Sarah Rossetti is a highly experienced screenwriter, editor and educator.  She has won 4 AWGIEs, a Lotteries Commissions Award for Film Excellence and an IF Award for Best Emerging filmmaker.  Sarah writes commissioned TV drama and documentaries and was a writer on the documentary film Frackman as well as the children’s drama series Lockie Leonard.  We were delighted when Sarah recently moved to the Northern Rivers and joined up as a Screenworks member.  We asked Sarah to tell us about her work and how she’s enjoying living in the Northern Rivers.

SW: Can you tell us a bit about what you do in the Screen Industry and how you got involved?

SR: I am a one trick pony when it comes to my twenty odd year involvement with the film industry.  It’s all been script based: writing, mentoring, assessing and editing, or University lecturing and tutoring in screenwriting.  My PhD is in Media, also script based, with some theory to support my journey through the writing of the three film scripts I submitted as part of that process.

SW: What’s the project you have most enjoyed working on, and why?

SR: The most challenging and enjoyable was a feature film entitled Nullarbor Pearl, a magic realist odyssey, written as a lynch pin for my PhD, completed at Murdoch University, WA, in which I purported that, if you write about what is unresolved for you, your characters will solve it for you.  That is precisely what happened in the writing of that script.  All I did was map that journey as my original contribution to knowledge.  On one level, writing that film was the journey of a story written for audience consumption, and, on another level entirely, it was about working through stuff of personal importance, making it what we call in the industry, a ‘heart’ film.  Those are the scripts which will adhere us for years of long form drafting and redrafting, and once all is solved, it’s easy to put them to bed.  I didn’t push to get it made after completing the PhD, because I felt my work there was done.

Nullarbor Pearl grew out of a produced short film, entitled Pilbara Pearl, which I wrote back in the late 90’s.  It went on to much fame and acclaim, perhaps because it had something reflective to say in the epoch when Australia was focused on reconciliation, via two characters who were in love, but utterly different:  Pearl – Indigenous and Eddie – Non Indigenous.  One wanted to leave, one wanted to stay.  The red ochre dust kicked up by Eddie’s work utility, met a cool underwater odyssey world in Pearl’s roadhouse fish tank.  As a drama writer I just ask myself, what feels unresolved and therefore worthy of exploration?  At the time, my marriage was struggling to stay afloat and I was longing for it not to sink.  Simultaneously, Australia was struggling to comprehend its history and reconcile with its Indigenous people.  What to do?  Uplift an audience with the possibility of reconciliation, and write a salve for my soul.   It’s one reason one of us writes anyway. . . .

SW:How long have you been living and working in the Northern Rivers?

SR: I’m a newby to the district.  That said, I’m in love with it here and am already dug in.  I grew up on the Gold Coast and in the Hinterland behind it, then lived in Western Australia for quite a few years.  Feels good to be near my folks again now.

SW:What is important to you in running a successful and creative regional business/ working regionally?

SR: It’s always about stories you want to tell as a writer, and they may be regionally based, heart based, or both.  For instance, I was the first writer on Frackman, an anti-coal seam gas feature documentary, which went on to major success.  I wrote on that from WA, observing the adverse effect of that industry on QLD, which I had left many years before.  However, a part of my heart still resides there, and I am sad about the negative impact I believe that industry has wreaked on small communities in QLD, as revealed by real people like Dane Pratzky, its central character.  For a while, I was a board member of the Australian Writers’ Guild, and as a Guild of performance writers, we fought hard in skirmishes, like the Free Trade Agreement, to ensure that the quota of Australian voices and stories remain legislated to remain on Australian small screens, lest our kids end up talking with American accents.  Our region and culture, Australia, is worth protecting, and regional stories, like all good stories, amplify out, to talk to the whole of Australia, and to the World.

SW: Tell us a bit about what you have been working on most recently?

SR: I’m the only writer of a new feature documentary, entitled Dying to Live, which is pro organ donation.  It has been through its various development and production funded stages, and has a big distributor aboard, as well as garnering finance for a fighting fund to follow the film’s release.  The aim?  To assist us in the understanding that if Australia debates the merits of becoming an opt out not opt in system, aka, if we were all in unless we opt out, like in countries such as Wales, Spain and France, we could potentially save more Aussie lives each year.

Currently, it is very possible to die on the organ waiting lists in Australia, and we need that urgently to change.  A writer’s function in the telling of any story, especially in documentaries on the big screen, is to understand structure and where to place dramatic emphasis.  A story like Frackman had a truck of a central character, present in every frame, pushing it to the end.  A story like Dying to Live has a central character who is passionately pushing for a change of policy, then comes the why, and the emotional convincers are real people waiting for organs, whose lives hang in the balance.  A story like that requires a collage of real life cliff-hangers.  It’s always a great challenge to attempt to change the culture around any issue, without spoon feeding or pulpit speaking down to an audience, the quest being to move us to action.  I believe that is what motivates me as a seasoned writer, to take on big challenges now.

SW: Is there anything else that you would like to share with us about you and your work?

SR: Writing’s been a bizarrely successful run for me.  Every time I wrote a script in a new genre’ it won a national award:  Radio play, short film, documentary, children’s drama, feature film.  Then I stopped entering, wondering what the gongs and gowns were all about.  I taught some Uni, finished the PhD, signed the divorce papers, and worked on impact documentaries, while gazing from afar at my family of origin, ultimately deciding to join their fold again here, in what I and many consider to be God’s Own Country.  I love to mentor, assess and tutor, to bring on new talent, as much as being called in as a hired gun on TV programs, or to write for the big screen.  Right now, all feels pretty much resolved, so I haven’t decided what I’ll be writing about next.  That, is bound to change.

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