Daryl Karp’s resume is filled with the names of one broadcasting heavyweight after another; she’s done coproductions with the BBC, Channel 4, Discovery Channel, TLC and NHK. She is also a founding member of the World Congress of Science Producers, where she remains a director. Another coup to her credit: Karp ran an indie prodco for five years, producing programs for ABC and SBS.
Many will remember Karp as the head of factual programs at ABC Australia, a post she left to join Sydney-based Film Australia last summer. Now settled in her role as CEO of the government-owned production and distribution company, Karp is eager to work on further bolstering the health of the Australian doc industry.
One of her most notable accomplishments since she began at Film Australia is the fact that the company will have its first showing at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Its entry, Dhakiyarr vs the King, is a 56-minute doc about Dhakiyarr Wirrpanda – an Australian who was tried for murder 70 years ago, then disappeared. The story is told through Wirrpanda’s family, and the film is one of only three Australian docs to screen at Sundance since the festival’s inception.
It’s King‘s unique take on a universal story that excites Karp. She explains that her strategy for moving Film Australia forward rests on four pillars, the first of which is distinct content, as seen in King.
Another aspect of her vision involves becoming a voice for the Aussie doc industry. Karp says communicating with the government and identifying more funds for filmmakers is part of this goal, adding that Film Australia recently received AU$7.5 million (US$5.7 million) from federal coffers to produce history docs about Oz.
The third pillar sees the prodco engage audiences using mediums outside of TV, such as new media and DVDs. The fourth is about strengthening the role of Film Australia’s library. Karp stresses that the company wholly owns the material in its library, which contains 5,000 films dating back 100 years. ‘[We're trying to] create the photo album of the nation… We’re continually balancing the need to connect with audiences with the need to support the archive,’ says Karp. ‘But the films that are most successful are the ones that find a way of connecting through stories.’
One series with which audiences formed a bond – it recently aired on Channel 9 and won its primetime slot – is Colour of War – The Anzacs, a coproduction with TWI, Nine Network Australia, ScreenSound Australia, NZ on Air, TVNZ and the New Zealand Ministry of Defence to which Film Australia contributed. The 3 x 1-hour series looks primarily at World War II and the Vietnam War from the perspective of Australians and New Zealanders. One highlight in Anzacs is a sequence of color film shot by an amateur cinematographer who recorded each soldier in Adelaide, in the south of Australia, as they went off to war. There’s also footage of their loved ones sending them messages. To the best of Karp’s knowledge, this is the only footage of its kind, and she revels in describing how it was discovered. When Film Australia’s researchers contacted the cinematographer’s son, who now looks after the materials, they thought he had a single roll of color film. Turns out he was sitting on 160 rolls, and he granted Film Australia permission to use them all. ‘It was a gorgeous thing,’ says Karp.