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Development   /  Rachel Lane

Life Burns High

Australian writer Charmian Clift lived as she wrote; with a ferocious life force that still inspires today.


Impact areas





  • DIRECTOR Rachel Lane

  • PRODUCER Rachel Lane and Sue Milliken



Charmian Clift was one of the finest writers Australia has produced. Hundreds of thousands of readers eagerly anticipated her weekly Sydney Morning Herald essays in the 1960s. Her life imitated art with all the hallmarks of a compelling novel. She had movie star looks, a brilliant writing career and a passionate, creative marriage. Yet the sacrifice of security for the bohemian romance of life on a Greek island with its famous friends, parties, drinking, love affairs and poverty, led to her death by suicide at forty-six. There is a revival of interest in Clift and her writing because of her clear vision on so many issues which still trouble Australia. There is a desire to see her step out of the shadow of her husband George Johnston. “In every generation there are certain writers who function as national weathervanes, recording change in the social and political climate. Charmian Clift was one of those”. - Nadia Wheatley, biographer

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Issue Summary

A short summary of the issue the documentary is addressing

In twenty first century Australia we are still dealing with social issues such as gender equality, Indigenous rights, and the environment. Charmian Clift was writing about these areas of concern in the 1960s. It is our aim that this documentary will highlight what Charmian was trying to achieve with her weekly newspaper essays and how this can be a shining example for all Australians today to evoke change.


What is the impact vision statement of the documentary?

This documentary will showcase Charmian Clift’s life as courageous in a time when a woman did not challenge the status quo. By sharing Charmian’s story we hope to inspire other writers and get her novels and her powerful essays back into print. It is important that we champion Charmian’s pioneering spirit as a female artist and activist, so that we may learn from her and continue the crusade today.


What outcomes does the project hope to achieve from making this documentary?

Short term – Satisfy the contemporary interest in Charmian Clift and her work.
Medium term – Her novels and essays become part of the English curriculum along with the documentary being screened to secondary and tertiary students.
Long term – the novels and essays are back in print and available to the wider public.


How will this documentary achieve its outcomes?

The documentary will achieve the proposed outcomes firstly by screening via theatrical release, free to air broadcast, film festivals and eventually various online platforms. Secondly we will promote the film as a teaching resource through the Department of Education and tertiary institutions with an accompanying study guide. The student engagement, and screening numbers across all platforms, will be submitted to the publishers to warrant reprints of Charmian's work.


How will partnerships with this project help inform the project development?


Audience Engagement and Social Impact

What actions does this project hope for its viewers after seeing this film?

1. Viewers to lobby the publisher to have Charmian’s books reprinted and reissued.
2. Promote discussion about pioneering female artists in Australia via social media pages
3. Visit Kiama museum and walking trail to experience Charmian Clift’s childhood town and learn more about her.

Measurement and Evaluation

What is the projects indicators for success?

* Feedback and comments from screenings via social page
* Lobbying to get Charmian’s novels re-printed.
* The amount of schools the documentary is release to as a teaching resource.
* Finally the ultimate goal of seeing Charmian’s novels back in circulation through figures released by the publisher.