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The Hidden Lives of Carers

2 August 2016 at 11:54 am
Ellie Cooper
On Richard’s Side, the final installment in a trilogy of films charting the life of a man with a complex disability, provides a rare insight into the hidden lives of carers as Richard’s parents fight to ensure his quality of life.

Ellie Cooper | 2 August 2016 at 11:54 am


The Hidden Lives of Carers
2 August 2016 at 11:54 am

On Richard’s Side, the final installment in a trilogy of films charting the life of a man with a complex disability, provides a rare insight into the hidden lives of carers as Richard’s parents fight to ensure his quality of life.   

On Richard's Side - Deirdre Croft & Richard Rook

On Richard’s Side. Deirdre Croft and Richard Rook

Pro Bono Australia has partnered with GOOD PITCH² to shine a light on powerful films that are addressing some of society’s most pressing issues. In the lead up to the GOOD PITCH² 2016 screening event in November we will be speaking with some of the filmmakers about what inspired them to document these issues.

Andrew Wiseman, director of On Richard’s Side, first met Richard’s mother Deirdre Croft in 1989, and he felt compelled to share her story as a carer.

What followed was a trilogy of documentaries that span more than 30 years, with Richard as a 10-year old-boy in Driving with Richard (1992), and as a 20-year-old man in Wonder Boy (2001).

Now, the latest film explores his parents’ poignant journey to find Richard, 35, long-term accommodation for when they can no longer care for him.    

Wiseman spoke to Pro Bono Australia News about the millions of Australian carers who go unnoticed, and his desire to educate people about the impact – both exhausting and fulfilling – that caring has on their lives.    

What themes is the documentary exploring?

The process of making the film, On Richard’s Side, which is the third in a trilogy of films, has been one of trying to make observational documentaries. I think it’s always the case that a filmmaker, as much as they try to step lightly through the observational filmmaking process nonetheless has some influence obviously on what is made.

But I’ve really tried to tell these stories by creating a canvas that provides a story space for the main participants, so I haven’t been trying to editorialise through the making of the films, and particularly with the third one. Having said that, I think there are some fairly clear themes that emerge from On Richard’s Side and the first two films.

One of the ones that comes to mind for me is the notion that care obviously has to be shared and that it has to be shared across a lifetime. And I’m talking here in particular about care of someone who has a complex disability, but I think the theme holds for care of people with all sorts of other needs. So given that this film is the third in a trilogy and the trilogy has been made across nearly three decades, I think that theme comes through pretty strongly, or I hope it does.

One of the other themes or issues that came home to me in the making of this film, and the previous two films, is that while Richard, who is one of the main participants of the film and who has complex disability, while he is nonverbal and requires a great deal of assistance, he gives to others in many, many ways even as they are caring for him. So I think one of the strong themes for me is this notion of reciprocity, that there’s a reciprocal relationship between the carer and the person who’s being cared for.

Why did you chose to focus on Richard’s story?

The history of this particular film goes back a long way. I was working in Perth in 1989 in a place called the Film and Television Institute, and it was my brief to assist local filmmakers to get their projects made. And a woman named Deirdre Croft came to see me one day and said that she had a son with a complex disability and she’d like assistance to make a film about other mothers who had children with similar needs. And after I spoke with Deirdre and met Richard and the rest of the family, I thought that their story was really compelling and I wanted to help to tell their story, so that’s the history of how these projects came together, and we made a film about Richard and Deirdre and some others when Richard turned 10 and a follow up when he turned 20 and then this one as he turns 35, so that’s the history of the project.

On Richard’s Side was filmed between early 2014 and towards the end of 2015, it spans a couple of years there when he turned 35 in one of these years, and what we’re exploring in this third film is Deirdre’s really determined efforts to find long-term accommodation for her son Richard.

Deirdre’s now in her early 60s and she’s concerned about what might happen to Richard if she’s no longer capable of caring for him in the way that she has been over the last number of years, and this is a challenge that a lot of people in Deirdre’s position find themselves, so we explore a whole range of things in the third film of the trilogy, but at its centre is this challenge and this determination by Deirdre to continue to create a good life for Richard and to look ahead and see what that good life might look like if she’s no longer around. But we also weave footage from the first two films going back 35 years to try to get a sense of the changes in their lives.

Film crew

How significantly has the way society deals with disability changed over the three decades you’ve been documenting Richard’s story?

I think that the recent rollout of the NDIS, the National Disability Insurance Scheme, is a really powerful and positive piece of public policy, and I hope works really well, and I think it’s an indication of the underlying decency of Australia as a society. Having said that, I think there are still many challenges in this area of caring and carers and how we look after those or work with or provide choices for people who need extra assistance in life.

One of the things that came across to me very clearly in the making of this film, and the previous two films, was just the sheer numbers of people involved. I think there are recent statistics that indicate that about 2.8 million Australians are involved in unpaid care of one form or another, roughly one in eight Australians. And so the numbers are huge, so the specific story that is presented in On Richard’s Side, I think embraces many universal themes and one of those is that many, many Australians are involved in a caring role.

So a story like On Richard’s Side doesn’t actually lie at the margins of Australian society, it’s very much to the fore. So I think there’s a good deal of compassion in Australian society in general, but maybe there is a lack of awareness, a lack of understanding of the scale of the challenges that are faced within Australia.


What change or impact are you trying to achieve through this film?

The process of making the film has been really fascinating and very positive. The finance for the production budget has come from a number of sources including Film Australia and Film Victoria, and also through the Good Pitch process, working with the Documentary Australian Foundation and the Shark Island Institute, and that has been just terrific in first of all managing to secure the balance of the production budget, but then in also providing a decent amount of money for our “impact campaign”. And it’s the first time as a filmmaker I’ve really had that process, being assisted by philanthropists to support the production budget and then the outreach campaign, and because we have some finances there we can now push the film out quite strongly and hopefully beyond its normal pattern of distribution, but also to target specific groups.

And hopefully they can use the film as a tool, as a resource, to do number of things – to continue to raise awareness about what is required in this area of assisting carers and those with a disability to continue to forge a really good life. And so we hope to do a whole range of things in that area, aided with the finance we’ve managed to raise through the Good Pitch process.

Is there a lack of awareness about carers?  

I think there has been support for people who are in a caring role such as Deirdre, I think the support could continue to be assisted, I think it could be stronger. I think the various networks of carers associations around Australia do really terrific work, but it’s challenging and as in many areas of society funds are limited and probably constrain what they can do and what they would like to do.

I think the rollout of the NDIS is a really positive step and I really hope that assists in this area, and I hope that films like On Richard’s Side, working alongside all sorts of other works… can continue to really raise awareness about these issues and deepen our understanding about the challenges that are involved, and in a film like On Richard’s Side I hope can be used as a resource to assist community groups and businesses both small and large to understand what might be happening with people in their organisations who are in a caring role, how challenging those caring roles are, and to look at what organisations small and large, businesses small and large, educational institutions can do, just to assist to make life easier for carers and those who they care for.

On Richard’s Side is screening at the Melbourne International Film Festival on 2 and 4 August.

Wiseman thanks his impact producer Marylou Verberne and editor Uri Mizrahi.

Ellie Cooper  |  Journalist  |  @ProBonoNews

Ellie Cooper is a journalist covering the social sector.

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