Radical Wollongong workers' rights doco tops awards

Film-maker John Rainford won the International Film Festival Award for Radical Wollongong. Picture: GREG TOTMAN
Film-maker John Rainford won the International Film Festival Award for Radical Wollongong. Picture: GREG TOTMAN

Illawarra film-makers Melanie Barnes and John Rainford received a surprise Christmas present when their documentary was given the top award at the Canadian Labour International Film Festival.

Radical Wollongong was named Best in Festival and was awarded the Miguel Cifuentes prize at the workers' rights themed event.

"Winning the awards was a wonderful Christmas present for all of those involved in making the film," co-producer Melanie Barnes said.

"Since the launch it was screened around the country but this is the first film festival we've entered so we were very happy with the result," producer John Rainford added.

Despite being overjoyed with the win, the duo was more excited about the film's exposure to overseas audiences.

"The Best in Festival award is decided by audience votes from across Canada, so it's really pleasing to know that so many people around the country enjoyed the film and thought it worthy of the award," Barnes said.

The documentary narrates Illawarra's history of political activism from early union struggles, the "Pig Iron Bob" dispute and the anti Vietnam War movement.

The film continues through women's and indigenous rights campaigns in the region and ends on recent coal seam gas protests.

Barnes said despite foreign audiences finding it hard to locate Wollongong on a map or atlas, the film had universal appeal.

"The film resonated with people around the world even though it's about Wollongong; the same struggles and campaigns go on everywhere," she said.

"People can see their own history here as well as global movements happening, so it does well overseas even if people don't know about Wollongong and Australia."

Rainford said there was a niche film genre for features that focused on union activism.

"You've got movies focusing on labour history doing extremely well like Made in Dagenham, Norma Rae, North Country and now Pride," he said.

Film festivals with specific labour themes take place all over the world with major cities like London, Seoul and New York, playing host.

The film-makers are concentrating their efforts on their next feature, a docu-drama about the Jobs for Women campaign which opened the gates of Port Kembla steelworks to female employees in the 1980s. The landmark High Court decision was considered one of the first challenges to workplace discrimination and set an important precedent for equal employment opportunities in Australia.

"We have a history of people standing up for their rights," Barnes said.