USS Winston S. Churchill, and previous naval ships bearing that name, is not the only namesake to have carried a heroic crew, as revealed by the story of the 15-metre sloop Winston Churchill, which sank during the Sydney to Hobart race in 1998. Her crew survived, and are part of a new film by Graham McNeice on Australians who defied a narrow brush with death. Editor Finest Hour
A new show reveals some incredible stories of survival.
SYDNEY MORNING HERALD, 5 January 2012—WERE it not for modesty, filmmaker Graham McNeice could well be a subject in his own documentary series about individuals surviving brushes with death.
McNeice’s close call came when he was driving cabs in his 20s. A passenger in the back seat held a gun to his head and demanded cash.
He remembers precisely when and where it happened and that the fare was 87¢.
”I could see smoke but there was no smoke and I remember seeing my mother looking down at me as if I was in a grave,” McNeice says on the phone from Sydney, recalling the experience.
The man also wanted McNeice’s wallet and became increasingly agitated when he said he didn’t have one (”I don’t carry one ever since having it knocked off at the Dapto dogs when I was 19,” he says).
Bizarrely, as we see in I Survived … Stories of Australians, the intruder who sexually assaulted, abducted and robbed Tammy Potter at knifepoint was similarly put out upon discovering at an ATM the small amount of cash available in her account.
I Survived … Stories of Australians is based on a similar US concept where people who have faced near certain death recount their stories to the camera in sobering, matter-of-fact and often forensic detail.
They are filmed in close-up against a dark background.
There are no re-enactments, no cutaways to a nodding and sympathetic interviewer, nor prodding questions to milk extra drama – not that it’s needed – from the narrative.
”I think it’s all the theatre of the mind,” says McNeice, who, significantly, worked in radio before becoming a documentary filmmaker. ”The viewer pictures in his own mind what they’re talking about. They’re painting the picture verbally.”
He readily admits the stories told by his subjects, who range from survivors of the recent Queensland floods, the1998 Sydney to Hobart yacht race and the London terror attacks, are confronting. Some of the survivors he approached declined; others, he says, have been reticent about ”certain sections of the media”.
But most have agreed.
”Sitting across from them, they’re in the moment and you’re in the moment with them. There are moments they are so into it, they get emotional. I have to be honest – so am I, and the crew. It’s heartwrenching, some of the stories.”
For McNeice, it doesn’t matter if the subject is fluent or a natural ”performer” when he interviews them on camera.
”They might start off nervous. But before you know it you’ve gone for an hour and a half. There’s me, a cameraman, a sound guy, a research assistant.
”You have eye contact with this person, one on one. They’re having a conversation with me, reliving that moment. Some may be more eloquent telling the story, some might have told it a few times before so it’s easier for them. But they just do it.
”It’s just like having a conversation. And it’s intimate, very intimate. They have a story, they’re here to tell it and for various reasons their brush with death can sometimes teach you how to live and they want to impart that, too.”
I Survived … Stories of Australians premieres on Wednesday at 8.30pm on Foxtel’s Bio channel.