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Retelling an Ancient Story to Change How Indigenous Australian Youth See Themselves


The creators of documentary 'THROUGH THE FIRE' tell LBB how they worked with artist, producer and radio host, Nooky and First Nations social enterprise We Are Warriors to tell his powerful stories, informed by the tale of the black cockatoo

Retelling an Ancient Story to Change How Indigenous Australian Youth See Themselves

First Nations social enterprise We Are Warriors, R/GA, Entropico and Garuwa’s 'THROUGH THE FIRE' documentary premiered on this year’s Invasion Day, January 26th, at Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum. 

Hosted by The House of Blak Power and First Nations social enterprise We Are Warriors, the documentary aimed "to embrace and support the transition of what was once a day of sorrow into one of positivity, shaping fundamental change for the Indigenous Australian community." 

Acknowledging that “you can’t be what you can’t see”, the narrative was informed by Yuin artist, producer and radio host, Nooky’s own upbringing as a self-proclaimed Warrior.

THROUGH THE FIRE was executive produced by Nooky of We Are Warriors, Ben Miles, VP, executive creative director, brand design and consulting APAC at R/GA, and Seamus Higgins, former VP, CCO and R/GA. It was directed by Gabriel Gasparinatos and produced by Erin Moy. It is an Entropico production in collaboration with Garuwa. With support from Rare by Google, Adobe, JD Sports and Heaps Normal.

LBB's Casey Martin had the privilege of sitting down with the creators of 'THROUGH THE FIRE', as they shared insights on the creative process and the incredible journey in telling the story.

LBB> Where did the Idea for 'THROUGH THE FIRE' originate? 

Nooky> THROUGH THE FIRE is a piece of art that tells the story of a new age movement informed by a story as old as time, our black cockatoo story, which is significant to my birthplace Nowra. The story of the black cockatoo is a white cockatoo who sacrificed himself by flying through fire in order to help people. Going through the fire was painful and torturous, but he made it out on the other side. He didn't give up, he sang the rain. Carrying the lessons and scars, which changed his coat from white to black, he is now a symbol of hope and selflessness. In its essence, it's a tale of persistence, unwavering strength and resilience. I went through the fire and We Are Warriors is what I carried with me. Believe me when I tell you though this is just the beginning.

Ben> THROUGH THE FIRE unpacks the uncomfortable truths faced by First Nations people, but more importantly, it shifts the narrative and becomes an inspiring story of bravery, resilience and Blak excellence. The film is told through the lens of Nooky and our founding Warriors with a raw, fierce and empathetic tone — seamlessly blending the past and the present through contemporary storytelling and rap. It's a reminder that against all odds, anything is possible. We hope it inspires Indigenous youth and reinforces that they too are Warriors.

LBB> Can you shed any light on the creative process of working with Nooky to develop this touching work?

Erin> Nooky invited our team to film conversations with the Warriors for a WAW interview series, and he shared his own personal experiences on that first day of filming at Carriageworks, too. Those stories then became the foundation of the writing sessions for 'THROUGH THE FIRE'. We then worked with Nooky to surface the visual language, scenes and cadence needed to bring the We Are Warriors story to life through film. 

Gabriel> I’ve collaborated with Nooky plenty of times over the years, so our close working relationship really helped me understand the type of story Nooky wanted to tell and the way to approach it. We had countless writing sessions and workshops, but found the more productive sessions were the less official ones – chats over lunch, catch-ups after work – any chance we got to have a yarn and throw all ideas in the ring ended up bringing the best ideas out. We spoke about a wide range of Nooky's personal stories, and found we kept coming back to the story of the black cockatoo as a powerful metaphor for We Are Warriors.

LBB> R/GA's partnership with We Are Warriors is obviously very important to the agency - could you shed some light as to why? 

Ben> We didn’t ever want to be just another agency who jumped on the bandwagon. Our ambition was to create real action which would have a positive and lasting impact on Indigenous Australian youth. 

In the past, other organisations have focused on improving outcomes for First Nations youth by attempting to change how non-indigenous Australians saw Indigenous people, challenging negative perceptions and behaviours. However, the positive impact on Indigenous youth had been limited. So, we flipped it. Rather than ask non-indigenous Australians to change the way they saw Indigenous youth, we needed to change the way Indigenous youth saw themselves. 

Problem is - as the adage goes - you can’t be what you can’t see. Australia’s mainstream media fails to provide positive Indigenous role models for youths. Instead, stereotypes are perpetuated, leaving many Indigenous youths with the impression that there are two options ahead of them: become an AFL player, or a criminal. To change the way Indigenous youth saw themselves, we needed to make Indigenous success stories more visible. Enabling them to see it, so they could be it. 

We are Warriors is a pure reflection of R/GA’s ongoing commitment to “Designing a More Human Future” and to diversity, equity, and inclusion within the company and in communities.

LBB> How did you ensure the final product was driven by the authentic stories and Gabriel? 

Gabriel> The creative process was about listening to Nooky’s vision for the story he wanted to tell, and adding our film sensibilities to it.

Erin> Warrior voices guide the storytelling both on screen and off. We hear and see an incredible story of strength and resilience, captured by a production team led by Nooky and co-director and EP Kieran Satour, and a camera team led by cinematographer Tyson Perkins. 

LBB> Do share any statistics or factoids about the work's final reach.

Ben> To improve the lives of Indigenous youth we must change the way they see themselves. To do this, we had to make Blak excellence more visible in culture, community and online. Whilst it takes many social organisations years to make traction, WAW has defied the odds. In just over a year, we have seen cultural visibility and coverage in ABC News, The Today Show, Broadsheet, Sydney Morning Herald, National Indigenous Times, Pedestrian, VICE, Concrete Playground, What’s On City of Sydney, Urban List, Timeout, NME, Complex, Purple Sneakers, 2SER radio and Triple J. 

The State Government donated the entire Sydney Powerhouse Museum for 24 hours for ‘Blak Powerhouse’. Importantly it provided a space for over 6,000 people to gather. 

Merchandise sales are important not only to drive funding, but also to increase visibility. To date $15k of merchandise has been sold.

Major youth brand JD Sports has introduced WAW Welcome to Countries POS across their 50 stores across Australia. 

A grant from the City of Sydney has enabled us to establish a physical space: the Warrior Community Centre. The commercial lease alone is valued at $780k, allowing us to launch community projects and mentoring programmes. 

Given over 50% of the Indigenous population live in remote areas of Australia, we needed a strong presence online. A TikTok partnership enabled us to launch WAW, and they have committed a further $20k in sponsorship for 2023 content production. 

Adobe has also committed to developing a WAW academy programme, facilitating pathways into creative internships and work placements. 

LBB> What was the best part of putting something this touching and powerful together? 

Gabriel> To spend time in Nowra and Booderee National Park with Nooky and his family was so special - seeing a rich community through the eyes of one of its most exciting young leaders, hearing about its history and his ambitions for its future. The reception at the premiere at the Powerhouse Museum on January 26th was incredible, too – receiving a standing ovation and seeing the response from such a big audience.

Erin> Nooky is an amazing storyteller, and being able to help him document some of his We Are Warriors journey with him has been a career highlight for me. Hearing the Warriors' stories, working with some of our favourite filmmaking and creative teams in amazing locations, and seeing and feeling the reactions of audiences has been incredible.

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R/GA Australia, Wed, 29 Mar 2023 04:17:55 GMT