Renee Brack – This Time it’s Personal

Is the film an attempt by you to step beyond the ‘presenter’/‘talent’ space that you are best known for, into more of a creative space, or is it something that you did to remind people of your on-camera chops?

It’s more of a flip of that. I was a creative writer all my life who stepped into being on-camera because it was offered to me in the early ‘90s. Being on camera in the MSM was mostly annoying and a hassle because of protocols and stringent ways of doing things. I like to do things differently and experiment. Having to do hair and makeup was annoying and time wasting before a shoot when the story was uppermost in my mind. But back then, the money was good and the real appeal was the offshoot of getting other writing work. The term ‘presenter’ still amuses me, as it’s a generic box to put people into. It still reminds me of animals in Nat Geo docos that ‘present’ to indicate they’re ready to mate. I knew I was done with being on camera and it was done with me when a TV executive asked me to use the word ‘film’ less in scripts and use ‘movie’ more because the former was too highbrow.

Ticketyboo isn’t a reminder of my on-camera chops because I’m not ‘presenting’. This is the first time I’ve revealed feelings about dementia. It’s easier to be an interviewer asking the questions than it is to be the person on camera giving a piece of your soul to the lens. Admitting my ignorance and selfishness was surgery on my soul without anesthetic. Pushing through it was the only way of putting it behind me in an authentic way.

Ticketyboo is a lot of things, but mainly an impact documentary about dementia awareness. Is that how you viewed it in making it, or did it evolve over time?

I had the idea for the documentary in 2014 and drafted a fictional script about shifting realities with dementia, then did my first impact workshop with Documentary Australia Foundation [DAF] in 2017. That’s when I could see a pathway for the film as an impact documentary. This is because that moves it beyond awareness-raising into activism, exploring real and concrete actions people can take to interact better with a loved one living with a diagnosis.

How did you fund the film? What was the spark that made the film a reality, as I imagine you were thinking about it for a while, maybe even capturing footage, or was it all-in from the start?

Producer Kristen Hodges came on board first, she brought EP Ellenor Cox then producer Kristina Foster. We went to philanthropists and dementia-related organizations for funding and established a presence on the DAF platform, which meant donations were tax deductible. It was a great learning curve because the bulk of funding pitches were done during the first Covid lockdown of 2020. The upside of doing zoom pitch meetings is we could do a lot more in a shorter time frame. We shot the bulk of footage in the latter part of 2020, then went into post throughout 2021.

The spark that made the film a reality was realising my grief and regret around dad’s death in 2011 was getting worse, not better. Then I found a counsellor who advised me to do something – not just get bogged down in talking it through because that wasn’t working. This sparked the idea to host a posthumous exhibition of dad’s art and turn it into a documentary. I felt I couldn’t be the only one who handles dementia, death and grief badly, but I was also ashamed of how I handled it when dad was alive. The second action was to write his epitaph, which I imagined I would do but he was cremated so there’s no grave or headstone. The counsellor advised me to create a living memorial, which gave me the chance to write his epitaph and find some kind of redemption, forgiveness and peace. I finally got some closure.

As I spoke to and interviewed experts in the dementia sector, I learned people do feel guilt, regret, anger and shame but it’s pushed down and hidden. It’s not noble and can be hard to admit.

Your mother and brother don’t feature much in the film, is that deliberate or did they choose not to participate? Can you talk about your relationship with them and also with your father?

Ticketyboo is a 1st person POV story in a feature documentary format so a single focused narrative was more suitable than a broader family exploration. That might better suit a series format. My decision to tell my story was hard enough as privacy is the gold of a happy life. The three of us are close, we speak most days. They questioned whether it was a good idea for me to do the doco as I was fragile, distraught and spiralling into an abyss. Family and friends wanted me to put dad’s death behind me and move on. I elected to explore residual feelings in a public way with the hope that other people can use my story and find ways through their own feelings. It’s scary. I worry about people trolling me for being a bad daughter. Part of my own redemption is to move my story beyond my experience and give it to people as a tool they can use.

Dad and I were close from the get-go. He taught me to write when I was 3 years old, before school. He highlighted my intelligence and value as a human being with a contribution to make without making me aware of being female. But this didn’t prepare me for the world when I arrived in Sydney just 17 years old from a rural upbringing and learned the hard way that the world is a misogynistic place.

Did doing the test [in the film, Brack tests he possibility of her developing dementia in later life] help you ultimately deal with your father’s dementia and your response to it, or has it made things even worse for you?

It made it much worse before it got better. It got worse in the lead up to doing tests for cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s. Kristina Foster suggested it as a storyline and then it hit me – it wasn’t Alzheimer’s that destroyed my relationship with dad in his late stage dementia. It was my own fear and ignorance of the disease. So that compounded my grief and regret and I hit rock bottom. It was a milestone in growth when I accepted that there was nothing and no one to blame but myself. I figured if I faced my fear, then this might help me move on. That’s still happening now. But the real healing comes from the value in all the pain and suffering of making this film. When I think about how it might help other people, then the hole in my soul heals a little more.

Are you working on other film-related projects as well, and can you discuss them?

I have a slate of stories for screen, e-print and podcasts that I’m developing – a dark comedy about Femocracy, a transgressive mystery, a contemporary war drama and absurdist horror. God’s Gift is a crime comedy feature that was 1 of 8 Australian concepts invited to pitch at the 2022 Australian Feature Film Summit so I’ll develop that further. I’m in my happy place when writing these as I size up the machine I’ll feed them in to see who’s interested in selling and making some of them into films. Or should I call them ‘movies’?

What do you hope the journey of the film will be after Melbourne Documentary Film Festival?

I hope that the film finds the audience via festivals and future small screen release who can get something from it to make life with dementia kinder and more compassionate for everyone touched by it. Awareness of the disease exists already so I hope the film expands on actions people can take to be more inclusive and interactive with it. I’ve also got an e-book coming out mid-2022 called Ticketyboo: an illustrated story of learning to love dementia.

The smallest action such as a hug, a fun conversation, playing a game and just being in the moment with a person and their dementia has a lot of rewards waiting for us to recognise and enjoy.

And there’s the impact campaign. Our key asset is an initiative in shopping centres to support carers and people with dementia to have a safe space to rest for a moment. It’s still at concept stage with a testing phase to develop. People can donate on the DAF site – https://documentaryaustralia.com.au/project/ticketyboo-a-walk-with-dementia/

Ticketyboo is screening at Cinema Nova as part of the Melbourne Documentary Film Festival on July 30, 2022


Dov Kornits

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