Gold Coast filmmaker Jude Kalman inspires at United Nations social justice event

Jude Kalman of Gold Coast production house FishFilms recently had her short documentary film ‘Katura’s Story’ selected for screening at the United Nations Headquarters in New York on the 2020 World Day of Social Justice (20 February), where she accompanied the film and presented at various talks throughout the event, which also celebrated 75 years since the forming of the UN.

We sat down with Jude as she prepared to fly to the US.

As Gold Coast’s leading independent filmmaker, Jude Kalman is definitely more at home while shining a spotlight on others than she is standing in front of one. And when it comes to self-promotion, the same philosophy applies. When I finally twisted her arm into sending me a list of career milestones so I could craft my interview questions, the first thing the ever-cheerful Jude chirped at me in her reply was “I feel like I just vomited on you!”

During our interview, she demurred and deflected credit to such a degree that I felt it wise to hold off until the end of the discussion to invite her to be this month’s cover artist. Frankly I didn’t want her falling off her chair from shock before we’d covered off all my questions. Also, I was worried she’d say no.

Of course, Jude’s selflessness and humility are just two of her many charms, and she wouldn’t be who she is without them. Besides which, my strategy paid off. (See the cover of Blank’s edition #76).

A film lover since childhood, Jude worked with corporate Gold Coast agency Fotomedia for over a decade, gaining valuable experience behind the camera on major campaigns with Cancer Council, The Titans, Queensland Government and even getting to spend one unforgettable morning on the beach with Chris Hemsworth.

Superheroey perks aside, it ended up being the charity aspect of things that beckoned, and following a 2010 job in Africa with microfinance agency Opportunity International, a flame was ignited within Jude that simply refused to be extinguished, and FishFilms was born.

“I realised I could use my skill set to give a voice to charities and non-profits,” said Jude. She credits her leanings towards philanthropy in large part to her upbringing.

“Both my parents were refugees from Hungary,” she explained. “Dad escaped from World War II by himself and was shot in the head while escaping, and Mum escaped with her family.

“I don’t think I ever realised until I started travelling – and especially now that I’m doing stuff with refugees and immigrants – ‘wow that was my Mum and Dad’, but yeah, I probably unknowingly had that in me all the time, because I grew up hearing my Dad’s story especially. My Mum doesn’t tell you too much.”

Africa has formed the main focus of Jude’s professional filming efforts, with documentary ‘Aussie Mum African Heart’ gaining mainstream attention after airing on Channel 9 in 2017. This would be Jude’s first collaboration with journalist Carrie-Anne Greenbank, but not her last. I asked her what it is about Africa in particular that keeps drawing her back.

“Definitely the people! They’re super beautiful people. They are so creative and entrepreneurial. They’ll make something out of nothing, they’re the biggest MacGyvers out there! (laughs). And I love the adventure, you never know what you’re in for.”

The ‘Uncontained Love’ project followed, a series of three short documentaries about a family from the Gold Coast who for over a decade have quietly driven an initiative that delivers shipping containers filled with educational supplies, medical equipment and other household goods to communities in need throughout Africa.

Then in 2018, a Mozambique trip took place, during which Jude filmed for Mission Educate, an Australian aid organisation which aims to change lives through the education of children in developing nations.

‘Katura’s Story’, the short film which was screened at the UN, was shot during this trip, and tells the story of King of Kings school in Beira, Mozambique, and of Tallai student Katura Halleday who fundraised to assist some of the students there, and accompanied Jude on the trip to meet them in person.

“’Katura’s Story’ is a sweet story about a girl, quintessentially,” explained Jude. Characteristically self-deprecating, she didn’t expect it to have much of an impact outside of the circles in which it had already travelled, and had moved onto a new project after handing it over.

However, unbeknownst to Jude, her husband had submitted ‘Katura’s Story’ into the LAMPA Film Festival in Russia, where it won the short documentary category, qualifying it for selection at the United National Headquarters screening.

“At first I was a bit shocked!” Jude acknowledged. “But when I saw that it was associated with a conference that was championing NGOs, and when I saw what the festival was celebrating I thought that was awesome, because it was all about social impact and giving a voice to charities and the whole reason I started FishFilms.”

Hence the US trip. And as exciting as it is to have the talent and philanthropic efforts of Gold Coasters recognised at such international and prestigious events, the impact of the work itself is of course the greatest reward for the filmmaker.

The promotional film campaign which was filmed for Mission Educate and included ‘Katura’s Story’, anchored a successful fundraising appeal in 2019, as the charity rebuilt the King of Kings school of 2000 students in Beira after it was destroyed by Cyclone Idai.

“You can’t take education away from a kid,” stated Jude. “And that nation has definitely got a lot of rebuilding to do, but the Mozambiquans are equipped to do it now. They only got education in the 1970s, they didn’t see the value of it before, but now they do, because the school is established and they’ve seen graduation, they’ve seen kids go through right through, they’ve got TAFE, they’re teaching engineering, agriculture, diesel mechanics.

“It’s that transference of education, to skill, to action, when something like the cyclone happens and they’ve got to build from the bottom up. Aid will help so much but then they also have the resources to get up and build again themselves.”

Jude has also travelled to Kenya and South Sudan to profile the work of Gold Coast social enterprise Nice Coffee Co in a short film, which has since featured in national media. Along with fellow collaborators Whitney Palmer and Carrie-Anne Greenbank she also produced a coffee table book for Nice Coffee Co, proceeds of which go to support the community of Kibera, Nairobi, the largest urban slum in Africa.

Jude contributed to the poetry and writings in the book, proving herself a woman of multiple talents, not that she’d ever admit it. But although she describes things like working on the book, and heading to the UN as “dreams”, she keeps coming back to one idea, over and over.

“I’d just rather be in the trenches,” she says simply.

No kidding.

To learn more about Jude and to support any of the multiple causes that her work highlights, head on over to fishfilms.com.au.

IMAGE (c) Whitney Palmer

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