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Production   /  Catherine Hunter

Quilty: Painting the Shadows

My work is about compassion & empathy, anger & resistance. I hope to push compassion to the forefront of national debate


Impact areas





  • DIRECTOR Catherine Hunter

  • PRODUCER Catherine Hunter, Shelley Maine



Ben Quilty has emerged as one of the leading artists of our generation. At the height of his powers, Quilty is an artist of force and character. With three decades of experience, filmmaker Catherine Hunter explores his journey from painting Holden Toranas to the war-ravaged Afghanistan. Quilty’s story is one of profound commitment and activism fuelled by a boundless curiosity about the human condition. Quilty is fundamentally a painter, intimately engaged with the physical challenges of making visual art, as well as its emotional impact.
A major shift in Quilty’s art is a growing interest in our national history. The process of transforming his insights into the physicality of paint will be one of the revelations of the film.
“For most of this century, Quilty has been delivering urgent visions of our time in history. An unlikely activist, he wields paint to draw attention to our responsibility as critical citizens in an increasingly fraught world,” Lisa Slade, Exhibition Curator.”

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2.06% funded
  • $50,000.00

  • $1,030.00

  • October 2019

  • 6

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Issue Summary

A short summary of the issue the documentary is addressing

The University of Newcastle recently documented evidence of at least 250 massacres of Indigenous Australians taking place up until 1930. Lead researcher Professor Lyndall Ryan believes further research will reveal the real figure to be closer to 500 massacres. For some years, Ben Quilty has been documenting those events and continues to do so. This film seeks to observe Quilty as he engages with Indigenous communities and attempts to tell those stories that for too long were heavily disputed. Now the evidence of their truth is undeniable and my hope is that this film will reinforce that.

As Quilty says, “to acknowledge those sites, we add a really critical, healthy layer of social fibre to our community. We become a much richer place and a side effect, the most beautiful side effect of it is that you start to engage with real ideas of reconciliation. Why would we not go down that path?”


What is the impact vision statement of the documentary?

Quilty uses his profile and his painting to highlight contemporary social issues of significance and focus our viewers on the most urgent problems facing us as a society today - whether it be historic wrongs or current humanitarian dilemmas.


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

My hope is that by watching the documentary people will have a greater insight into the real history of this country. And that viewers might be inspired to support organisations like the Friends of Myall Creek which has done so much to increase awareness of the horrific 1838 massacre. I would hope to show that art can be the conduit to social change by telling stories. Medium-term outcomes – That studies such as online massacre map created by the University of Newcastle would be supported. The map was first published in 2017 and detailed events up to 1872. The second stage covered frontier violence up to 1930 and the third block of research is soon to begin.
Long-term outcomes – Greater understanding and greater empathy by all Australians would be my deepest hope.


How will this documentary achieve its outcomes?

“My work is about working out how to live in this world, it’s about compassion and empathy but also anger and resistance. Through it, I hope to push compassion to the forefront of national debate.” By following Quilty's exhibition preparation, working with his subjects in the studio and in the field, this film will give very real insights both into Quilty's artistic practice but also the subjects he is trying to highlight in his work. In addition to potential broadcast on the ABC, the film will be accompanied by an education guide tailored to curriculum outlines for the arts/history/social studies and environment. I would hope that the film could be used in such a way as to stimulate schools to take students to acknowledged massacres sites like that of Myall Creek where each year a commemorative service is held at the site each June long weekend. My plan is that it would also become part of a series of arts documentaries which I would like to screen in regional areas.


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

This is still to be confirmed as it is early days but my plan is that the film will offer Indigenous communities connected to massacre sites an active role in representing their version of the story as well as the opportunity to respond to Quilty’s work.

Audience Engagement and Social Impact

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

Audience engagement is a strategy designed to activate audiences toward specific goals. A call to action helps audiences understand the ways that they can get involved or do more to contribute to the larger social change strategy. When the lights go up after your film screens and someone asks what he or she can do to help, how will you answer?
Your call to action will relate back to your intended outcomes for each audience. These might include, signing petitions, downloading and implementing school programs, changing a behaviour, signing up to a partner program, hosting their own screening, donating to the cause, showing support for your campaign through social media, writing to politicians to change policies, procedures or laws, or helping you get in front of the decision-makers.

Measurement and Evaluation

What is the projects indicators for success?

1. I would hope teachers and parents would consider engaging their students and children to talk about the Indigenous history of Australia and to think about how art can engage with important issues in our society.

2. That schools would show the film to students of history and art prompting wider discussion of the issues. The film will invite discussion around the premise that art can reflect and be shaped by the society in which it is made. It suggests that art is a force for good and change.

3. That it may invite discussion about Australia’s colonial and more recent history. The film actively pushes back on the idea of a ‘culture of forgetting’. It highlights that history is a contested set of facts.