During the pandemic, Longford filmmaker Danielle McAlpine Johnson realised she didn’t need to be in the city to direct compelling motion pictures, especially with Gippsland as our backyard.

Ms McAlpine Johnson is a film producer, writer and director who co-founded CheekyMac Productions with her husband, singer-songwriter Chico Johnson. Together, they decided to move back to the country, which has allowed their creativity to flourish.

CheekyMac Productions is in pre-production for a new documentary.

“We will be shooting throughout rural Australia and certainly will be showcasing some of our beautiful region of Gippsland,” Ms McAlpine Johnson said.

“How could we not!

“You only have to look at the creation of nature in this magnificent region to be inspired.”

CheekyMac Productions has spent more time filming in Gippsland than most. They filmed a short exposé on the Kurnai Elders’ experience of the healthcare system in Gippsland during the Stolen Generations, featuring Cheryl Drayton and Linda Mullet, titled Jackson’s Track. This premiered at the Women In Gippsland International Women’s Day event to 750-plus Gippslandians in March.

Thanks to milestones like that, there’s plenty of excitement and momentum for the team’s next project.

Another major win that occurred this year is the company’s documentary Stop. Rewind. Play. airing on national television following months of advocacy.

Broadcast on Network 10 on July 8, Stop. Rewind. Play. is a Gippsland story through and through.

The documentary was filmed at Kurnai College in the Latrobe Valley and shares the lived experience and racism that Kurnai youth have dealt with in the region.

Ms McAlpine Johnson wrote and directed the film and said it spurred meaningful conversations about these issues with her own friends after it aired.

“(The documentary) has created great context for dialogue around such an important topic, and in some cases, we have witnessed healthy debate from viewers,” she said.

“This is how we create change. So we, as a team, are humbled.”

And this leads to the second win – Stop. Rewind. Play. was nominated for ‘Most Compelling Screen Media’ at the national Christian Media & Arts Australia (CMAA) awards on the Gold Coast.

While the film didn’t win at the ceremony last month, Ms McAlpine Johnson said the nomination was a fantastic recognition for the youth involved, as well as the crew. It wasn’t the easiest project to make, thanks to COVID restrictions.

“The process of making this particular documentary was somewhat more challenging than previous productions,” she said.

Kurnai College student Shanaya in the Stop.Rewind. Play. documentary.

“It was put on and off again multiple times throughout the lockdowns, and we only had a small window to capture the students’ story.

“Also, being a non-Indigenous Australian sharing this story, I was acutely aware that it had to be the student’s voice that was heard.”

Mr Johnson ran six weeks of workshops in the lead-up to the interviews to ensure students understood the process of making Stop. Rewind. Play. before filming began. This built trust and helped the students articulate what they wanted to share – Mr Johnson works in schools teaching students how to find themselves through song.

“These workshops really helped them tap into their personal identity and helped them to marry their passion and pain to find purpose, which is the foundation in which our mission through film and song is built upon,” Ms McAlpine Johnson said.

“Being an interracial family running a production house, it has become incredibly important to me to showcase a multicultural cast to our audience.

“In our first season of Beyond The Fire series, which was also shot in Gippsland, we dedicated an episode to the Indigenous voice in our region (the Gunaikurnai voice) as they shared insight on traditional cool burns regarding bushfire prevention and recovery (season two was also shot in Gippsland).”

The principal and staff of Kurnai College watched CheekyMac’s work and reached out to ask if Ms McAlpine Johnson would share their story, which led to the production of Stop. Rewind. Play.

“We were humbled and, of course, said yes,” Ms McAlpine Johnson said.


You can watch the 30-minute documentary, Stop. Rewind. Play. on Tenplay for free.