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Gut wrenching, emotionally draining and demanding, making the documentary about Cameron Doomadgee’s death was also rewarding, the film’s producer, Darren Dale tells Andrew L. Urban.

It was a gut wrenching process, says Darren Dale, but it was worth it when at the Adelaide World Premiere of The Tall Man, “we saw how moved people were by the film … and that’s one reason we make films, that is to move people.”

The story of Cameron Doomadgee’s death made headlines many times over the course of the past 6 years – none of them announcing any good news for Cameron’s family or his Palm Island community at large. To some of them, says Dale, The Tall Man “is like the trial they never got.” 

The first thing Dale and his fellow filmmaker Tony Krawitz did was to approach the Doomadgee family “to see if they wanted the story to be told. We met them and the wider community and after their agreement, we spent some time amongst them – without our cameras, just to get to know them and to build trust.”

"the decision as to whether it would be a dramatised narrative or a documentary"

The next big step was the decision as to whether it would be a dramatised narrative or a documentary. “We chose the latter, and just to make things even harder for ourselves,” Dale chuckles, “we chose not to use narration … which often gives you a chance to insert a clarifying sentence, and so on.”

It was also a challenge to remain as objective as possible in the telling of the story. “A lot of people hadn’t actually read Chloe Hooper’s book (on which the film relied for lot of information) and so there were lots of mistaken assumptions about what was in it and what wasn’t,” says Dale. “Some things were very confronting for us, like the alcohol abuse and so, but we wanted to show it all, to remind the wider community of what’s it like – and to be sure that we weren’t hiding anything about the real picture of Palm Island.”

Dale says his heart naturally went out to the family, but he says he and Tony Krawitz had different perspectives and that kept them in balance and as objective as possible.

“We were totally transparent with the family that we’d be speaking to the police and the police union – but I don’t know if they really had an idea of how it would come together.” In the end, the Police Union agreed to be interviewed, but the Queensland Police Service – after three months of negotiations - withdrew their initial offer of participation.

"an important document for today – and the future"

“Making this film reminded me that documentaries are made in the edit. It took us 22 weeks, and we’d budgeted for 16, which some people thought was excessive. But that’s normal in doco making … some people edit for a year!”

Dale is proud of the film and feels it is an important document for today – and the future. 

Published November 17, 2011

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Darren Dale


In 2004 on Australia’s tropical Palm Island, Cameron Doomadgee was arrested for swearing at Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley – the 2m ‘tall man’ with 20 years service; 45 minutes later, Doomadgee was dead. His injuries were like those of someone who'd been in a fatal car crash. The police claimed he had tripped on a step. The subsequent trial of Hurley - who had been decorated for his work in Aboriginal communities – made headlines day after day, shadowed by Queensland police threatening to strike.

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