By Sian Gard
Daniel Clarke, freelance journalist and filmmaker, was recently named South Australia’s 2023 journalist of the year at the 2023 SA Media Awards. It is another tip of the hat to a storytelling professional who has carved his path in the media industry and created a stellar piece of investigative journalism in his latest documentary offering, Lost in the Woods.
It is a story that will take viewers back to the end of 2019, a time when savage bushfires ravaged Australia and smoke blanketed the skies. Scenes of the devastation were on the news each night and stories of hardship and loss dominated national headlines.
Lost in the Woods takes place on Kangaroo Island, located off the South Australian coast. The Island was struck by lightning in December 2019 sparking an inferno and the beginning of a nightmare for the tight-knit community.
Almost half the island was razed, two people died, more than 60,000 livestock perished and countless wildlife were killed. Less known is that 4.2 million tonnes of forestry timber was destroyed – the worst corporate loss in Australia’s Black Summer bushfires.
With support from the Meta News Fund (administered by the Walkley Foundation), Mr Clarke immersed himself in the community to learn how Kangaroo Island’s ill-fated plantation industry became an environmental and economic disaster.
“This funding was absolutely vital in making my feature documentary a reality. It allowed me to spend 12 months in the field filming and then editing without worrying about raising finance or securing a broadcast commission,” Mr Clarke said.
Kangaroo Island and the forestry industry has been a story that has remained hidden for many years but with the Meta funding Mr Clarke was able to investigate an issue that was close to his home and heart.
“Being based on Kangaroo Island, I was able to use the funding to hit the ground immediately and spend extra time capturing interviews as well as beautiful imagery, which can be really time-consuming. Large grants like this are rare in the filmmaking world and it has been a major boost for my career and the longevity of my filmmaking business.”
The 80-minute documentary explores the complex layers of politics, business and community with sensitivity and an analytical eye. It is an approach that the residents of the Island believe was needed, and many fear would have been missed in public conversation if Mr Clarke hadn’t decided to tell the story.
“The message I have received from the community is that they are so appreciative of a journalist making this film. The general feeling is that if this story had happened anywhere else in Australia, it would be national news. Kangaroo Island is often forgotten, and this film will help put the story on the national agenda.”
Mr Clarke believes the work will garner global attention due to the harrowing and emotional stories it captures.
“It has local, national, and international implications. I believe it will also have a major impact in terms of bringing much-needed attention to the large environmental threats that have emerged in the wake of the Black Summer bushfires and the beginning of logging of the huge plantation estate. These are issues that have been conveniently ignored or kept quiet in the hope they’d go relatively unnoticed.
Without the Meta News Fund administered by the Walkley Foundation, Mr Clarke says this important story may never have been told.
“I would encourage other freelancers or filmmakers to apply because this is a rare opportunity to tap into news funds, particularly in regional areas. This kind of funding can help shape the career of a freelancer and ensure stories that are placed in the “too hard” basket for major media outlets can be investigated in an intimate and thorough way.”
Watch the premiere of Lost in The Woods on Foxtel’s Fox Docos channel on August 15, or stream it on Foxtel Now and Binge thereafter.
Applications for the third round of the Meta Australian News Fund administered by the Walkley Foundation open on August 21, and close on Monday September 24, 2023.