A feature documentary by Tiriki Onus and Alec Morgan
Ablaze Nationwide Release
Check cinema websites for dates and times
ABC TV – NAIDOC WEEK
Vision Splendid Film Festival
Yarra Ranges Council – The Memo
Moonee Valley City Council
June 4, 19
Golden Age Cinema
Darling Street Church
United Nations Association of Australia
Darwin Deckchair Cinema
Alice Springs Cinema
Indigenous Film Festival @ Orana Cinemas
The true story of the first Aboriginal filmmaker
William Bill Onus.
Entrepreneur, impresario, entertainer, activist. Opera singer Tiriki Onus thought he knew his charismatic grandfather Bill, until an unearthed 70-year old silent film reel suggests he might have been the first ever Aboriginal filmmaker.
As Tiriki journeys across the continent and chases down myriad leads about his grandfather, a compelling untold story of activism, resistance and politically driven art-making unfolds. A dark tale with all the intrigue of the best detective fiction. During the films making, Bill was shadowed by security agents and on the eve of its release, it vanished.
When Walt Disney invited him to perform in America, covert government operatives conspired to prevent him from leaving Australia. Allowing Bill into the world stage was considered too dangerous. But nothing could stop his passionate, singular vision of winning equality for his people.
Amazing Vital Piece of History
A 70-year-old lost film made by the first Aboriginal filmmaker William ‘Bill’ Onus was recently discovered inside a vault. It will feature in “Ablaze” as Bill’s grandson, opera singer Tiriki Onus, in his directing debut, sets out to solve the intrigue surrounding the film’s mysterious disappearance before it could be released in 1946.
Tiriki is an opera singer, playwright, educator and filmmaker.
He picked-up filmmaking skills by assisting on the production of, and appearing in, a number of documentaries including
Lin Onus: Bridge Between Cultures, Moomba: What’s in a name? and Kwaya’s Uganda Music Project.
He also worked with award-winning Indigenous filmmaker Richard Frankland on Yinga-Bul: Stories of a Song Man.
He wrote and acted in the critically acclaimed musical drama, William and Mary, about the love affair between his grandparents, William and Mary Onus.
He also studied to be an opera singer.
For Deborah Cheetham’s Indigenous opera, Pecan Summer, he created the character of ‘Uncle Bill’ based on his grandfather and played that role.
He has also appeared in theatre works Der Vampyr and The Tenderland. Tiriki’s directing debut on the feature documentary Ablaze, announces a career move from theatre to film on a subject close to his heart – the true story of his charismatic activist grandfather Bill, Aboriginal rights activist and possibly the first Indigenous filmmaker William Bill Onus.
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Alec Morgan is a multi-award-winning filmmaker with productions that have screened at over 50 film festivals, in cinemas and on television in many countries. His documentary credits include the landmark production Lousy Little Sixpence, that first exposed the story of the Stolen Generations and Admission Impossible that exposed the secret history of the White Australia Policy.
He directed End of the Earth a history of human impact on Antarctica. He was Creative Head of channel 9s hit history series Our Century and scripted the series Raising the Curtain about Australian theatre.
His innovative feature Hunt Angels won 8 awards including 3 AACTA Awards and the prestigious Joan Long Award for contribution to Australian film history.
He recently wrote and directed episodes of the ground-breaking factual series
Australia In Colour, one of SBS’s highest rating productions. His latest feature documentary Ablaze was made in collaboration with first-time director Tiriki Onus.
Tom Zubrycki has been making documentaries for over 45 years. He has won many awards for his work and his mentorship on behalf of the industry.
In early 1970’s Tom was a leading participant in the video access movement before starting on his first film WATERLOO (1981), an historical account of a battle by residents against redevelopment of their inner Sydney suburb. This was soon followed by KEMIRA – DIARY OF A STRIKE, which won an ACTAA in 1984, and FRIENDS AND ENEMIES (1986).
In the 1990’s he turned his attention to migrant and refugee stories. BILLAL (1995) traced the impact on the life of Lebanese family disrupted by a racially motivated attack. HOMELANDS (1992) told the story of a refugee family torn apart by their conflicting desire to return to their homeland. Both films were nominated for AACTA’s
In the course of making these films Tom evolved a distinctive engaged observational story-telling style marked by an ability to get close to his subjects. After a stint as commissioning editor at SBS in 1996, Tom returned to filmmaking. His directed the highly praised THE DIPLOMAT (2000) about East Timorese independence leader Jose Ramos Horta, which won AACTA’s for Best Film and Best Direction, and MOLLY & MOBARAK (2003) a story exploring the friendship between an Afghan asylum-seeker and a young woman in a country town. Recent films included THE HUNGRY TIDE (2011) about climate change in the Pacific nation of Kiribati, and HOPE ROAD (2017).
As well as making his own films Tom has produced another 20 – with early career writer/directors, These include EXILE IN SARAJEVO (1996) which won an International Emmy, STOLEN GENERATIONS (2000), THE SUNNYBOY (2015), TEACH A MAN TO FISH (2018), THE WEATHER DIARIES (2020) and ABLAZE (2021).
In 2009 Tom was presented with The Cecil Holmes Award for his ongoing career support for directors. A year later he received the Stanley Hawes Award in recognition of outstanding contribution to documentary filmmaking in Australia.
Tom taught documentary for 8 years at UTS, and ran regular master-classes in documentary at AFTRS. In 2018 his platform paper The Changing Landscape of Australian Documentary called for increased government funding for documentary and strict quotas for Australian content on streaming platforms.