An interview with SFS Alumni Lisa Camillo

By Peter Galvin

Processed with VSCO with hb1 presetIt is almost three years since Lisa Camillo graduated with a Diploma from the Sydney Film School.

Since then she has wasted no time building a profile as a content maker.

Though specialising as a director, Camillo has earned credits as a producer, writer and cinematographer across a diverse spread of projects, including music video and non-fiction.

Camillo based in Sydney has her own independent business; her short films have travelled the world, and right now she is completing her first feature, Balentes, a poignant documentary about her homeland, Sardinia.

This week her short drama begun at SFS, Requiem, will be part of the official selection at the prestigious One Take Film Festival in Croatia.

Asked how she came so far so fast she explains: “Persistence,” she says, laughing, adding that every film is a challenge and success can’t be taken for granted.

Camillo who grew up in Rome and Sardinia came to Australia at age twenty. She completed a degree in anthropology and a Masters in International Development in her adopted city of Melbourne. Between study commitments she took modelling jobs and playing rock and roll gigs with her band.

Immediately after graduating she launched into social welfare work where she formed a strong commitment in collaborating with Indigenous communities especially in areas like health.

Here Camillo learnt first hand about the pride and resilience of people who face tremendous struggles of survival everyday.

Positive stories were not reaching the mainstream she said.

“People in these developing communities are doing brilliant things and we are not hearing their success stories,” she says.

“What drew me to filmmaking,” Camillo explains, “was the feeling that my work as an anthropologist could have greater impact if it had a greater audience.”

A friend of a friend recommended Sydney Film School.

Camillo says she felt at home at SFS: “I loved the family atmosphere and the level of teaching was brilliant – a really great mix of theory and the practical.”

“Once at SFS I was able to use everything I studied at university,” she says. “I discovered straight away that it was never too late to change career pathways.”

Camillo made Live Through This in her first few months at SFS. This short documentary came directly out of her experience working in communities where domestic violence was a sad fact of life.

Still, Camillo elected to focus on a story of forgiveness centring on the profound familial bond between father and son. The film made a huge impact when it appeared at the distinguished Flickerfest short film festival in 2013 and launched Camillo’s career.

Straight after graduating Camillo got started on Balentes, spending more than a year researching the project, which she says deals with a ‘loss of innocence.’

The film is part personal journey, part social and cultural history of Sardinia, a one-time playground of the rich and famous, that now is host to war games operated by Italy’s more powerful and wealthier allies in NATO.

Situated in the Mediterranean Sea, with more than 2,000kms of coastline, Camillo remembers Sardinia as a place of sunny beauty, where the rural community thrived in harmony with the vibrant tourist trade. Now, she says, the island is struck by poverty, disease and social decay – a direct outcome of the weapons testing on the island.

Balentes – the title mean men and women of courage and honour – describes Sardinia’s social and cultural crisis and explores the bravery of the island locals who are confronting the power of government in order to restore their way of life.

“I wanted to tell a different kind of personal story,” she says. Made on a variety of camera formats – including the Red, DSLRs and even an iPhone – Camillo used a tiny crew of two or three throughout the production and shot a lot of the film herself. It will be ready for release in late December.

After that Camillo plans to shift her operations to Los Angeles where she wants to launch a new drama project.

“I love to live in the moment,” she says of shooting a film, her favourite part of the process.

“It’s about responding to life around you,” she says.



Ramy Daniel talks about recognition and his short film ‘Bassam’ which will screen at Antenna

Ramy DanielSydney Film School documentary student, Ramy Daniel is among the current and past students that will be proudly representing our school at this week’s Antenna Documentary Film Festival in Sydney. This year marks the fifth anniversary of the prestigious film festival, which showcases the best in Australian, and international documentary and we at Sydney Film School are once again proud to be one of the major sponsors of the event. This year’s festival will run from October 13-18 2015 and will feature 47 films from 21 countries around the world.

Ramy Daniel’s short film, Bassam is a glimpse into the life of a refugee artist who is struggling through life while sick with multiple conditions and trying to keep up his great artworks. The film will be shown at the festival with On the Bride’s Side on Sunday October 18 at Verona Cinema Paddington at 1pm.

We would like to thank Ramy Daniel for taking time out of his busy Sydney Film School schedule of study and film making to have a talk to us about his film, Bassam and what being part of the Antenna Documentary Film Festival means to him.

Interview and article by Nicole Newton-Plater

Q: How did you make the decision to make a film about Bassam Jabbar?
A: I saw him at a free hot dogs give away barbeque at a church in Liverpool. We started chatting and he told me about where he was from and life story. I was very attached to all the things he told me and have experienced a few things he had, but the majority of what he have went through and the way he kept pushing against what life threw at him inspired me and made me want to share his story to inspire others as well.
Q: What were some of the challenges associated with making a film about Bassam?
A: Asking for permissions. I had to shoot with the camera hidden and rock focus wide open just by guessing the distance.
Q: There is very little dialogue in BassamWas this an advantage or disadvantage for the film?
A: It was definitely an advantage because I wanted to fit as many things as possible within the seven minutes I had and didn’t want to overload viewers with information and subtitles as his English wasn’t good.
Q: How did Sydney Film School encourage you to make a documentary that is about the life of Bassam?
A: I learned a lot from my documentary teacher Alejandra Canales. She was the one to inspire me and motivate me when everything was going bad for me in my life at that time.
Q: What have you learnt from the making of Bassam that you will take into your next film?
A: After winning a few awards at the school festival and being selected for Antenna Film Festival, I stopped doubting myself as I always thought I’m not good enough. This made me learn that a little effort with a little dedication can be very rewarding and I now have more confidence that can make me put more hard work into my next project to share my stories on a grater scale of audience.
Q: What are you looking forward to most about your film being screened at Antenna?
A: A long list of things and right on top of it is my name perhaps being more recognisable and heard through the screen as that in itself is not just something I can put on my CV, but also might benefit me by giving me an opportunity to tell more stories in the future.
Q: What attracts you to documentary filmmaking?
A: I feel more natural more myself when I shoot something that’s not staged and a true story, in general I like hearing peoples stories and always wanted to share them with others and having recently discovered that I could do better at telling the story through out the screen then any other way it motivates me to make more and more docos.

For more information on the Antenna Documentary Film Festival or to purchase tickets, please see their Official Website.

Todd Millar talks about his Antenna Festival screening

Sydney Film School is extremely proud to once again be one of the major sponsors of this year’s Antenna Documentary Film Festival. The festival is now in it’s fifth year of celebrating the best in local and international non-fiction on screen and will run from October 13-18 this year at Chauvel and Verona Cinemas in Paddington and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney.

We are also extremely proud to have three filmmakers representing our school with their short films featured as part of the festival’s program. Sydney Film School graduate, Todd Millar will have his short film, Travelling Man shown at Antenna on October 15 at Verona Cinema. Travelling Man is a personal story of Millar’s which makes us question how much we really know our parents and getting to know them better from the things they leave behind.

We would like to thank Todd Millar for having a chat to us about her short documentary and about the upcoming Antenna Documentary Film Festival.

Interview and article by Nicole Newton-Plater

Q: How did you make the decision to make a short film about something which was so personal to you?
A:  The decision was sort of made for me. In the break between semester 1 and 2, I received a phone call from my mother. She told me she had found an old box of my fathers, and that if I wanted it she would send it to me here. Inside the box was all my fathers travel memorabilia, which I knew nothing about and there was a good start. I had a story I wanted to tell.
 Todd Millar 2
Q: You feature both yourself and your family in Travelling ManWas it challenging to direct yourself on film? 
A: It was difficult to direct myself. I didn’t really know what I was doing, I had an idea in my head about how I thought the film should look, but it didn’t really go to plan.

Q: How did your education at Sydney Film School help you in the making of the film?
A: I had a lot of help from my documentary teacher Alejandra Canales.

 Q: What have you learned from the making of Travelling Man that you will take into your next film?
A: To really go deep into the story, and not to hold back. I left out a few things that might have given the story more impact. Also to stick to my guns.

 Q: What are you looking forward to most about your film being screened at Antenna?
A: Having my little film watched by some of the best in the world.
Q: What attracts you to documentary film making?
A: I love all film genres, but documentary really appeals to me. Real life stories are too interesting not to tell.
For more information on the Antenna Documentary Film Festival or to purchase tickets, please see their Official Website.

An interview with Teresa Carante about her Antenna screening

The Antenna Documentary Film Festival will this year celebrate it’s fifth anniversary of celebrating the best in local and international non-fiction on screen. The festival will run from October 13-18 this year at Chauvel and Verona Cinemas in Paddington and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney.

Sydney Film School is extremely proud to be one of the major sponsors of this year’s event. We are also proud to have three of our students and alumni have their short films featured as part of the festival’s program. One of these current students is Teresa Carante, who’s film, I’m Coming Home will be featured with Thank You For Playing on Sunday October 18 at Verona Cinema. I’m Coming Home is a short documentary that looks at the crossover between the sinking of the South Korean ferry, MV Sewol in which many students lost their lives and Carante’s own personal story of her brother being lost in a drowning accident.

We would like to thank Teresa Carante for having a chat to us about her short documentary and about the upcoming Antenna Documentary Film Festival.

teresa caranteInterview and article by Nicole Newton-Plater

How did you make the decision to make such a personal short film? 

Originally I wanted to make a documentary about the impact of the sinking of MV Sewol in the Korean community. Unable to produce such an ambitious short documentary, I then decided to use my voice to bridge my family tragedy to the one of the many families who lost a child in the South Korean ferry accident. Following closely the news of the tragedy, I realized an old wound surfaced and I had to say how I felt.

What are some of the challenges associated with making a film based on your experiences as opposed to one which is removed?

The most challenging thing is probably to accept that your vulnerability, your weakness, will flow on a screen for many to see. This is especially if trying to reach the crushed hearts of families who lost a child, there cannot be hesitation in fully embracing the wounds.

I’m Coming Home features a beautifully shot underwater scene. What is the secret to filming underwater so neatly?

Underwater filming is extremely challenging and I have to admit, I was extremely lucky to be surrounded by a great team of experts. I was able to get on board a professional underwater photographer who brought his experience in dealing with models and actors in underwater performances. Moreover I cast an actress who was also a free diver, able to hold her breath underwater for 3 minutes. My Director of Photography was also extremely skilled in lighting the scene making it look nothing like a swimming pool. Regardless, it was challenging. Unexpected situations do happen and having a prepared crew able to assist and support you achieving your vision is priceless.

How did Sydney Film School encourage you to make a documentary that is autobiographical?

Sydney Film School prides itself in being of support to it’s students as members of their extended family, so it generally supports film based on family struggles and connections. Also, autobiographical stories bring a different and more intimate layer to the film, something that SFS has always being encouraging.

What have you learned from the making of I’m Coming Home that you will take into your next film?

I have definitely learned to trust my intuitions more regardless of what other people might say. It was a harsh start with I’m Coming Home, but in the end nothing compares with the joy of seeing people appreciating your work and feeling the message of the film. If you feel it in your bones there must be a reason, so let your imagination take over your mind and start writing!

What are you looking forward to most about your film being screened at Antenna?

I am extremely glad that my short documentary was selected by Antenna because more people will see it and remember the South Korea ferry accident that happened over a year ago. I wish for my film to reach a vast audience, a Korean audience, and I feel that thanks to Antenna my dream could come true.

What attracts you to documentary filmmaking?

People! People and their amazing, messy, unbelievable, depressing and wonderful stories are what attract me to documentary filmmaking.  Raising awareness about different life styles, broadening the viewer mind to something they thought they could never understand, creating windows for curious eyes to see through, what more rewarding feelings there can be out there?!

For more information on the Antenna Documentary Film Festival or to purchase tickets, please see their Official Website.

Graduate Profile: David Spruengli


 Above: David Spruengli (third from left) on location at Mount Everest

Less than two years after graduating from Sydney Film School, David Spruengli has travelled to Cambodia and Nepal as an assistant editor and has worked on numerous feature films and documentary series. Resident blogger Tom Earls recently sat down to chat with David about his experiences.

I should start by declaring a slight bias: David is a friend of mine, and has been since he agreed to edit my Advanced Thesis film,  April’s Vermillion. In the process of editing that film, David not only taught me the precise value of a talented editor, he also saved the film from what it might have been.

Two years later, I am sheepishly asking David which, of the five films he edited during his time at SFS, he learned the most on (I know what I hope the answer will be).

“I’ve probably learned the most editing your film because it was the most challenging one to begin with and I had the most fun working on it,” he tells me, before capriciously adding; “I guess it’s always the trickiest films from which you take away the most.”

lastreelposterAll swipes at my raw footage aside, David has had a great start to his career. His Advanced Diploma mentorship, under acclaimed editor Roland Gallois, eventually led to regular post-production work at Fox Studios. Last year, working as an Assistant Editor at Definition Films, he travelled to Cambodia, where he worked on a feature film called The Last Reel.

“Working overseas is always a bit of an experience because you work together with people from that country. It got a bit chaotic,” he said. “There’s just different ideas of how things need to be done. A prime example is you would need the generator on set, and they would rock up with the generator but there wasn’t any fuel for it. Logistical things like that would just not happen.”

Born and raised in Zurich, Switzerland, I ask David if working and living in another country has helped him to adapt to these long shoots overseas.

“Totally. That’s the reason they sent me: because I’m young and I don’t have family here. I’ve got a girlfriend, but it’s okay for me to go away for a couple of months. I’m easy going like that.”

More recently, David found himself at altitude on Mount Everest, working on a film called Sherpa, only to find himself and the crew right in the middle of the deadliest avalanche in Everest’s history.

“The story is meant to be all about the contrast between people who buy their way up the mountain and the Sherpas who actually do all the work for them and provide everything that they need to get up there. It’s a bit of a take on consumerism and the commercialism of Mount Everest.”

David and the rest of the crew were not caught in the avalanche, but found themselves in the middle of the rescue operation.

“It was the first time I was in a disaster like this. It was intense. It was very emotionally challenging because you can’t escape; the only safe time you have is when you go to bed at night in your tent. It wasn’t just the avalanche that happened, there were upset Sherpas up there. Sixteen people died, it was this whole rescue thing. We were filming in the middle of them and they didn’t know that we were making a film supporting them, so we got quite bad vibes. We were just another news team to them. It was not nice: being looked down on as if you were an asshole reporter who films everything around you.”

David assures me that this is not typical of an assistant editor’s experience, however.

“It gets a bit repetitive. Every day is basically a problem world of its’ own. Especially with tech: sometimes it just doesn’t work. I had days where we’re meant to have a screening and I am responsible for everything working at the screening, and you have Screen Australia coming in, ABC coming in. All these people and it’s not working. It’s very scary – everyone’s looking at you.”

Despite the high-pressure, the altitude and the brush with potential PTSD, David keeps a stoic attitude, “I guess that’s filmmaking: you set everything up really nicely and have an idea and then everything falls into pieces.”

“Looking back at [my time on Everest], it was a great experience but in a bad way. I’ve learnt a lot about myself and about how other people react in panic situations, when mass panic breaks out. The overall experience was good. A bit dramatic, but you take something out of it, I guess.”

What’s the best advice David has for editing students?

“Do some research on editors that you like and try contacting them directly. Post-production people are generally pretty friendly and if you’ve got the right attitude you might be able to assist them on a project at some stage. It’s all about showing ambition and the will to work and learn hard. If you rock up pretending to be a know it all, your chances are very low that you’ll get work. Don’t be a Gen Y; Show genuine interest in the craft.”

The Tarkine Tug-o-War

The Tarkine region in Tasmania is the 2nd largest cool climate rainforest on earth. In recent controversial news, mining company Venture Minerals has proposed several new iron ore mines within the region. There are strong supporters for and against this decision: some rallying against the destruction of the last disease-free safe harbour for the Tasmanian Devil and some arguing that the local economy desperately needs the predicted $40m p/year boost.

SFS graduate Julian Knysh is currently making a documentary on the subject and our resident blogger Tom Earls went down to Tasmania to lend a hand.

Above: The crew of the documentary, including SFS student Robin Kover (right)

The Background 

An extract from Director Julian Knysh’s Pozible crowdfunding campaign:

“While following the events as they unfold, the feature length documentary film will explore the raw beauty of all the natural values of the Tarkine; the arguments of development vs conservation and how we define, relate to and value the idea of resources and how we define and value wilderness.. It will show the very human face and different perspectives that people have in this highly politicised and fiercely passionate struggle…

…I first went into the Tarkine looking at the potential for a good documentary story. What I also found was a life experience having been affected by the place, the people and the passions the Tarkine incites.

Since those first visits the first new mine in the Tarkine has broken ground and a federal court case challenging the approval of a second mine has been adjourned to February. The Tarkine is shaping up to become one of the most significant environmental campaigns of the decade.

The wild and unique Tarkine deserves the world’s attention.”

And the story from Tom Earls’ POV

The Tarkine region of Tasmania is one of the most diverse and delicate ecosystems in the world. It’s home to dozens of endangered species and, if you believe the locals, home to one supposedly extinct one too (seen any Thylacines lately anyone?). It spans nearly half-a-million hectares and yet, less than 5% of it is protected as national park.

Predictably, our fun-loving brothers and sisters from mining and logging companies want a piece of the sweet, Tarkine action; and a sweet piece they’re getting indeed. Three-trailer-long logging trucks filled with dead trees are a common sight on the roads around the region and it’s not uncommon on your travels through the wilderness to come across fields of stumps and ugly holes in the ground.

It’s a sticky problem given the fragile nature of Tasmania’s economy. It’s hard not to notice all of the bumper stickers in support of logging and mining the Tarkine. The prevailing wisdom among many locals seems to be that most of the region is useless grassland that holds a wealth of iron-ore beneath. While it should only take a brief walk along any of the trails near the Tarkine Wilderness Lodge to destroy that simplistic analysis, it’s not hard to see where they’re coming from. When you consider the isolated nature of many of the nearby communities, without the industrial clock ticking over, it’s hard to see where the jobs would come from.

When my friend and fellow SFS grad, Julian Knysh first told me about a documentary he was making on some obscure corner of the country, I couldn’t even pronounce Tarkine (Tark-een or Tark-eye-ne?), let alone imagine what a beautiful place it would be. However, it didn’t take much reading to convince me that Julian’s was a worthy cause to get involved in. He had managed to gather a little money and enough support to get a small production team located in the small town of Wynyard on Tasmania’s north coast.

I expected to walk onto a shoot that was caught between two sides of a very long and protracted argument. This wasn’t the case at all. In fact, a bristled encounter with a grizzly petrol station attendant aside, my time on the shoot was devoid of confrontation completely.

Notwithstanding that Julian and his team had been shooting for weeks before I arrived (and, at the time of writing, are continuing production), the days of shooting I was involved in were largely spent in the peaceful quiet of some of Australia’s most scenic and isolated locations.

There’s a lot to be said for this process. The long days spent in temperate rainforest capturing its’ beauty completely remove the Tarkine from any political arena. The footage captured speaks for itself, including some breathtaking aerial shots of the low clouds over the expanse of rainforest.

The Tarkine is ancient: older than the first indigenous settlers. It harbours life so diverse as to rival the Galapagos Islands. Several days of shooting were dedicated solely to the subtle beauty of the various fungi (there’s something I never thought I’d write) in a neat spot called Philosopher’s Falls.

IMG_3738 IMG_3785
Above: Some of the many species of fungi in the Tarkine

After a few days of shooting, the pressures of the ultra-low-budget documentary shoot became apparent, and Julian decided to down tools for a few days to get things realigned. Disappointing though this was for him, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise for myself and a couple of the other crew members, as it allowed us the opportunity to explore the greater region with more freedom.

It’s very easy for me to wax lyrical about the transcendent nature of the places we visited. Indeed, aside from the odd bridge or walking track, it’s hard to imagine some of these places look very different now than they did a century or two ago, perhaps even longer. One evening in particular was spent watching the sunset over the mouth of the Arthur River, where the sky lit up orange and pink, and the crew was treated to the kind of natural marvel our indigenous ancestors would have enjoyed nightly.

The experience was truly surreal, and the end of every day left me wondering how anybody could walk into any one of these places and seriously consider blowing it up – they must literally have dollar signs for eyes.

Getting back into production was easier considering the nature of the shoot: A cold night spent in a hide (which is a sort of camouflaged shack in the bush), silently waiting for Tasmanian Devils to appear and take apart a found dead wallaby being used as bait. Although no Tasmanian Devils turned up (I did almost hit one on the road driving back to base!) some excellent footage of a Quoll was captured, tearing the found dead wallaby limb-from-limb (okay, so it’s not all peace and quiet).

It seems to me that the sheer size, age and beauty of the Tarkine would automatically disqualify any attempt to destroy any part of it. In fact, that this is a political issue at all seems to fly in the face of common sense. Whatever the outcome (and at this stage, it doesn’t look good for the greenies), Julian and his team may have captured the last images of a real ancient wonder.


For anybody who wants to learn more, I would encourage you to start at – this website covers everything, from the numerous endangered species currently housed in the region (including the last disease-free population of Devils) to the various threats to the region’s health. Be sure to keep your eyes on SFS newsletters and bulletins, as I would wager that, before long, Julian and his team will need more helping hands.

Meet the Filmmaker: Gracie Otto

In a special “life after film school” themed ‘session, SFS was lucky to play host to graduate Gracie Otto for this week’s ‘Meet the Filmmaker’. As a director, editor and actress –among other things (she’s also pretty good at indoor soccer) – Otto is one of Sydney Film School’s most successful graduates and was keen to share her work and experience with the students.

For the last three years, Otto could easily be considered a strong contender for “busiest person on earth” as she’s sprinted from one corner of the globe to another to put together her first feature documentary “The Last Impresario”. The documentary chronicles the life and work of esteemed theatre and film producer, Michael White (The Rocky Horror Show, Monty Python).

The film is produced by Nicole O’Donohue who has also been teaching a producing course at our school.

Labeled “the most famous man you’ve never heard of”, White’s tributes in the film have come from some of the biggest names in the biz, including (but not restricted to) Naomi Watts, Kate Moss, Yoko Ono and John Cleese.

Otto confessed that, upon meeting White in Cannes a few years ago, he struck her as ‘this very sophisticated old man who was, in the early hours of the morning, still holding court at the party’.  Having spent a little time with him, however, she was astonished at all the people he knew. This, she says, is what intrigued her enough to look closer and eventually, tell his story.

Above: A young Michael White

It hasn’t been an easy road for Otto. She has spent almost every dollar earned travelling the world for interviews (at one point visiting numerous countries in the space of a few days).  It’s not been all bad, though, with dinners with the who’s who of the film world, including spending the day at Jack Nicholson’s home (only for him to later decline an interview).

Otto claims that she never envisioned herself as a documentary filmmaker and it’s to her great credit that any one of these setbacks would surely be enough to dishearten the most intrepid of documentary filmmakers. Students also got to enjoy an entertaining “blooper reel” which highlighted some of the more humorous difficulties Otto had to take in her stride.

As stressful as the process undoubtedly was, Otto sounded as though she’s enjoyed the ride. There wasn’t the slightest hint of intimidation at the names she’s interviewed and it’s difficult to imagine that her enthusiasm for the film has ever dropped. It’s a great example for graduates to be setting: this is the sort of temperament that gets films over the line.

We were also fortunate enough to take a look at some of Otto’s work as a student, including a film she made in high school, “Kill Blondes” (starring another SFS graduate, Maya Newell), and her thesis film, “Tango Trois”.

Otto was also Sydney Film School’s first Advanced Diploma student. The film she made that year, “La Meme Nuit”, is a wonderfully choreographed dance of infidelity and is a great example of how a student’s work at SFS can provide a solid platform on which to build a career.

As always, there were good pieces of advice for our students as well. Otto says it’s easy to get caught up promoting a finished film – her advice is to move on to the next project as quickly as possible. She also had words of advice on the importance of networking. It’s important, she says, to “make friends” rather than contacts.

The common thread along this semester’s ‘Meet the Filmmaker’ lineup has been how approachable and down-to-earth each guest has been. That’s an important lesson in itself. It felt only right that we finish off the ‘Meet the Filmmaker’ semester with a filmmaker and graduate who embodies so much of the Sydney Film School ethos and exemplifies exactly how the traits borne of that ethos can drive a project over the line.
Congratulations to Gracie and the team for receiving post production investment from Screen Australia!

You can follow Gracie Otto at, and keep up with ‘The Last Impresario’s progress at Also, make sure you check out Gracie’s SFS films on the Sydney Film School website. ‘La Meme Nuit’: and ‘Tango Trois’:   

Twitter: @gracieotto @lastimpresario