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James, an experienced and multiple award-winning filmmaker spent 15 months in a Cambodian jail, charged with espionage. He has compelling stories to tell about his experiences and the lessons he learned from them about resilience and how happiness can be experienced in even the most difficult and horrific of circumstances.
I was born in Melbourne but moved, with my family, to Sydney when I was five years old. I have lived on Sydney’s beautiful northern beaches for the past 45 years.
I have had a number of jobs other than film producer, director, screenwriter, cameraman and sound recordist. I worked for two summers as a cowboy in Nevada, USA, picked fruit in Oregon and, over the years (when my income as a filmmaker was not enough to survive on) driven a taxi and met lots of very interesting people.
My interests as a documentary filmmaker have been on social issues I care about – homelessness, street kids, aged care, disabilities, Aboriginal and multi-cultural Australia. My writer/director work has focused on the complexity of inter-personal relationships. Google “Blackfellas” – my best feature film.
The highlights of my filmmaking career have been winning a United Nations Peace Prize for my film “Roslyn and Blagica – everyone needs a friend”, worldwide acclaim and several awards for “Alinta the Flame”, the first episode of “Women of the Sun” and receiving 4 Australian Film Institute nominations for my feature film, “Blackfellas”.
I am a passionate believer that we all need to live our lives to the fullest of our potential – whatever that potential may be. It can take some time, struggle and maybe a little pain to find out what we genuinely feel most passionate about, but when found, we must not let it go – even if this makes life difficult at times.
If you think you have seen me before it is because I achieved my 15 minutes of fame as a result of my arrest as a ‘spy’ in Cambodia in 2017, my 15 months in hot crowded cells, the 6 year jail sentence I received and…the rest of the story, how I got out of jail 3 weeks later I can tell you about when I come to talk to (and with) you.
At the commencement of what looked as though it could be a very lengthy jail sentence, I asked myself the question: “Is it possible to be happy in a hot 3rd world prison cell, shared with 140 other men, with only 1 square metre of space to call my own?”
I drew from my prison experiences the conclusion: “It is possible to be happy anywhere and under any circumstances.” This is one of the topics I can talk about in my talks with students and others, based on my own (often funny) jail experiences. My talks are interactive; conversations, not lectures. I discovered that I was more resilient than I thought myself to be. I believe that most people are and want to help them learn how to uncover this hidden human potential we all share.
If you want to know little more about my prison experiences and thoughts about resilience and happiness, this ABC radio programme is a good place to start.
My life has been filled not just with filmmaking (documentary and drama) but with exciting adventures I’ve had all around the world. One of them, a record of an extraordinary adventure I had close to 50 years ago, can be found here.
My experiences with Philippe Petit (the star of ‘Man in Wire’, about his World Trade Centre high wire walk) is a good starting point for a discussion amongst young men and women about the subject of ‘risk’ and how important it is to take some (but not too many) risks in life and to be prepared to fail; failing being an integral and important part of learning to accept the hardships that life throws up for all of us.
I am currently working on a book, podcast and TV series about ‘happiness’ and a documentary about the role that digital media plays in the feelings of loneliness, anxiety and depression experienced by so many young people today, addicted to their smart phones.