15-Oct-2013 11:52 AM

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Diverse documentaries exploring ancient Aboriginal tribal structures and land management, the first detention centre in Tasmania seen through the eyes of members of a knitting group and the human side of the Cold War in Australia have been named as finalists in the 2013 Walkley Documentary Award.

The three finalists in the prestigious Walkley Awards for Excellence in Journalism were announced this evening in Sydney. They are:

Martin Butler and Bentley Dean, Contact Films, ABC TV, First Footprints

First Footprints is a televisual archaeological ‘dig’ which comprehensively explores the history of Aboriginal tribal structures and land management techniques which prevailed for 50,000 years on the land mass which became known as the island continent of Australia.  The judges were impressed with the documentary’s high production values,  factual integrity and educative impact using  academic experts, scientists and tribal elders to engage viewers with an awe-inspiring heritage: “Was, is and always will be … Aboriginal land”.  

Haydn Keenan and Gai Steele, Smart St Films, Persons of Interest

This series successfully highlights the human side of the Cold War in Australia and the emotional fallout within families and between friends. It’s an important addition to the cultural and political history of this country. The interviews with former ASIO agents who now feel bereft and abandoned were an unexpected and powerful addition.

Heather Kirkpatrick and Kristy Dowsing, Mary Meets Mohammad

Mary Meets Mohammed is a timely and relevant story told with great sensitivity and subtlety. The judges were unanimous in their support for this documentary, as it showcases the tenacity and skill of the filmmaker in her capture of a charming narrative that unfolds to reveal a confronting and nuanced relationship - one that is both unexpected and profound in its depiction of personal transformation. Mary Meets Mohammed allows viewers to engage in a humane way with a volatile political issue.

Walkley Documentary Award judge and chair Quentin Dempster, of ABC 7.30, said judges had had the agonising task of long-listing six entries and then short-listing three from two dozen submissions to the award. 

“We reckon the quality from most of this year’s entrants has been consistently high,” Dempster said. 

“We’re looking for exceptional storytelling and because of the quality it has been a challenge to have to eliminate deserving contenders … but judgements do have to be made.

“Very best wishes to all our entrants and hearty congratulations to the finalists.”

The three finalists were chosen from a longlist announced on September 30, which also included:
  • Rachel Clements, Steven McGregor and Lisa Watts, Night Sky Films, Big Name No Blanket
  • Kaye Harrison and Tom Zubrycki, Treehouse Productions, JOTZ Productions, The Sunnyboy
  • Sonya Pemberton, Genepool Productions and SBS TV, Jabbed – Love, Fear and Vaccines
Dempster said documentary making was a craft and an art engaging multiple skills:  cinematography, audio engineering, writing, producing, directing, interviewing, lighting, graphic design and animation and exhaustive research.
“You also have to win the trust of your performers, informants and collaborators, let alone the financiers you need to assemble to get your project up,” he said.

The Walkley Documentary Award is now in its third year. Recognition of excellence in this genre was helping to drive journalists to think more about the documentary form, Dempster said.  

“Many more Australians seem prepared to pay for big screen cinema tickets to immerse themselves in documentary,” he said.

“We want to encourage this to diversify both the outlets and the commissioning and investment sources in this most powerful form of information, education and entertainment.”

Members of the public can watch all six longlisted films for free at the State Library of NSW over the weekend of Saturday October 19 and Sunday October 20.

All sessions are free but RSVP is essential. For screening times and to book your place, visit     

For media enquiries: Walkley Foundation communications and partnerships manager Flip Prior on (02) 9333 0956, 0409 912 955 or

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Flip Prior
Communications and Partnerships Manager

Telephone: (02) 9333 0956

Mobile: (02) 9333 0956

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