OC Connections features in the Melbourne Documentary Film Festival

“Leaving Allen Street” is a film documenting the journey of the people who moved from the congregate care facilities in Allen Street to new homes in the community.

We were thrilled to hear that it has been selected as part of the Melbourne Documentary Film Festival 2020. The festival promotes independent documentary filmmaking from Melbourne and across the world.

We interviewed Katrina Channells, Director of the film, to get some insight into working with participants from OC Connections (OCC) to make the film.

How did OC Connections get involved in the project?

Vicki Hayes, General Manager Engagement and Partnerships at OC Connections, saw one of our short films about a young man living with a disability. I think Vicki saw something in how we captured Jono’s story. Vicki and OC Connections CEO, Therese Desmond, invited us in for a meeting to talk about the OCC redevelopment story and how it could be captured.

We were hooked as soon as we heard about the project and met the people involved. For Bridget O’Shea and me, it was one of our first big projects as Producer and Director at our newly formed company, We are Yarn.

In the beginning, we had no idea how big the project would be. The more we hung out with the residents, staff and families, documenting their lives and getting to know them, the bigger the project became. We ended up with a 70-minute feature documentary!

What was the theme of the film?

The themes of the film are around freedom, choices, opportunity, dignity, respect, love and family. But ultimately, we were working with the OC Connections philosophy of supporting residents to make decisions about how they live their life. For us, that meant allowing them to be the agents of their own story and giving them space and time to communicate what they wanted.

Where did you film?

We filmed all over the place! We shot at the old Oakleigh Centre accommodation buildings (1 & 9) and the site of the new houses. We also followed people on their outings to the disco, shopping, to the Lost Dogs’ Home, to the fire brigade and on dinner dates. I’m sure everyone was sick of us, but they always made us feel very welcome!

Tell us a bit about the filming process

Because the crew was just Bridget and me, we could leave our office in Footscray and get to Oakleigh quickly if an important event was taking place.

We were continually asking staff for information about when things were happening. We knew it was vital to the narrative to capture those crucial moments during the progress of the build.

We worked out that doing sit-down interviews with residents was challenging and unnatural for them, so we changed our technique to suit their needs, adapting to their style of communicating.

The resident’s emotions, ideas and expressions came through when they were active and doing things. So instead of interviewing residents with a list of questions, their interviews happened naturally in the moment while on the move, doing a new activity, seeing the plans for the first time or seeing the build for the first time.

Through their unique way of communicating, they would tell us how they felt, what they thought and if they were happy or sad. Often they summed up a thousand words in a gesture or a comment with profoundness beyond anything that we could have achieved in a long drawn out interview.

What did you think of the acting ability of the OC Connections residents?

The residents were terrific – made for the camera! They were so funny and warm. We loved how they all looked out for each other. Because we were telling the story of the redevelopment, we focused on those in the Residents Advisory Group, who helped shape the new houses into existence. However, we managed to include everyone in some way.

Do you have a favourite scene in the film?

I have a few favourite scenes, but I love the dancing scene at the old Oakleigh Centre. I get a lot of positive feedback about Valerie, Betty, Dave and Bruce, Don and Norma’s stories and all the archive material. Audiences want to know about the history of OC Connections.

What was the most enjoyable aspect of making this film?

Becoming friends with the residents!

Any final thoughts?

We want to thank everyone for working with us and trusting us wholeheartedly. We’re incredibly proud to have created “Leaving Allen Street” on behalf of all the residents who may have limited opportunities to share their story otherwise.

When can you see the film?

You can pre-order your tickets to an online screening of Leaving Allen Street running online, 30 June – 15 July. Pre-order your tickets via the OC Connections webpage here.

Will there be a cinema viewing?

Yes! A tentative date has been set for the film to screen at Cinema Nova, 14 – 21 December 2020. To be confirmed. More information about the film festival here.