David's cover image


Year of Award: 1993 Award State: New South Wales Multimedia > Television And Film
To study innovative techniques in the production of film and video documentaries - USA, UK

David Goldie’s documentaries give people in the margins of our society an opportunity to speak for themselves and David leapt early on the new possibilities created by the digital revolution, using them for precisely this purpose, as we see below. Before this, however, he was making documentaries for the ABC.

By the time David was awarded a Churchill Fellowship in 1993, he had made seven full-length documentaries in six years, films where he conceived the project and was writer, director, producer, interviewer and narrator. The immersion in controversial, emotionally taxing areas such as domestic violence and homelessness had given him a bad case of burn-out. He writes in his eloquent report: ‘Enter the Churchill Fellowship – it has literally redeemed me.’

In the humid heat of a summer afternoon, David told me about his Fellowship in the cool oasis of his Sydney home. He visited the United States and the United Kingdom and viewed more than 150 documentaries and spoke to hundreds of people in production houses. David put into practice the lessons he learnt, one of which was discovering ‘smaller, high quality and more simply operated electronic cameras [which meant that] documentary makers are facing a technology-led revolution of their craft.’

David was already making a revolutionary impact with his films. When the ABC screened his documentary, Nobody’s Children in 1989, viewers responded with more than 10,000 letters and phone calls. Phones ran hot at the Salvation Army with offers of blankets and assistance to help. Viewers were so affected by this powerful film that a network of parents and families opened up their homes to homeless children.

Two years before that, David’s documentary, Out of Sight, Out of Mind, about young people in jail was used to educate magistrates and judges, to make them more aware of where they were sending some of the young people who appeared before them. While researching Nobody’s Children, David Goldie learnt of two adolescent boys who were recidivists in a juvenile prison. They apparently believed that petty crime was prestigious and ‘pretty cool’ until they were given the opportunity to watch Out of Sight, Out of Mind. It affected them so much that they made sure that when they were released, they did not return.

David’s documentaries are gripping. While he allows the people to tell their own story, and those stories are often painful, the films are beautifully crafted and expressive, with high production values combined with authentic suspense that make it hard to take one’s eyes off the screen.

In 2004 Melbourne’s RMIT University’s School of Journalism assembled an eminent board of judges to select the Best Australian Journalism of the 20th Century. Judges selected five best documentary films. Three were made by David Goldie.

Canberra’s National Film and Sound Archive (NFSA) holds some but not all of David Goldie’s films. I think that the NFSA should have the equivalent of the National Library’s Legal Deposit, which means that publishers of all Australian books and serials must give a copy to the National Library of Australia, to be held for posterity. There is no difference between our artists who express themselves in writing, or on film or digitally. David Goldie’s films are masterpieces and we need to have a complete record of them preserved for posterity in one place.

After David’s Fellowship, he teamed up with Sohail Dahdal to produce the first online interactive documentary commissioned by a national broadcaster: Escape to Freedom – Refugees in Australia. He wanted to combine traditional story-telling techniques with emerging technologies in order to provide audiences with insights into what it is like to be a refugee. In 2001 he committed himself to devoting ten years to developing innovative online and interactive documentary projects.

Another example from this period is Swapping Lives (SBS, 2006) where he gave two young girls, one Australian and one a Muslim Indonesian, the opportunity to swap lives, homes and cultures. Each was given a small digital camera to record her own ‘video diary’ to supplement David’s footage. We are used to this technique now but it was very unusual then. The compelling result is a unique story of tolerance and understanding.

Swapping Lives was a direct outcome of David’s Churchill Fellowship. He recalls, that when he approached SBS, ‘they were edgy, because at that time they had never done anything with such a substantial online component. I told them that for too long online content had been regarded as the “poor cousin” of conventional productions. Happily, Swapping Lives totally changed their thinking – particularly when the series enjoyed the greatest public response SBS had ever had, up to that date. It also won a major social website award.’

Currently, David is writing a six-part drama series about the heroic battle of two teenage girls as they attempt to bring down a sophisticated network of paedeophiles preying on vulnerable girls at their local school.

Some artists have the ability to hold a mirror up to their society, giving us new insights into what is going on around us and giving audiences goose-bumps as they register a powerful, unique voice. David Goldie is one of these people.

Excerpt from “Inspiring Australians” written by Penny Hanley (2015)

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