The Walkley Documentary Award

2017 Winners: Martin Butler, Liz Jackson, Bentley Dean and Tania NehmeA Sense of Self, ABC TV

Award-winning television journalist Liz Jackson is no stranger to making incisive reports, but this film was new territory. Jackson had the role of both subject and storyteller in this account of her descent into Parkinson’s disease. Made by three close friends and co-directors – Jackson, her husband Martin Butler and director of photography Bentley Dean – A Sense of Self is built on a foundation of trust that allowed for a truly raw, intimate and compelling documentary about degenerative disease and its effects on a family. It’s fearless reporting, with heartbreak and humour, and touched a nerve with more than a million Australians.

Jackson graduated from the University of Melbourne before studying law in London. She joined the ABC’s Radio National in 1986, and since 1993 has worked on Four Corners, except for 2005, the year she worked as the presenter of Media Watch. With this win, Jackson has won nine Walkley awards, including the 2006 Gold Walkley.

Co-producer Butler emigrated to Australia in 1981 after studying politics and economics at Oxford University and working for the manager of The Who. He has produced award-winning long-form current affairs television for Four Corners, Foreign Correspondent and Dateline. Butler teamed up with Dean in 2007 and together they have made films including Contact, First Footprints and Tanna. They have won awards including the 2013 Walkley Documentary Award, and been nominated for an Oscar. Cinematographer and co-producer Dean participated in ABC TV’s inaugural Race Around the World series in 1997. After multiple international stories for Dateline, he shot and directed feature documentaries The President Versus David Hicks, The Siege and A Well-Founded Fear. Dean has won several cinematography awards as well as best documentary and director awards for these films.

Editor Tania Nehme has 30 years’ industry experience, cutting award-winning feature films, documentaries, TV dramas and shorts. Her key credits include the 2017 Oscarnominated film Tanna, A Sense of Self, Charlie’s Country, The Tracker, Ten Canoes, Contact, Alexandra’s Project, The Old Man Who Read Love Stories, First Footprints series, Dance Me To My Song and The Quiet Room. Nehme is currently working on a documentary about David Gulpilil.


Three outstanding documentaries were shortlisted for the Walkley Documentary Award. They were:

  • A Sense of Self, Martin Butler, Liz Jackson, Bentley Dean and Tania Nehme, ABC TV
  • Deep Water: The Real Story, Amanda Blue, Darren Dale and  Jacob Hickey, Blackfella Films Team, SBS TV
  • Glenn Murcutt–Spirit of Place, Catherine Hunter, Bruce Inglis and Julia Overton, Artsville, ABC TV

The Walkley Documentary Award, part of the annual Walkley Awards for Excellence in Journalism, recognises excellence in documentary production that is grounded in the principles of journalism – accuracy, impact, public benefit, ethics, creativity, research and reporting – together with rigorous film making. The award is open to a variety of documentary storytelling styles and the judges look for courage and creativity in concept, approach and execution.

Entries for the 2017 Walkley Documentary Award are open July 1, 2017, through Aug. 31, 2017.

About the award

Documentary Award Chair: Quentin Dempster

Eligibility: Any nonfiction film made for cinema, broadcast or web release with a running time of at least 40 minutes and a maximum time of three hours, not including entirely or scripted or improvised fictionalisations of actual events. If the documentary is part of a series that exceeds the three-hour limit entrants must choose the three hours of content they wish to be judged on i.e the first three episodes.

Entries that have appeared within regularly scheduled television current affairs programs must be documentary in nature and execution.

Number of entrants: The named entrant(s) should be the individual(s) most involved in the key journalistic and creative aspects of the filmmaking process. A maximum of three persons may be designated as entrants, at least one of whom must be the credited director who exercised directorial control.

You must submit six DVD copies of the work entered.

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Past Winners

2016 Walkley Documentary Award

Hitting Home, Sarah Ferguson, Nial Fulton and Ivan O’Mahoney

Judges’ comments: Hitting Home went beyond an excellent news/current affairs story. It both exploited the momentum at the time of broadcast around domestic violence and propelled the issue much further, engaging viewers in complexities of gender control and violence, viscerally confronting male perpetrators and showing impact on families. It revealed compassionately that domestic violence affects all classes of women. A powerful window into a national crisis and a call to arms.

2015: Only the Dead, Michael Ware

Only the Dead is Australian correspondent Michael Ware’s documentary retrospective of seven years, beginning with the “Coalition of the Willing’s” invasion of Iraq in 2003. It records the birth of the Islamic State in 2003, reveals a US war crime committed by soldiers in 2007, and takes you to the front lines of the conflict’s greatest battles. The film also crosses over to the other side, to insurgent training camps and attacks against US forces. Ware’s work as a frontline reporter resulted in his extraordinary access to the creator of IS, Abu Mousab al Zarqawi, and IS’s videoed atrocities of suicide bombings in Baghdad and the first of its ritualised beheadings.

2014: Code of Silence, Dan Goldberg and Danny Ben-Moshe

Code of Silence is the story of a fight for an investigation into allegations of child sex abuse at an Orthodox Jewish boys’ school in Melbourne. As the case against the abusers continues to make news, the documentary is timely and groundbreaking. Danny Ben-Moshe and Dan Goldberg followed the story for a year from July 2013, the only TV crew to gain access to courtrooms. Manny Waks, the former pupil of the boys’ school who blew the whistle on the rabbis he claimed covered up abuse, left his religion as a result of his abuse, and his orthodox father was shut out by his community. Waks’ perpetrator was jailed, but Waks hopes a royal commission may yet bring to account the rabbis he alleged covered up the abuse.

2013: Martin Butler and Bentley Dean, First Footprints, Contact Films/ABC TV

In 2013, Martin Butler and Bentley Dean won the Walkley Documentary Award for First Footprints – a televisual archaeological ‘dig’ which comprehensively explores the history of Aboriginal tribal structures and land management techniques which prevailed for 50,000 years on the land mass which became known as the island continent of Australia.

2012: Celeste Geer, Then the Wind Changed, Rebel Films/ABC TV

Celeste Geer is an independent filmmaker based in a small bush town just outside Melbourne. Throughout her incarnations as a lawyer, academic and mother, the one constant in Celeste’s working life has been her desire to tell powerful stories. A graduate of the VCA, School of Film and TV (1999), Celeste also worked at AFTRS. Her documentaries are intimate, character-based films that explore the complexities and frailties of the human condition: Mick’s Gift (ABCTV 2002), Veiled Ambition (SBS 2006) and Then The Wind Changed (2011). She is currently working on the acclaimed online digital stories project Big Stories Small Towns. In 2012 she won the Walkley Award for Best Documentary.

2011: Darren Dale, Tony Krawitz and Chloe Hooper, The Tall Man, Blackfella Films

Darren Dale began his career with SBS Television in 1997. He produced short films Mimi and Flat, both of which screened at numerous overseas festivals including Sundance and Edinburgh. He has co-curated the film program for the Message Sticks Indigenous Festival at the Sydney Opera House since 2002. Since 2001 Darren has been a company director of Blackfella Films, Australia’s premier Indigenous production company. Darren also produced, together with Rachel Perkins, the landmark multi-platform history series First Australians, broadcast on SBS in 2008 to over 2.3 million viewers. Following the premiere of The Tall Man at the 2011 Adelaide Film Festival, he produced Mabo, a telemovie written by Sue Smith and directed by Rachel Perkins (Bran Nue Dae, First Australians).He also produced two series of Redfern Now, a drama series for the ABC, overseen by renowned UK writer Jimmy McGovern.

Chloe Hooper won a Walkley Award for her writing on the inquest into the death of Cameron Doomadgee, published in The Monthly and internationally. Her first novel, A Child’s Book of True Crime, also received critical acclaim around the world.

Tony Krawitz wrote and directed the film Jewboy which premiered in Un Certain Regard at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival, and went on to screen at many major festivals including Pusan, Jerusalem and Sundance. For television he has directed on The Surgeon for Channel Ten and City Homicide and All Saints for Channel Seven. Tony was the second unit director on the telemovie The Silence for ABC TV. He also directed Dead Europe, based on the book by Christos Tsiolkas.