News 14.09.21

FIRST NATIONS SPOTLIGHT: HEATH BAXTER



From working on Screen Australia’s Top End Wedding, through to Bunya Productions’ High Ground, and now the upcoming NITV and Screen Australia children’s series Barrumbi Kids, Heath Baxter never gave up on his dreams to work in the Australian screen industry

Born and bred in Darwin and starting in community radio, Heath believes that working hard, with just a hint of believing in yourself, can make you think that your dreams aren’t impossible.

Heath Baxter

How did you get started in the screen industry?

In the late 90’s, I was volunteering at a community radio station based at the Charles Darwin University here in Darwin. That was TOP-FM, now known as Territory FM, which had an Indigenous Australian segment called Radio Larrakia. They then got their own community radio license, so I went over to Radio Larrakia as a trainee announcer. Over the years, through doing interviews and stories for radio, eventually, it led to a camera.

Can you tell me about the community in the area you grew up in?

I was born and raised here in Darwin, Northern Territory, which is Larrakia Land. But I’m not Larrakia; my father comes from Barrow Creek, which is between Alice Springs and Tennant Creek in Central Desert, and he is Kaytej. My mum comes from the Katherine/Mataranka region in the Northern Territory, and she’s part of the Jawoyn clan.

What made you want to work as a director and producer?

When I eventually started learning what a producer does through my experience in radio, I began by producing a short film. I then studied screen and media, and through that I got an interest in directing. I have a lot of good friends who are actors, and they guided me as well. I got a real eye opener when I worked on Top End Wedding, because I got really up close observing the Director, Wayne Blair.

Heath and team. On Set of Top End Wedding pic by Katrina Bridgeford

What projects have you worked on? Did you have a favourite?

I directed and produced two short documentaries for the TV series Our Stories for NITV and SBS, and then I went on to Top End Wedding, and I had fun there. Then when I worked on High Ground, I had more experience, so I’d say High Ground is my favourite because we were telling part of Australia’s true history. I worked one-on-one assisting the lead actor, Jacob Junior Nayinggul on the set; learning lines with him, and learning about the true story around that region. It was a really, really great learning experience.

Heath with Witiyana Marika and Simon Baker on High Ground by ICTV

What do you do then when you’re not filming?

I’m always helping out with music videos for community-based artists from the communities here in the Northern Territory. I’m always not bored!

Where’s your favorite region to film?

At the moment, it would have to be Arnhem Land.

What’s your favourite camera?

I want to get one which I know is very expensive: one of the RED cameras. That’d be my favourite. But I’ve got a 4K Panasonic camera.

Who’s your director/producer idol?

Spike Lee. I love his movies and how he puts it together!

Who has been your biggest industry mentors?

Aaron Pederson and Wayne Blair would be up there.

What was one of your most challenging shoots, or something that you’ve worked on that was really challenging?

It would have to be High Ground but challenging in a positive way. I was really nervous because I had the responsibility of Jacob Junior Nayinggul, who was the main character for the film, getting him up, getting onto the set, rehearsing his lines, and also rehearsing lines after hours. There would be some days where the script will change a couple of hours before we start filming and I would think to myself “how am I going to pull this off?” But as the day went on, it got easier, because I also had Stephen Johnson directing him and also Simon Baker played a big role in supporting Jacob as well.

What’s your favourite film?

Return of the Jedi. It was just the best thing back then. I still love it today.

What’s your favourite First Nations film?

Blackfellas, which was filmed all around Perth.

What was the first indigenous Australian film that inspired you?

The first one that I saw when I was very young that grabbed my attention was Jedda, because it’s filmed in my mother’s people’s country. Seeing that footage in the film in the Katherine Gorge area with so many Aboriginal people was amazing, as they’re no longer here with us, especially the way it captured the landscape and the country back then. I got the chance to meet the lead actress on the film, Rosalie Kunoth-Monks, when I was close to finishing my film studies.

What’s your work philosophy?

I’m just happy to wake up every day knowing that I love what I do, especially being in the film and TV industry, and also creating community-based content as well.

What advice would you give to emerging directors and producers?

I work assisting students at the Batchelor Institute, in Batchelor, Northern Territory, in Screen and Media Studies, and I would always say, if this is your dream and this is your passion and you really, really want to do this, then nothing can hold you back. Your passion will get you to where you want to go.