of Shari's curated collection, all now streaming at SBS On Demand:
Ivan Sen (Beneath Clouds) has crafted a deeply personal story, which intimately depicts mission life in contemporary Australia. In the remote Indigenous community of Toomelah, Daniel - a sensitive, troubled 10 year old boy - dreams of being a gangster. When he is kicked out of school he befriends a local gang leader, until a rival gangster arrives back from jail to reclaim his turf. A showdown ensues and Daniel is caught in the middle, leaving him with a choice to make about his uncertain future. The film reveals the challenges facing the young Gamilaroi people of the Toomelah Community. Robbed of much of their traditional culture by Government policy, it is a community on a cultural edge, struggling for an identity. It is a provocative and yet comic story that transports audiences inside the community, creating an authentic world and way of life that is "Toomelah". The film is set entirely in the remote Indigenous community of Toomelah, located on the NSW, QLD border. It was created as a mission during the 1930s, bringing together Gamilaroi and Bigambal people from the surrounding area.
Filmed as 6 ten-minute episodes, new Australian drama series ‘The Tailings’ follows the events that take place after the death of teenage Jas’s father. The tight-knit community of her small town, nestled in the hauntingly beautiful mountains of Tasmania’s West Coast, puts his death down to an accident. Jas does not buy it and embarks on her own investigation of what happened to her dad. His death coincides with the arrival of Jas’s new schoolteacher Ruby, who comes carrying the burden of her own past trauma. The two slowly develop a mutual trust and as the story unfolds, secrets are exposed, and the truth becomes impossible to ignore. Emerging stars Tegan Stimson and Mabel Li play Jas and Ruby respectively. In their poignant performances, the two women intimately portray the connecting human experiences of grief, guilt and loss, from the perspective of those living on the margins both socially and geographically.
The entire series of The Tailings is now streaming. Start here:
Based on the bestselling trilogy of novels by Eden Robinson, Trickster tells the story of Jared, an Indigenous teen struggling to keep his dysfunctional family above water. Jared holds down an after-school job and cooks ecstasy on the side to support his separated parents - partying mom Maggie, who self-medicates an undiagnosed mental illness, and unemployable dad Phil, who has a painkiller addiction and a new girlfriend. But when Jared starts seeing strange things — talking ravens, doppelgängers, skin monsters — his already chaotic life is turned upside down. At first, he thinks he’s losing his mind, but to his relief, and terror, the supernatural events are all too real. It turns out there’s more than meets the eye to the place Jared grew up, the people he loves – and to Jared himself.
Trickster is available as a box set. Start here:
Good Grief is a six episode comedy set in small town NZ, about two millennial sisters who inherit a funeral home from their koro. By staring death in the face every day, Ellie and Gwen Goode begin to confront the realities of their own life, and what they want to make of it. They will eventually discover that, while at times confronting, being able to help families cope with loss is also a heart-warming opportunity.
Black Lives Matter: A Global Reckoning
Following the 2020 police killing of George Floyd, people around the world rallied not only to show solidarity in the fight against police brutality in the US, but also to confront their own countries’ unique issues with racism. This four-part documentary series features: a deep dive into the treatment of Black Italians; an investigation into the systemic racism, police brutality, and religious persecution against the Black Brazilian population, and what anti-racist activists call a Black genocide; a reckoning in Denmark sparked by the murder of Phillip Mbuji Johansen, a young mixed-race Dane; and the outrage sparked by the murder of Ethiopian Israeli teen Solomon Teka by an off-duty police officer.
The four-part series is not streaming, Start here:
Change was coming to America and the fault lines were no longer ignorable—cities were burning, Vietnam was exploding, and disputes raged over equality and civil rights. A new revolutionary culture was emerging and it sought to drastically transform the system. The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense [sic] would, for a short time, put itself at the vanguard of that change. The Black Panthers is the first documentary to showcase the Black Panther party, its significance in the broader American culture. its cultural and political awakening for black people, and the painful lessons wrought when a movement derails. Stanley Nelson goes straight to the source, weaving a treasure of rare archival footage with the voices of the people who were there: police, FBI informants, journalists, white supporters and detractors, and Black Panthers who remained loyal to the party and those who