11 January 2023

Bay filmmaker breaking stereotypes with carnival family documentary

| Tom McGann
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Isabel Darling working on her film, 'The Carnival'

Isabel Darling directing her film, The Carnival. Photo: Supplied.

The stereotype of carnival workers being part of some sort of grimy underbelly of life is one that needs smashing and Batemans Bay filmmaker Isabel Darling has spent the past six years working on a feature length film that aims to do exactly that.

She says The Carnival will “open eyes” and “kill stereotypes” about the people who make a life travelling around the country, providing entertainment for the masses.

“There’s a general misconception where people think of carnival workers as criminals or drug addicts,” Isabel said.

“My film will show viewers that is not true.”

Isabel’s production company, Torchlight Media, has travelled around Australia with Bell’s Amusements, exploring the carnival family’s day-to-day life for her documentary.

Queanbeyan’s Bell family has run Bell’s Amusements for more than 100 years and the carnival is an institution in Batemans Bay during the Christmas holidays. The Bell family won even more regard from locals after stepping up to help in any way they could during the Black Summer bushfires.

“I wasn’t planning on it taking this long, but there is so much to film with this family,” Isabel says.

Directed by Isabel, the film follows the Bell’s Amusements family, allowing viewers a peak behind the curtain of travelling family carnivals, while also diving into the drama that occurs in the generational business.

Bell’s Carnival manager Selina Bell says the fly-on-the-wall documentary tells things as they are.

READ ALSO ‘It’s bloody good to be back’ – the show goes on for the Bell family at Queanbeyan

“We’re ourselves in front of the camera and behind the camera, this documentary shows who we are,” she said.

“I’m not a very good actor.”

Mrs Bell said she hopes the film will give viewers a better idea of carnival workers and how hard working they really are.

“This is going to be an important film for people to understand the stereotypes of carnival workers are simply not true.”

Isabel Darling filming trucks on highway for 'The Carnival'

Isabel Darling filming the travelling Bell’s Amusements carnival as its passes through Queensland. Photo: Supplied.

“While the film is set in the present day, we also swing in and out of the history of Australian carnivals,” she says. “It’s so fascinating.”

First founded in 1924, Bell’s Amusements travels around the country yearly, stopping in towns and cities for a limited time, before continuing to the next, doing about 44 shows a year.

The film explores elements of travelling carnivals which people do not normally get to see. This is a family business and the workers are born into the travelling carnival life.

Initially starting as short film on the carnival company, Isabel found the family dynamic far more interesting and knew it had to become a feature-length film.

“Kids are born into this life and they start working in the family business at a very young age,” she says. “The film touches on this and looks at how the kids are taught that they will one day be running the family business.

“It’s a generational thing; a family empire.”

Isabel hopes the film will answer questions the public has about carnival families.

“It’s mysterious, it’s intriguing, and no-one knows anything about them,” she says. “No-one knows what they’re like – do they do anything other than the carnival? Where do their kids go to school?”

Isabel’s curiosity is what got the film going in the first place. She knew the only way to answer these questions was to spend time with the Bell family.

After spending six years with the business and the family, Isabel has grown a connection with them which she hopes the film will portray.

“The carnival itself is like a movie,” she says. “The family are such characters and over the years I’ve really got to know them.

READ MORE Documentary shortlisted by SBS tells story of a show that must go on

“They’re such a tight group. They live for the carnival. This is their life and their passion.

“I hope the film will show how much they care and how caring they are for their family.”

Funding for the film has come from various sources, with some investments coming from the non-profit Shark Island Institute.

The Carnival has also been accepted by the Documentary Australia Foundation, where anyone can donate to support the film.

Documentary Australia Foundation donations for the film can be made here.

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Graham Martin (gray)10:55 am 04 Jan 22

Know most of the Bell family and have done for 40 years. I travelled as a worker (showie) for different bosses for 15 years on the grounds. And am proud to call the Bells friends.

Samantha Dean7:13 pm 03 Jan 22

Beautiful on-site to the true travelling showman and woman🍓🍓🍓

Michelle Verfurth11:50 am 03 Jan 22

Sounds like a brilliant Documentary and nice to see the stereotype of the travelling Showman acknowledged for the amazing life and hardworking community they are.Discrimination has been a part of the Showmens story from town to town so it will be nice to see this Documentary show the true life of a Showman in Australia and what an amazing bond show families have.

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