The emerging storytellers of Western Sydney

23 Aug 2018

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UNSW School of Media & Arts students, Dee Dogan and Claire Cao with the ‘Behind Closed Doors’ team. Photo supplied by Co-Curious

Film Studies student Dee Dogan was seven when her family moved from Izmir, Turkey to Auburn, Western Sydney and she remembers not enjoying the change.

“The way people live here was very different to how we were living in Turkey.

“Izmir was very vibrant – parks and residential streets packed with children playing, women yelling across balconies socialising – [a] very social lifestyle. I must admit I had a nice childhood,” she says.

Drawing on her experiences as an immigrant and tapping into her Kurdish background, Dee was inspired to take up writing, scripting and storytelling.

“For me, it’s the only place I can express myself as a woman and as a cultural being in today’s world, or else I will go mad,” she says.

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UNSW School of Media & Arts student Dee Dogan is a Film Studies major.

Her debut short film A Loss which showcased a Kurdish-Australian teenager’s struggle for independence and acceptance within her community was accepted into the Short Film Corner at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival.

She followed this up with Being Kurd – Bashur, where Kurdish journalist Roza Germian recounts her childhood memories of escaping Saddam Hussain’s brutal regime in Iraq.This 13-minute piece won official selection at the 2017 Antenna Documentary Film Festival.

Last month, Dee and fellow UNSW student Claire Cao were among eight writers accepted into Behind Closed Doors, a new screen program developed by Co-Curious productions.

Co-Curious is a sister organisation to Curiousworks,a community arts and media organisation that identifies, nurtures and builds the next generation of storytellers, artists and media makers from Western Sydney.

Co-Curious is active in producing content for both the screen and stage. In addition to Behind Closed Doors, it also runs Breakthrough, another screen program for established writers from Western Sydney. Working with Belvoir Theatre in Surry Hills, the organisation is co-producing a theatre production about a Sri Lankan- Australian family set to premier in 2019.

“The depth and breadth of unrecognised talent in Western Sydney is immense,” said Co-Curious CEO S. Shakthidharan.

“By increasing the opportunities available in this region, we are building a better film and television industry for storytellers and audiences alike,”

“Dee and Claire both have distinctive, brave voices that deserve a bigger platform. Their writing is courageous and charismatic, and I'm thrilled to have them in the Behind Closed Doors program,” he says.

For aspiring screenwriter Claire Cao, having Chinese parents and living in Canley Vale, Sydney has been a defining part of her life.

“I've been in Western Sydney my whole life, so I've been in this kind of bubble.

“My writing is shaped from me living there, in a suburban environment with a huge immigrant community, she says.

“I'm interested in the landscape of these places – especially how immigrants integrate into the Australian landscape, because there is quite a clash, with everything.”

Growing up as an avid reader, she became especially hooked to reading fantasy novels which sparked her passion to write. Her love of films also influenced her writing.

“My favourite movies have always been these zany, romantic comedies where people just talk and relate to each other.

“Even though I’ve been writing prose all my life, screenwriting is new to me. I like that it forces me to distil everything to a bare minimum,” she says.

Now, enrolled in a Bachelor of Arts program at UNSW, Claire has “moved out of her bubble” and her work reflects this.

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UNSW School of Media & Arts student Claire Cao is a Creative Writing major.

“I love thinking beyond my neighbourhood and my world and feeling those big experiences and big feelings, but I also love bringing a sense of locality, and writing about things I know,” she says.

Claire’s short stories have been published in Sine Theta, an international print-based creative arts magazine made by and for the Chinese diaspora, as well as Voiceworks, a literary Melbourne-based journal for young Australians.

With just a few writing credits under her belt, Claire says she’s grateful to be a part of the Behind Closed Doors initiative.

The initiative which is supported by Screen Australia’s Enterprise Ideas Program will connect two producers and eight young writers from Western Sydney with experienced, industry mentors and partner organisations like ABC and Australian Writers Guild to produce a series of eight short films following common themes and characters.

For both Claire and Dee, the best part of this initiative is having the freedom to express their views and creativity within their individual segments, while still collaborating with other participants through workshops to take the story forward.

They also agree that following this hands-on training, in tandem with their classes at UNSW, helps them hone their skills quickly.

“My screenwriting class last year really helped me,” says Claire.

“It introduced me to a new style of writing which I didn’t think I would like or hadn’t thought of as an option before.”

Dee who had work experience before starting university says she chose UNSW because the courses matched what she wanted to do.

Although Dee’s current focus is on directing, she started her creative career by studying acting for over two years post-high school. She found the experience “unfulfilling” though.

It was only when she joined the Academy of Film, Theatre and Television (AFTT) that she found her creative spark. She conceptualized and produced both her films during her time as a student here.

“I made the decision to move behind the camera, because the stories I wanted to be in, the stories I wanted to express as an actor were not there.

“I want to create narratives that are purposeful and not just one dimensional. Stories that resemble different impressions of reality” she says.

“It was a big realisation that these absent stories need to be told out there and I needed to tell them.”