Every year, thousands of Indigenous children leave their families to attend boarding schools around Australia. Supported through partnerships between scholarship organisations, private schools and the government, competition for these scholarships is fierce.
Premiering 8pm, Thursday 7 July, four-part documentary series, Off Country follows the lives of seven Indigenous students over a year at the prestigious Geelong Grammar School, grappling with family tragedy, mental health and identity issues.
From inside the boarding house, on the sports fields and in the classroom, Off Country follows the 2020 school year as the boarding school is thrown into chaos as the pandemic hits. Students wrestle with their identities as they move between boarding life and home life, and offer complex portraits of what it is to be an Indigenous child in Australia today.
Driven by the students’ stories and told entirely in their own words, Off Country combines personal observational storytelling and features intimate perspectives of contemporary First Nations youth alongside their personal educational experiences.
Tanya Denning-Orman, a proud Birri and Guugu Yimidhirr woman and Director of Indigenous Content at SBS, said: “NITV is committed to developing First Nation’s stories and presenting premium unscripted content. We are thrilled to bring Off Country to audiences across Australia next week. This important documentary series tackles important questions around identity and belonging, and it’s an honour to share these compelling stories with all Australians. I look forward to the premiere next week on NITV during NAIDOC Week 2022.”
Screen Australia’s Head of Documentary, Alex West, said: “We’re proud to support this compelling documentary from talented filmmakers John Harvey and Rhian Skirving that provides valuable insight into the lives of these students, allowing viewers to hear from them directly as they experience the highs and lows of living across two worlds throughout an undeniably challenging year. This documentary is set to spark conversations of national significance around education, the importance of culture and community and we can’t wait to see it on NITV.”
Directors of Off Country, Rhian Skirving (GoodThing Productions) and John Harvey (Brown Cabs Productions), said: “As filming progressed, it became clear that these young people not only walked proud in the path set out by their Elders, but were also navigating the impacts of colonial policies across generations. Each family story highlighted the impact of one or more government policy, be it stolen generation, forced removal from country, the mission system and intergenerational trauma. The impacts from these policies are present in the childrens’ lives before they enter the school gate, and, as we discovered in the making of the film, for many it ultimately affects their ability to make the most of the education opportunity before them.”
CEO of VicScreen, Caroline Pitcher, said: “Off Country is an emotionally striking series that is set to ignite conversations around the nation. We are always proud to back meaningful and diverse storytelling, and recognise the importance of supporting this piece of history to be recorded.”
Off Country is a Brown Cabs Productions, Letterbox Films, and Goodthing Productions production for NITV. Principal production investment from Screen Australia in association with the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) Premiere Fund and VicScreen. The documentary was commissioned by Kyas Hepworth.
The series will be available to stream on SBS On Demand with subtitles in five languages: Simplified Chinese, Arabic, Traditional Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean, allowing more Australians to engage in the important series.
Off Country forms part of SBS and NITV’s 2022 NAIDOC programming line-up. NAIDOC highlights also include the premiere of compelling four-part crime drama True Colours, the return of the National NAIDOC Awards Ceremony live on NITV, the return of Australia’s only Indigenous television breakfast program Big Mob Brekky, SBS Radio sharing the Uluru Statement from the Heart in-language for Australia’s diverse communities, and more.
As the National NAIDOC Principal Media Partner and official Education Partner, National NAIDOC Week will be celebrated across all SBS channels and platforms, including an exclusive NAIDOC collection of series and films available to stream on SBS On Demand and NAIDOC education resources via SBS Learn.