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Let’s Talk Work: Annabelle Richens and Hayden Nielsen

Image: Hayden sorting through donations received by Koori Mail

In this series we talk to our students about the work that they do outside College and university to prepare them for the future. Paid jobs, internships, volunteering – St Andrew’s students are enthusiastic and energetic about gaining valuable work experience and improving their skills. 

Meet Annabelle Richens (Fr 2021) and Hayden Nielsen (Fr 2022). Annabelle and Hayden are both currently in their second year of a Bachelor of Arts in Screen Production at the Australian Film, Television and Radio School (AFTRS). We chatted with them about Higher Ground, a documentary they have both recently been filming in Lismore.

Tell us a bit more about Higher Ground.

Annabelle: Higher Ground is a short documentary exploring the 2022 floods that ravaged Australia’s Northern Rivers region. We started the project through a classmate at AFTRS whose friends, neighbours and community had been affected, particularly in the city of Lismore. A crew was assembled, and we travelled up to Lismore during our mid-semester break to film and volunteer, interviewing flood survivors and capturing the severity of the devastation. We were immediately struck by how inadequate current coverage of the tragedy was when conveying the scale of loss at Lismore. After two disastrous floods in the span of a few weeks, we wanted to explore the impossible choice that now faces residents, and will soon face us all as climate disasters continue to escalate – should they stay, rebuild, and wait for history to repeat itself, or take what little they have and seek a safer future elsewhere, on higher ground?

What was your role during production?

Annabelle: I was the producer on Higher Ground – essentially taking care of the logistics, making sure the crew is happy and assisting the director with creative and ethical decision making. In pre-production my role involved planning transport, costs and accommodation for the crew, as well as finding interview leads and organising our shooting schedule. While on set in Lismore I was making sure the crew were all running on-time, communicating with our subjects and making sure the director felt confident and secure with what’s being shot.

Hayden: I was the chief lighting technician on Higher Ground, or otherwise known as the gaffer. I managed the lighting set ups for shots, including making sure our interviewees were effectively illuminated on camera. During post production, I collaborated with Annabelle and the Cinematographer on what equipment was most efficient for our project.

How do you feel working on this project has helped you achieve your goals? What did you learn?

Annabelle: The project was a massive learning experience in delicate and ethical filmmaking, and presented challenges that a crew could never fully plan for. We listened to the harrowing experiences of locals at the inquiry meeting on our first night and sat in a flood survivor’s temporary housing during their lunch break from rebuilding their home, life and young family. I felt and continued to feel truly honoured that members of this community were so willing to be open and vulnerable with us. They trusted our team with their story. After co-ordinating a project at this scale, I feel I’ve become a much more capable producer, but also a more sensitive and culturally competent creative.

Hayden: Higher Ground provided multiple opportunities for growth. A five day shoot allowed for extensive practise in lighting skills, and for me to improve on my collaborative skills – a group filled with passionate filmmakers is bound to butt a few heads creatively. Additionally, this helped to expand my understanding of ethics and privilege. Coming from the security of Sydney into the current horrors that exist within Lismore was a major shock. I was very fortunate that so many people generously invited us into their lives and shared their experiences with us. It has given me key insights in ethical filmmaking and being an all-round better person.

What was the most memorable moment of working on the documentary?

Annabelle: Working in Lismore was an unforgettable experience, and I find it incredibly hard to choose just one moment that stuck with me. We spent some time volunteering at hubs like Koori Mail and Resilient Lismore, and I spent one afternoon sorting an enormous bin of dollar Mitre 10 supplies into usable buckets of screws, hinges and the like. After an overwhelming week it was easy to feel like nothing could be done to help, or that capturing media was the least urgent of pursuits in a disaster zone. But getting to know the volunteers and the gratitude they expressed to us for just for helping out with simple tasks, made me realise tiny jobs could make a big difference to their everyday workload. That’s exactly what the Lismore volunteer effort was made up of – individuals doing as much as they could to take the weight off of others in their community, and it was lovely to experience a slice of that and contribute to it in the smallest way.    

Hayden: I fully agree with Annabelle. Being able to volunteer at Koori Mail, and assist with organising large amounts of donations they had received was a great way to wrap up our time in Lismore. While Higher Ground aims to assist the people of the Northern Rivers region through creating awareness of the current devastation there, volunteering allowed us to immediately start helping people of the flood-affected region. I have immense gratitude for support workers of the area, who are working tirelessly, 24/7 to help out fellow survivors of the floods.

What made you choose St Andrew’s College?

Annabelle: As a country kid, I knew an on campus experience would be perfect to facilitate my study in Sydney and I was fortunate enough to have friends from my community who had attended Drew’s and loved it. I knew my high school experience would be a great fit for College, and I was really keen to continue the activities I enjoyed with the support of a close knit community. Choosing Drew’s was easy – their scholarship program was unmatched, and they provided me with the academic flexibility to attend college while pursuing the degree I really loved.

Hayden: St Andrew’s provides an amazing platform for growth in both social and co-curricular skills, as well as being situated in the heart of Sydney so close to university. Fellow residents encouraged me to come to Drew’s for its one-of-a-kind experience, a sentiment I completed agree with since joining myself.

What other extra-curricular activities have you taken part in at College?

Annabelle: I’ve loved getting involved with the creative arts at College. After participating in Dramsoc and Palladian Group Drama in fresher year, I’ve been involved as Palladian Drama Secretary and Dramsoc producer, one of the Photography Secretaries, and Camera Operator at Rawson and Rosebowl events for The University of Sydney (USYD). I’ve also been involved in Pre Tertiary Mentoring, presenting at HSC Workshops, and in We Need to Talk.

Hayden: During my time at Drew’s, I have loved being involved in a range of experiences available during my fresher year. I have enjoyed being a part of the Drama Society, the Drew’s photography group and a USYD camera operator/commentator for the Rawson and Rosebowl competitions. Additionally, I have enjoyed utilising Drew’s as a platform to give back to the community, helping out at the SONY annual fundraiser and Newtown Mission. Currently, I am working on my Palladian art entry, focusing on the theme ‘Good Times’.

How has St Andrew’s helped you toward achieving your goals?

Annabelle: Drew’s has helped connect me with other student creatives, including dramaturgs, musicians and photographers, who I’ve collaborated with on projects both inside and outside of Drew’s. The leadership training program has also been a great opportunity for skills acquisition and accreditation, specifically the Pastoral Care Leader Mental Health First Aid Certificate. These connections and training opportunities have been awesome for professional development and have given me confidence in myself as a competent and supportive member of the workforce and College community.

Hayden: Through its many available groups and competitions, St Andrew’s has encouraged me to think in unique ways. In turn, my creative practises have continued to develop and I look forward to upcoming initiatives the College has organised that will help improve my skillset further. Additionally, living with a group of people both similar and different to myself has allowed me to improve on my people skills, which will be priceless for future endeavours.

What’s the best thing about College?

Annabelle: For sure the sheer number of talented people. I’m constantly in awe and envy of my peer’s talents and abilities, observing them both encourages me to push my own boundaries and enjoy celebrating the successes of others. The diversity of everyone’s abilities and interests at Drew’s also means you’re sure to find your tribe, and having a solid group of friends throughout the period of unpredictability that is young adult life is awesome.

Hayden: The immense number of activities and groups St Andrew’s facilitates creates an amazing environment for growth and fun. College encourages you to try new experiences, which in has made me a more well-rounded person. St Andrew’s has provided me with new friends, skills and passions that have me greatly prepared for the future.

Higher Ground is currently in production by Annabelle Richens, Hayden Nielsen and crew.

To donate to community flood relief organised by Koori Mail follow this link:

For more information about Resilient Lismore:

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