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Spotlight: Dena Curtis for NAIDOC Week 2024

Writer, producer and director Dena Curtis from Inkey Media chatted with us for NAIDOC Week 2024. We discussed her career so far, the importance of screen storytelling in ‘keeping the fire burning’ and the First Nations stories she would like to see on screen in the coming years.

What does the 2024 theme for NAIDOC Week “Keep the Fire Burning! Blak, Loud and Proud” mean to you as a filmmaker? 

This year’s theme for NAIDOC reminds me I am not alone, not to give up and to keep going. Be proud of who I am and what I am doing.

How is screen storytelling important in the fight to ‘keep the fire burning’ for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities?

Screen is a powerful platform for sharing stories of our cultural, people and history. It will always play a part in presenting stories and portraying characters that imbue our community spirit, cultural pride and sharing information to encourage all Australians to stand in solidarity. For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander practitioners screen storytelling is our form of activism, we may not change the world but we can play a small part in shifting the hearts and minds of people watching.

What drew you to screen storytelling and how did you get to where you are now?

I kinda fell into screen storytelling, but it didn’t take long for the love to grow and to recognise the value and power screen has in sharing information and reaching lots of people. Seeing reactions from Indigenous people who see strong positive and truthful stories on TV and film that reflect their lives and communities is extremely uplifting and rewarding. Creating thought-provoking content that inspires conversation is also very enriching and satisfying.

Image: Dena Curtis and Eric Murray Lui on the set of We Are Still Here.

When I finished school, I worked at the local language centre in Tennant Creek as a media officer. During a gap year from uni, they offered me a traineeship and I did some work with a film crew from Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association (CAAMA) who were filming in Tennant Creek. A few months later they called me to say they have a Production Assistant’s role open and I should apply—so I did. I worked in Alice Springs with CAAMA Productions before moving to Sydney to study Television Editing at AFTRS. Returning to CAAMA I edited documentaries and began dabbling in writing and directing. In 2005, I made my first fully funded film Hush as part of the Australian Film Commission’s Bit of Black Business initiative—it travelled all over the world screening at various film festivals. I then wrote and directed my second short, Jacob in 2008. I moved back to Sydney to work at NITV as a senior editor and promo producer, before going to the ABC to work in the role of Series Producer for Message Sticks and then a Commissioning Editor. In 2015 I established my production company Inkey Media. Since then I have worked as writer, director, producer (not all at once) on a number of programs. Some of my credits include League of Her Own, We Are Still Here, First Weapons and Rebel with a Cause.

What are the types of First Nations-led scripted and factual stories that you want to see on screen in the coming years? 

I would like to see every kind of scripted and factual story. There will always be stories that we need to tell as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to heal, set the record straight, inform and educate but we have the talent, skill experience and audience reach locally and globally to tell the stories we want to tell as creative visionary people as well. I would love to see a black Grace and Frankie or Kick Ass. I would love to see programs that continue to tackle and bring awareness to the social injustices and the truth telling of Australian society and history.

What is your advice for emerging Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander filmmakers looking to follow your footsteps into the screen industry?

The first thing I would say is that the screen industry is not for the faint hearted, you need motivation, patience, stamina and lots and lots of passion. It’s hard and you will always get more no’s than yes’s but when you do get the yes’s they are exhilarating and usually worth all the blood, sweat and tears. I think also be open to opportunities that may not be what you want to specialise in, they can teach you something about the industry and storytelling. Find your voice, collaborators and believe in the stories you are telling. Each story teaches you something, never think you know it all, stay humble and always, always have fun! 

What is next for you and Inkey Media?

In the next year, Inkey Media is looking to grow our business by engaging a development producer and securing commissions for one or two scripted and factual programs. We have a slate of exciting projects in late stage development that we look forward to taking out to the market. It’s going to be a busy and exciting time.

Visit inkeymedia.com.au to find out more about Inkey Media and watch Screen Queensland-supported We Are Still Here, First Weapons, League of Her Own and Rebel With A Cause online now.

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