A documentary made by a Batemans Bay filmmaker about keeping Australia’s oldest show on the road is one of five shortlisted by SBS as part of its Australia Uncovered series exploring diversity and equality in contemporary Australia.
The Carnival, directed by Isabel Darling, is a six-year labour of love that tells the story of Queanbeyan’s Bell family which has run Bell’s Amusements for more than 100 years.
Isabel tells Region Media the short film is a “fly-on-the-wall documentary of a family drama set in the backdrop of a carnival”.
“Watching this family over six years, we saw babies become children and teenagers become men,” she says. “We saw the challenges they faced during the bushfires and then COVID-19.”
Elwin and Selina Bell and the Bell’s Amusements entourage are normally following the show circuit 50 weeks of the year through Australia to places in Queensland, Victoria, Western Australia and Northern Territory. It is an institution at Batemans Bay during the Christmas holidays.
The Black Summer bushfires put the operation on hold and the COVID-19 pandemic almost put a complete stop to it. But the Bell family has proved the show must go on.
Isabel, who owns production company Torchlight Media, had local support from Far South Films in Bega to make the documentary and has travelled to most parts of Australia with Bell’s Amusements. In Katherine, in the Northern Territory, she and her own family became ‘honourary showies’ when they stayed onsite with the carnival crew during filming.
“My son was running around getting free fairy floss and popcorn,” says Isabel. “They’re just such characters. All of them are so lovely and in getting to know them, I’ve learnt so much about them and now I trust them as if they are my own family. Hopefully they trust me the same.
“I was filming them while I was pregnant and have filmed them with a newborn, too.”
The Carnival is one of five documentaries ranging from one hour to feature length that have been shortlisted by SBS for its second series of Australia Uncovered. The five documentaries will also participate in a live pitching session with the Australian International Documentary Conference (AIDC) for a share of development funding from SBS.
Joseph Maxwell, head of documentaries at SBS, says they received a fantastic response to their call out for Australia Uncovered.
“The shortlist reflects the depth and diversity of the submissions received, and the kind of unique Australian stories and voices that are at the heart of this strand,” he says. “We are looking forward to the live pitching session at AIDC 2021.”
Isabel says she is passionate about telling regional stories and is also working on another short film with a local NSW South Coast crew due for release in March 2021.
She says The Carnival is in “with a big shot” of obtaining further funding.
Isabel also has a vision for the full-length film being shown as part of the Bell’s Amusements carnivals as they tour Australia once again.
“I’ve always loved filming landscapes and I’m finding that a lot of my work is really reflecting the local landscapes and a sense of place,” she says. “That’s what I love about The Carnival as a documentary.
“I’ve been able to film some of the most incredible places and the most photogenic action of the rides and the lights at these places. It’s been incredible to be a part of it.”