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Online documentaries to watch right now

We take a look at some fabulous (and free) online documentary titles funded by Screen Australia that are available to watch now.

From mental health and the effects of technology, to the power of art and showcasing the beauty of natural landscapes, online documentaries take Australian stories to the world.

Screen Australia funds both the development and production of online documentaries, and here are some of the most recent projects:

little joe

Little Joe is the first documentary series from emerging producer/writer/director David Ratner. Divided into six parts, it centres on Joseph El Azzi, a debt-collector from Sydney’s western suburbs. Over the course of the series we learn of Joe’s origins, revisit his childhood memories and are offered a fascinating and voyeuristic insight into his role as a private investigator turned professional debt collector.

There are stories of dodgy business dealings, corporate criminals, complex car repossessions, seedy characters, some hairy run-ins and unlikely friendships. Joe’s direct gaze into the camera creates an intimate setting that allows him to drive the narrative. The intermittent b-roll and subtle re-enactments help us experience a world so many would be unaware exists.

Little Joe is the first short form Australian documentary series Little Dot has commissioned and it’s available to watch via their YouTube platform Real Stories.

  • Come behind the scenes with David Ratner here

Tip: If you liked Little Joe, check out The Twist on ABC iview.

WHERE the river runs red

A joint Screen Australia / The Guardian commission, Where the River Runs Red explores the community of Queenstown, Tasmania, caught between a prosperous past and an uncertain future. The once bustling mining town of 10,000 people has now dwindled to 1,700 after the closure of the Mt Lyell Mine in 2014. Dividing the town is an ominous red river, a reminder of the past and the effects the mine has had on the natural environment. The hauntingly beautiful shots of Tasmania’s isolated west coast showcases its stunning natural landscapes of lush green forests and mountainous regions, contrasted with the ‘moonscape’ of the abandoned mines.

It is also a story of hope and resilience. It delves into the lives of the locals, some hoping for the re-opening of the mine, others looking towards a different future. ‘Anthony’ is embracing the wilderness and beauty of the area as an opportunity for tourism revenue, while the local AFL team, the Queenstown Crows, and bingo nights bring the community together. From award-winning writer/director Brodie Poole, Where the River Runs Red provides an intimate snapshot of a community undergoing transformation and coming to terms with the environmental legacy of mining.

  • Meet the director Brodie Poole here

Tip: If you liked Where the River Runs Red, check out Mirror on ABC iview, a documentary series by Brodie Pool, or the iconic feature documentary Frackman on Stan, FetchTV and Docplay.

burlesque boys

Winner of last year’s Pitch Australiana competition, Burlesque Boys follows Sid, owner and choreographer of Australian dance group MenXclusive, and his team of performers. The behind-the-scenes look at male erotic dancing and cabaret gives us a glimpse into the lives and gruelling schedules of these men. There’s backstage tantrums and high stress situations along with steamy live shows and excitable (predominantly) female audiences – think washboard abs, police fantasies played out and plenty of erotic moves. Burlesque Boys sees MenX take their stage show from Melbourne interstate and explores the personal tolls of their work, financial realities and Sid’s constant struggle for artistic credibility.

Having just released on YouTube and VICE, you can check it out now.

Tip: If you liked Burlesque Boys check out Making Muriel via iTunes or Matilda and Me on Docplay.

shooting cats

The observational documentary Shooting Cats follows the lives of three unlikely conservationists, Ben and Garron from rural NSW and Barry from Kangaroo Island. They’re your stereotypical “true-blue” Aussie blokes who are doing their part to protect the natural environment and the native wildlife within it. This however involves the trapping and shooting of feral cats, something they have faced much public scrutiny for. In Barry’s case, he has become a local (somewhat infamous) celebrity, known for trapping cats before turning them into hats, rugs, fridge magnets and stubby coolers.

Despite being witness to the confronting reality of dealing with such an urgent environmental issue, we see the cats are killed humanely and it’s hard to ignore the devastation that these feral animals leave in their wake. Most city-dwellers wouldn’t think twice about feral cats but for those living in the country’s rural fringes, they’re a diabolical pest and considered the single biggest threat to native animals in Australia. It’s estimated there are between 2-6 million feral cats across 99.8% of the mainland with each killing about 740 native animals a year.

For director Inday Ford, the intention of this documentary was to break down cultural barriers, judgement and prejudice and take an intimate look into the lives of these men who do this for the love of Australian native wildlife.

Winner of the inaugural Screen Australia / VICE Pitch Australiana competition, Shooting Cats is available to watch on YouTube or VICE online.

Tip: If you liked Shooting Cats, check out Gun Ringer on ABC iview.

The Common Thread

Trigger warning: discussion of suicide

Six-part documentary web series, The Common Thread, was created by filmmaker Darius Devas with an aim to break down the stigma surrounding mental health and suicide. He meets an array of young Australians from all walks of life who open up and share their experiences as well as the tools and tactics that have supported their recovery.

In each episode we hear the inspiring stories of people from coastal, outback, city and country regions. Devas was motivated to create the series when his friend Alice Eather took her own life and the introductory episode sees Devas open up about his own experiences with anxiety. It has now taken him on a journey around Australia with the intention to spark open and positive conversations. He has partnered with Headspace and the Centre for Rural and Remote Mental Health to help amplify the series’ message and the film team is also working on developing an educational package for high schools.

All episodes as well as short video profiles are available to watch on Devas’ YouTube channel Being Here.

If you’d like to talk about this topic, you can call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue on 1300 22 46 36.

Tip: If you liked The Common Thread, check out SBS On Demand series How ‘Mad’ Are You?

Visible Farmer​

Visible Farmer unearths a collection of untold stories of some of Australia’s incredible female farmers who have long remained “invisible”. Up until 1994, Australian women could not legally claim to be farmers, instead they were classified as domestic helpmates or farmers’ wives.

This 15-part web series from producer and director Gisela Kaufmann was created to highlight the role of women in the industry, both past and present after she came across Invisible Farmer, a nationwide research project. Now she’s brought the stories from print to screen.

Each episode is dedicated to a gutsy woman and the vital role they play in our agricultural and horticultural sectors, including producing half of all food in Australia. We meet farmers including Debbie Dowden, a cattle producer in WA’s mid-west, Nicole May whose dream to become a dairy farmer took her from her home in Switzerland to WA’s Margaret River and Ketut, a young mother from Bali who became a farmer by default and now loves every minute of it. From remote outback stations to urban market gardens, Visible Farmer hopes to change the perceptions of Australia's farmers and who they really are.

Tip: If you liked Visible Farmer, check out Backtrack Boys on SBS On Demand.

Doco180 series 2

Doco180 Inner Demons

Now in its second year, Doco180 is back with four short form stories made by women about women. The Screen Australia and News Limited initiative has been rolled out via the female-focused platform Whimn. Each bite-size video is designed to explain, challenge, inspire and entertain with the main objective of making the viewer do “a 180” on a topic relevant to Aussie women in 180 seconds. These four stories focus on issues from unrealistic beauty standards and queer parenting to the politics of body hair and gender equality in the workplace. It’s relatable, informative and diverse and at 3-minutes a pop, this thought-provoking content is definitely worth your time.

A Hairy Problem

The film that’ll make you question why you pluck, wax and shave, A Hairy Problem explores how society has moulded our relationship with body hair.

Mother/Lover

What life is like as a queer solo parent in the dating game. Holly Zwalf says sex and motherhood do mix.

Inner Demons

How white beauty standards gave Rosaline Kanneh an eating disorder and her journey towards healing and self-acceptance.

Together, She Succeeds

An exploration of relationships between women in the workplace and why there isn’t a female equivalent of the “boys’ club”.

Check out the four episodes here

Tip: If you liked series 2 of Doco180, check out Series 1 on Whimn.

ART BITES

Now in its third year, 2019 saw the release of four series of short art-focused documentaries through the Screen Australia / ABC initiative, Art Bites. The latest crop provides a collection of heart-warming and diverse stories that will make you laugh, cry and appreciate the magic of art. This year’s Art Bites series all are available to watch now on ABC iview.

BIOGENESIS

Biogenesis

In Biogenesis we’re introduced to six radical artists pushing science into new realms through the creations of unique biological artworks. The art is creative and peculiar but through delving into the obscure methods and practices of these ground-breaking artists we can see a unique link between science and art. In one episode, we meet Helen who is trying to change the conversation on human waste, creating sculptures from her own faeces, while John who suffers from kidney disease turns his pain into performance art. The series not only questions the future of science but it provides another way of understand things like AI, biology and medicine through the lens of art.

Watch on ABC iview here

Studio A

Studio A

This chapter of the series shines a spotlight on six neurodiverse artists at Sydney-based art space, Studio A. It challenges traditional expectations of those with intellectual disabilities and as we follow their artistic journeys, we see how art is used to communicate their experience of the world, through subject matters such as self-determination, romance, imagination and belonging. We meet Greg, a highly articulate comic artist with autism who overcomes his fear of crowds and strangers to do live art at Canberra music festival, Spilt Milk, and Lisa, who turns her personal stories of discrimination and family into a profoundly personal textile work at the Australian Design Centre. Studio A captures some incredible moments of these artists achieving great personal and professional successes.

Watch on ABC iview here

Tip: if you liked Studio A, check out the incredible series Employable Me and Love on the Spectrum, both on ABC ivew.

Third Culture Kids

Third Culture Kids

In this bite-size series, we meet six different emerging Australian artists from culturally diverse backgrounds, each with their own unique experiences and different styles of art. Through their work they explore ideas of belonging, racism, discrimination and identity in modern day Australia, using art as a tool to make sense of their world and cultural heritage.

Watch on ABC iview here

The Unmissables

The Unmissables

This instalment follows the creative journey of three artists who use their expertise to shine a light on missing persons. Contemporary artist Joel Moore (aka Vans the Omega), sculptor Pimpisa Tinpalit and singer-songwriter Jess Ribeiro meet the families and friends of three missing persons and create a work of public portraiture to reignite the search for their loved ones. The Unmissables is emotional, intimate and uplifting as we see beautiful connections blossom between artists, and families. Joel, Pimpisa and Jess also reflect on their own pasts and experiences to draw inspiration, deepen their understanding and create some wonderful pieces of art.

Watch on ABC iview here

Tip: If you enjoyed the Art Bites, check out earlier series like Shock Art on ABC iview.

attention wars

This YouTube series is a lively, informative exploration of the behavioural psychology behind social media. Attention Wars is led and presented by scientist Vanessa Hill who has forged a significant online presence, with a 483k subscriber base for her YouTube channel Braincraft. After success with Mutant Menu, a Screen Australia / Google Skip Ahead funded project, Hill is back with an hour of engaging content divided into 6x10 minute videos. Each part explores a different aspect of the impacts that big tech and social media have on society and examines the claim - have they become masters of our attention?

Tip: If you enjoyed Attention Wars, check out Hill’s fascinating documentary Mutant Menu on YouTube.