Communities around Australia are demanding effective action to address the rapidly unfolding climate catastrophe. Climate Witness is a compilation of seven video stories Mark Doyle made in support of the 2020 Climate Emergency Summit over the ten days leading up to the first day of Federal Parliament in 2020.

About the filmmaker

Mark Doyle is a local filmmaker based in West End since 2012. With a background in commercial video, his 20 years of working in mental health were informed from his experiences during the AIDS pandemic in the 1990s and continue to inform much of his work within communities affected by climate change.  After becoming involved in 350.org, a climate advocacy and events group, he picked up the camera once again in 2013 to document climate stories he encountered, seeing a gap between those stories and what is being told in mainstream media.

One of his working highlights is an ongoing relationship with the Wangan and Jagalingou, working on campaign pieces around the threat of Adani to their Country and culture, and video pieces for their language project.

What inspired you to make Climate Witness? 

Climate Witness came out of work I’d been doing for probably six months before going up the coast of Queensland. And all I was doing was dodging fires. It was really frightening. Why, you’d be driving past this enormous bushfire and you weren’t sure whether you were making the right choice. Do you go backwards and get caught? Or do you go forward to get caught?

And then I came back. And New South Wales was on fire. And so I did a quick GoFundMe and just got a minimum amount of money together and I spent a couple of weeks going down talking to beekeepers outside of Byron that had lost all their hives, and they had photos, which is shocking, hives on fire. Just shocking. A young mother who had been involved in the climate movement, just devastated by her concern for the future. And rivers running dry that have never run dry. And it was the idea was it would culminate at the Opening of Parliament after the bushfires after Morrison had been in Hawaii. I came to Canberra, and it was the same thing, the place was on fire. There was this orange sky in Canberra and there were these people that have never been involved in protests that were in Canberra to go, look what’s going on, you need to do something, you need to take this seriously.

What is one of the most important skills you use in your work? 

That connection between mental health work and filmmaking is that you can sit down with somebody and it’s very democratising. You can represent the person in the way that they may be, rather than how they see themselves, a view that sometimes can be really reductive. It’s really important that you provide a space that stretches the person about how they view themselves.

There’s this process called reflective practice. And it’s basically people talking to you, you’re not trying to impose your view, you’re trying to frame it in a particular way. They talk to you, and you reflect it back, you repeat what they’ve said back to them for them to consider their own ideas. The fundamental thing about it is you have to be curious, it doesn’t work without it. I saw the outcome of that process. Because really, it’s just a human process. So it’s critical, it’s the centre of the work that I do. People can be very good at messaging. And it’s really good for structure. But sometimes I think it stops people from interrogating their own ideas, they sort of get colonised by the messaging, and they start to see it in that way, when actually, if you don’t rush, you spend some settled time with people, they lose that frame. And then it’s coming from an internal place, rather than an external set of ideas. And it’s richer, and it sort of evolves. Whereas I find the messaging gets quite static and brittle, it doesn’t change. It can be a good starting point sometimes, but I find it a little bit limiting. Without it, you aren’t going in with a structure or an idea about what the story should be.

I’ve got a reminder on my phone every week: be bold. Be bold about the terms of the storytelling, don’t work within a restricted range where you’re just using tropes.

What advice would you give yourself?

I should have read the manual on the camera more!

Modern cameras are tooled up to do many functions but the menus can be endless. Get to know the camera backwards. That muscle memory is invaluable.

I stopped doing part-time work two years ago, and I’m not sure I’m built for freelancing where it’s so insecure. I think there’s a benefit to having a part-time job, and then doing the projects, because it sort of takes some of the pressure off and you can say no to job offers.

The ideal situation for me is to have this thing where you can go, I don’t need to do that. I don’t need to tell that story. What I want to do is this story. Get a bit more agency, then you’re not so much at the beck and call of places who want to hire you for their own purposes.

What are some recommendations of work, and what inspires you?

Laura Poitras, she made Citizen 4 about Snowden, very accomplished. she also does short docs, almost mood pieces that avoid tropes and narrative traps. Project X about NSA surveillance as part of the video journalism platform, Field Of Vision.

Anna Broinowski, who made Forbidden Lies.

Ken Burns because he makes masterpieces

Dennis O’Rouke, an Australian filmmaker, he was my introduction in some ways. He made Half Life and The World About Us. He devastated me for a couple of days and I saw the value in docos.

Check out more of Mark’s work here.

Are you a local documentary filmmaker? Interested in being featured?

Contact christine@westender.com.au to submit.