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Spotlight on 9 First Nations voices to watch

Hear from 9 creatives whose careers are going from strength-to-strength.

First Nations storytellers have a long history of crafting powerful work for the screen. Think Rachel Perkins, Warwick Thornton, Erica Glynn and Wayne Blair just to name a few.

Below, hear from nine First Nations creatives breaking into new heights in their careers, as they explain in their own words why they were drawn to screen and highlights so far.

From writing/directing first features and shorts, to creating content for Instagram and working on Thor: Love and Thunder, their stories might be different, but one thing is clear: the future is bright.

1. Jub Clerc

Jub Clerc headshotJub Clerc

Jub is a Nyul Nyul/Yawuru woman from the Kimberley in Western Australia. Graduating from WAAPAs three-year acting course, Jub spent many years in theatre before moving into film and TV, working on shows such as The Circuit Series 1 & 2, Bran Nue Dae, Mad Bastards, Satellite Boy, Jandamarra’s War, Jasper Jones and Mystery Road Series 1. Jub has also written and/or directed on short film Storytime, documentaries Music Men, Min Min Light, and Struggling Songlines, two episodes of ABC’s The Heights Series 2 and a chapter of feature film The Turning. For NITV, Jub has reported for Around the Traps and hosted Mugu Kids. Jub‘s debut play 'The Fever and the Fret’ premiered at Yirra Yaakin Theatre Co, and won the 2017 Kate Challis Award. Its French translation is in partnership with Maison Antoine Vitez and The Australian Embassy in Paris. Jub’s directorial debut feature film Sweet As will premiere at MIFF (Melbourne International Film Festival) in 2022.

My family used to sit under the two big mango trees in our front yard and play guitar almost every night. I was surrounded by performers. My mum went on to tour with ‘Bran Nue Dae’ for four years with me in tow, so I got the bug big-time from an early age. Then after graduating from WAAPA, in a time where there were not many Indigenous key creatives, I got sick of waiting for someone to write and direct content that was authentic to my lived experience, so I picked up a pen (no computer for my broke ass back then, ha!) and put my hand up to write and direct my first short film.

A career highlight would definitely have to be writing and directing my first feature film Sweet As – inspired by a moment in my life. Having it premiere at MIFF this year is going to be quite emotional for me. I wish my mum was here to see it. She was my muse... still is. 


Ismail Khan Ismail Khan
Ismail is a writer and director with Wailwan, Gomeroi and Pakistani heritage, born and raised in south-west Sydney. He is a graduate of the directing masters at the Australian Film, Television and Radio School and his graduate film Sunnies won CAPA Prize for best fictional short in Asia-Pacific and had its world premiere at Sydney Film Festival 2021. Sunnies continues to screen at festivals locally and abroad including screenings at Moariland Film Festival, Short Shorts Film Festival & Asia, Flickerfest and LA Shorts International Film Festival. In 2021 Ismail was one of six emerging filmmakers selected for a director’s attachment with Taika Waititi on Thor: Love And Thunder and later that year directed his first episode of scripted television on the upcoming kids drama/adventure series Barrumbi Kids for NITV/SBS. The series tells the story of two best friends growing up on country in a remote Northern Territory community. Having a diverse cultural background Ismail’s focus is on developing, writing and directing scripted content that foregrounds First Nations and CALD points of view.

There are a few of aspects to filmmaking that drew me to the role of director:

  • Collaboration with other creatives/interesting people. Within that, working with a collective of artists in high-pressure environments toward a vision. When you’re on set there is only now because there is little-to-zero chance you’re coming back to create this moment. This is the challenge but also the source of the adrenaline rush, and I’m a bit of an adrenaline junkie.
  • Representation and accessibility. Discovering and casting new talent from areas where the opportunity to be a part of the discovery process is non-existent.

There have been a number of highlights to date and they mostly revolve around working with young non-actors:

  • Writing and directing my short film Sunnies and working on the upcoming kids drama/adventure series Barrumbi Kids. In particular working with young actors who had never performed before.
  • For Sunnies, Skye Leon (Producer) and I did a casting call-out in the area where we shot the film and found Malaki Williams. Sunnies was his first time acting and he has now gone on to be cast in ABC’s Total Control and the reboot of Heartbreak High for Netflix.
  • Discovering and casting new talent is a key drive of mine as a director and I’ll continue to do this in all of my work.


Kantesha Takai Kantesha Takai
Together with her fiancé Corey Ward, Kantesha Takai is a First Nations content creator based on Thursday Island in the Torres Strait. Kantesha and Corey share their boating and tropical island adventures primarily on Instagram (@caysea_ventures) to encourage tourism and visitation to the Torres Strait region. Most recently, the pair contributed towards the Queensland Museum’s Island Futures Exhibition and were the primary photographers of the exhibition. Now with a toddler in tow, their content has evolved into family adventures, and they will be dropping new content in the coming weeks.

[On creating shortform screen content for Instagram] It’s quick. You can go from filming to posting in a matter of minutes, if not seconds. We’re able to quickly edit and share quality content with our followers from wherever we find ourselves, and more than often we're out in the middle of the ocean.

We’ve really enjoyed working with the Queensland Museum in bringing to life the Island Futures Exhibition (June 2021-April 2022) and seeing our photos used on billboards, across the exhibition, in digital advertising and in the photobooth.


Isaac Lindsay Isaac Lindsay
Isaac Coen Lindsay comes from the Riverland, Berri South Australia and is part of the Ngarrindjeri Tribe. He made his first short Postcard From the Edge in 2013 at a workshop in Port Augusta ABC radio, run by ABC OPEN. In 2015, he was part of the South Australia Film Corporation (SAFC) "micro docs" initiative and in 2016 was an attachment in the electrics department on Warwick Thornton’s feature film Sweet Country. He did an attachment with cinematographer Allan Collins on the short documentary Coming Home and was an assistant to Collins on the short film Acknowledgement of Country. Isaac has done photography and filming for Working on Country, NRM, Country Arts SA projects and community. Konya is Isaac's first short film that he has written and directed, fully financed by SAFC. In 2018, it was an official selection at the Adelaide Film Festival. In 2019, Isaac was a videographer for two NITV our stories; King Koomie and 50,000 Year Old Silk Road and is directing his first ABC short documentary Electric Mimili for ABC iview. Most recently Isaac was editor on Rolf de Heer’s feature film Survival of Kindness and co-writer on web series Dark Matter Don’t Matter, which was funded by Screen Australia Online, Screen Territory and SAFC.

Editing was the first thing I learned in film. I joined a workshop at Port Augusta ABC radio station for ABC OPEN. I made my very first film and learn to edit with [Adobe] Premiere. I thought it was incredible what you can do with random footage and make it make sense. But it was my Nanna Yvonne Koolmatrie and her friends who gave me the opportunity by getting my first camera that helped me start my career in filmmaking. From there, I came in contact with SAFC by joining a workshop "micro docs" with NITV. I met friends there who made a big impression on me and cemented the idea that I wanted to do this forever. After that I've worked in electrics, directing, writing and editing as well as other departments. Directing, editing and writing is what I've been focusing on.

I recently edited for one of my favourite filmmakers, Rolf de Heer, (on Survival of Kindness) and being my first feature I edited, it's crazy, I still can't believe it. But I have many highlights in my career. Countless memories, meeting so many people, experiencing so many things that I'll take with me forever. But without those people I met along the way, I'll never be where I am today.


Nathan Maynard headshotNathan Maynard (Photo credit: Melbourne Theatre Company)

Nathan Maynard is a Trawlwoolway, palawa/pakana playwright and screenwriter from Launceston. In 2012 he performed in Shadow Dreams, a collaboration between Terrapin and the TSO. In 2013 and 2014 Nathan was selected for the Tasmania Performs Artists Residency and in 2015 his play The Season was featured in the Yellamundie Festival (Moogahlin). The Tasmania Performs production of The Season premiered in 2017 at the Sydney Festival, followed by seasons at Ten Days on the Island and Melbourne Festival and an 11-venue national tour in 2018. A Not So Traditional Story, his work for families presented by Terrapin, toured to primary schools across Tasmania in 2018 and in 2019 was presented at Arts Centre Melbourne and Brisbane Festival. In 2021 A Not So Traditional Story was performed in Hobart and Launceston theatres, including a sold-out Hobart season. Nathan was awarded Tasmanian Aboriginal Artist of the Year in 2006 and 2013, and Tasmanian Aboriginal of the Year at the 2017 NAIDOC awards. In 2019 he was awarded a Churchill Fellowship, and the Balnaves Foundation Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Fellowship at Belvoir through which he created the play At What Cost?. His recent work in the screen industry as a writer includes working on the upcoming Amazon Prime television series Deadloch.

I have a constant need to tell stories and find new ways to tell a story. I'm addicted to the craft of storytelling. I’ve been predominantly a playwright up until now and have written seven full-length plays, but COVID interrupted and postponed so many shows I had on in the theatre industry. It seemed like the TV world was still battling on and that's how I made the crossover to the screen industry. I had been in writers' rooms before with Jungle Entertainment and really enjoyed the experience. As a playwright, you’re like the marathon runner of the industry: when you tackle something you tackle it for a long time. It could be up to three years that you're playing with that story. What I first loved about the writers’ rooms was I could go into this room, throw ideas out and then walk out without being attached to them. I knew I didn't have to nurture that baby for the next three years. I really enjoyed the fast pace of a TV writers' room with ideas bouncing off the walls, as well as learning the craft of another medium.

A highlight would be recently working on the Amazon project Deadloch. I was in the writers' room, which meant working with so many talented storytellers and so many funny buggers. Co-creators Kate McCartney and Kate McLennan are great at what they do: they know their industry and craft, so it was great learning from them. I had joked that they should give me an acting role in the series and they called my bluff – they gave me a role, which I never thought I'd do. I really enjoyed that process working on Deadloch. Up until that moment, I had felt guilty about dabbling in the screen industry after theatre because it felt like crossing over to ‘the Dark Side’ or like cheating on my girlfriend. But working with directors like Beck Cole and Ben Chessell and seeing their passion, I saw how screen was just like the theatre – it’s all storytelling. It's just finding the right images to put in people's minds to move the story forward. It lit a fuse inside of me and I let go of all that guilt. Now I'm really enjoying learning the process of telling stories behind the camera.


Bronte Nener headshot.Bronte Nener

Bronte Nener is a Bunaba woman of the Kimberley region in Western Australia. Born and raised in South Sydney, she developed a keen interest in the art of macro photographs and surreal portrait photography. Her strong interest in the power of photography has led her driven pursuit in joining Australian camera departments to help tell Australian stories. After studying at the Australian Film, Television and Radio School (AFTRS), Bronte’s career starter was a seven-month trainee role on the upcoming Marvel feature film, Thor: Love and Thunder and Bronte has since been working as Camera Truck Loader on the upcoming Amazon Prime series The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart.

It wasn’t until I found my way into AFTRS, where we were shooting short films every few months, that I came to the definitive conclusion that the camera department was where I wanted to land. It made sense for me; camera teams are set in the middle of the action, and we get the honour of documenting everyone’s work to help build a visual tale.

Being on set each day and being able to meet and interact with the crew is a daily highlight for me. I’ve been fortunate enough to work with wonderful people across each project; the dedication and pleasant attitudes of other practitioners makes all the difference on a job. I enjoy the fact that each day in the camera department is constantly busy and filled with tasks to help out the team. Every new shooting day ensures an average of 15,000 steps ran around set and the promise of productivity! Alongside this, there is always a constant opportunity to learn whilst being at work – learning the fundamentals of how a set is run, the inner workings of a well-functioning team, the technical aspects behind the Camera department - there is never a dull day where we work.

Recently, Thor: Love and Thunder just got released in cinemas. It has been such an exciting time for myself and the crew to see this film completed. With Thor being my introductory job into the industry, it was exciting for me to see all of our coworkers names roll across the credits for the first time. On my most recently completed job, The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart, we had the phenomenal opportunity to travel to the Northern Territory for the show. The locations we were fortunate enough to work in were incredibly special to the local Indigenous mobs and each location was unbelievably stunning. It was an inspiring process each day working with the local communities, as well as watching our Director and DOP discover each shot to set up the shows story amongst environments that have existed for thousands of years.


Josh Sambono Josh Sambono
Josh Sambono is a Jingili man and an international award-winning writer-director of short films. Josh co-wrote the Q-Station supernatural horror feature The Quarantine Hauntings and recently made his television writing debut on Warwick Thornton's AMC Vampire series Firebite. While currently writing an episode of Preppers Series 2, Josh is in development on his creature feature Drop Bears for which he won the AACTA Pitch: Bite competition in 2021.

For as long as I can remember, as a little kid I wanted to be a writer and make movies. Growing up in the early 90’s, only rich people had video cameras – I had no money and no access to the film industry other than the few times my parents would take us to the movies. So I did the next best thing, I started writing my own movies and spending hours setting up my toys to act the scenes out. Now as I stand behind that camera on set directing I still get that same thrill. I love the way movies and stories can open up portals and take you away to another world. I love the power of perspective in genre filmmaking – where audiences can empathise with people and cultures through horror, action and science fiction. I’d love to be the person who brings the movement of de-colonising genre films to Australia.

The highlight of my career so far was definitely my director's attachment with Taika Waititi on the set of Thor: Love and Thunder. It was a dream come true. I have to admit though, at first it was intimidating and ‘imposter syndrome’ was kicking in hard, but the moment I stepped onto the Volume (a 360-degree backdrop made of LED panes) I knew I was exactly where I was supposed to be. I could see my vision of telling Blak stories with Blak characters fighting monsters, aliens and generally kicking ass, now becoming a reality – and that’s freakin amazing!


Benjamin Southwell on set for WalkaboutsBenjamin Southwell on set during the production of Walkabouts, the first episode of new action packed cultural adventure series featuring Jack Wilson, The Deadly Ninja and the multi talented Tibian Wyles.

Ben is a director, producer and writer who wants to create well crafted, entertaining stories with a sense of adventure, humour, and spirit. Ben developed his professional experience creating documentaries funded by NITV/SBS, Screen Queensland and Screen Australia focused on Indigenous experiences in Australia. He’s also directed and written three short drama films that have all screened at major festivals across Australia and overseas. As well as producing/camera operating on several high profile Reality TV shows such as Bondi Rescue, he’s also completed internships on Thor: Ragnarök (Assistant Director) and Aquaman (Producer), a mentorship with Ivan Sen and the First Nations First Draft Initiative with Leah Purcell. Now Ben is focused on creating a new adventure/comedy factual TV series and two feature film concepts as a writer and director.

I'm drawn to writing and directing strong, entertaining, heartfelt stories full of adventure and humour that mean something to an audience. My passion for feature film in particular developed from a young age during the late 80’s and early 90’s when many defining genre films were produced that had a huge impact on me as a fan.

With many highlights during my time in the industry so far, my biggest has been working with Leah Purcell and Bain Stewert as part of Screen Queensland's First Nations First Draft initiative to create a sports action-comedy feature. This was a self-defining first step into the creative direction I have been striving for ever since I began telling stories. 

Directing and producing Walkabouts alongside Jack Wilson and Tibian Wyles has also been an important step towards making my first factual cultural adventure TV series that expresses a personal and relevant message that connects to the inner spirit of many First Nations people living in the city that yearn for cultural connection.


Jared Thomas headshotJared Thomas

A Nukunu person of the Southern Flinders Ranges and upper eastern Spencer Gulf, Jared Thomas is best known for his works of children’s and young adult fiction including the Game Day series with NBA and Olympian basketballer Patty Mills. However, Jared has contributed to film and television in a cultural liaison or script assessment capacity for over a 20-year period including working on productions such as Rachel Perkins’ One Night the Moon and Rolf de Heer’s The Tracker and more recently the series Stateless. Jared works as the Research Fellow, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Material Culture and Art and the South Australian Museum and the University of South Australia, and his documentary, Close to the Bone co-written and directed with Malcolm McKinnon will be broadcast on ABC television in July 2022.

I find telling a range of First Nations stories so important and I gain much pleasure from being involved in telling stories and supporting others to tell stories. Most of my work in the screen industry has been supporting other people’s projects, often in a cultural advisory role. I think my very first venture into the film industry, working on the film One Night the Moon, seeing the way that Rachel Perkins approaches her work is an experience that will stick with me forever. At the moment I am enjoying the task of producing a film about cultural burning, with the assistance of cultural burn practitioner Victor Steffensen, the author of Fire Country -how Indigenous fire management could help save Australia. The content will be presented through the South Australian Museum.

The career highlight that I’m looking for is the adaptation of one of my novels to screen. At the moment Kojo Productions have optioned my novel Calypso Summer. This is my hope when I write novels.

This article was compiled and sub-edited by Caris Bizzaca.