Gillian Armstrong is overwhelmed

Gillian Armstrong by Tim Baure

Film Director Gillian Armstrong has unveiled her most challenging project to date, Australia’s biggest crowdsourced documentary – “The Inspiring Story of Us”. We find out more:

What appealed to you about this project? How did you come to be involved?
I was approached by CommBank completely out of the blue. I was unaware that they have been celebrating the achievements of amazing Australians for over 36 years with their sponsorship of the Australian of the Year Awards. Last year they decided to extend this by also celebrating everyday people across the country and their stories, which don’t always get told. I went to the website, Australian of the Day and was so impressed with the beautiful photography by talented young Australian photographers and of course theses wonderful stories!

I was deeply inspired by the incredible people that have been captured and celebrated on the website and was intrigued and challenged to become involved.

My role was to bring some of these Australians of the Day to life through a short crowd-sourced film.

The Inspiring Story of Us is a celebration of these amazing Australians and we hope brings to life some of the beautiful and moving stories from these great people. They really do deserve to be celebrated for the good work they do.

How did you ‘cast’ the Australians that appear in the film? Was there an attempt to reflect the diversity of contemporary Australian society?
Over the last eight months, CommBank has recognised over 240 everyday Aussies who are making Australia extraordinary. My assistant producer outreached to as many of these Australians as possible, and asked them if they wanted to share their stories with us.

We didn’t cast them – it was about who wanted to share their time, footage and lives with us. The casting essentially doesn’t come till much later really when you are reviewing the footage, and at that point it was about weaving all of the stories together into one coherent narrative. It was about creating a mix of Australia today – a story about Australians, told by Australians. That said, diversity was of course a consideration.

As a film director, I always want to ensure that I give an honest representation of the many different types of wonderful people that make up this country and luckily there were so many who had provided a range of different stories. And to find a way to put them together with compassion and humour.

Were there any storylines that you would have liked to include, but didn’t make it into the film?
There were so many stories I would like to have included but couldn’t – otherwise it would have ended up as a one-hour long film and not a short film!

There was more I wanted to share of the footage captured from those in the film too. The Green Shed for example do such incredible work from giving back profit to help numerous different charities, and a hiring policy that looks at benefiting university students and the disabled. There is footage that looked into this a little more but I just sadly couldn’t include everything. And, to those who did send footage and I couldn’t include them, thank you for taking time to share your life with me. You may not have made it into the film but I thoroughly enjoyed learning more about you and watching your footage.

What were the unique challenges involved in working with crowdsourced documentary material?
Creative control. I am used to having control of every image, the lighting, the background, the camera lens and movement and normally I am doing the interviews so I can reshoot if I don’t think we have the right lighting or something is missed in the dialogue. We didn’t really have that freedom here. With crowd-sourcing, i.e. people shooting themselves, it’s quite a vulnerable place for a Director as you have to allow the content to do the talking at first and then select and decide how to weave it all together. It was such a challenge at first, not knowing what was coming in and the actual amount to view. Hours!

But I was overwhelmed with the level of creativity and honesty… as well as the fantastic response.

The documentary is poignant, uplifting and often inspiring. Where do you see it sitting in the broader discourse around Australia Day, particularly in light of Stan Grant’s recent viral speech at the Ethic Centre about he relates to the Australian Dream?
I think we were all overwhelmed and personally inspired by all these decent everyday people who are giving back to society, who are all making sacrifices with their time and energy with the simple goal to make other lives better. They are such wonderful examples of qualities we should all aspire to and that are sometimes forgotten in this sometimes too empty, celebrity obsessed, winner takes all world. They remind us that empathy, compassion, generosity hard work and giving, even in a small way may be a greater source of happiness.

You can see the film at