Award for documentary film "ROLA" at Earth Futures Festival

Mike Terry, graduate of the master's program Visual and Media Anthropology, won an award at the Earth Futures Festival 2022 for his documentary "ROLA," which he produced with Dr. Marissa Betts. Terry developed and lecture the VMA course Space & Place since 2014. We spoke with him about the happy news and asked him what advice he has for future VMA graduates regarding creative projects.

Earlier this year, you made together with Dr. Marissa Betts a film called “ROLA” on the overlap of Aboriginal knowledge and Western Geoscience in the New England region of New South Wales.

Now, the film has been awarded as best film in the category "Human Connection" at the Earth Futures Festival. It has been chosen along with 5 other films for a special screening at UNESCO HQ in Paris, with other screenings in NYC, Sydney and Rome. First of all, congratulations! What came to your mind when you got this good news?

Working with the director Dr Marissa Betts, as well as the protagonists in the documentary was such an uplifting and rewarding experience. The filming went relatively smoothly which left me feeling a bit of pressure to edit the film into a form that was representative of and honored the insights shared with us.  When we found out that we’d been listed as a finalist it was a huge relief!

How did the shortlisting for the festival come about? Did you apply for the competition yourself?

The film was initiated by Dr Marissa Betts who in addition to being a respected paleontologist and geologist, is very dedicated to science education and outreach. Where Aboriginal knowledge overlaps with the geo-sciences is something Dr Betts has wanted to include in her own teaching and research for some time, so when the Earth Futures festival put out a call for films, she approached me about collaborating on the production of the film. The festival was a helpful catalyst in digging deeper into the topic through making a film.


What inspired you to make a film about the connection between geology, landscapes and culture on Anaiwan Country? What was your approach to the subject and your greatest learning from this film experience?

Dr Betts expressed it so well while we were interviewing her in the film, she said ‘My vision for the future of geoscience is more than just what we can take from the Earth, it’s a discipline that teaches people how complex and amazing the earth is, how old it is and how much it’s changed over billions of years.’ Geoscience is essential for a sustainable future. Marissa wants her students to be excellent geoscientists, but also to understand the importance of rocks and landscapes in Aboriginal culture, and to take those values with them into their careers in industry, exploration, teaching or research.


As a visual anthropologist, I came to the film with more of a cultural lens. Especially listening to the creation stories of landscape formations and constructing imagery to represent these stories was more familiar territory than attempting to visualize something like an outcrop of basalt rock which signified ancient volcanic activity.

What I find so fascinating, and what is truly the power of the film, is that the cultural knowledge of the landscape is inversely expanded with insights and connections from geo-science. This corresponds perfectly to themes we discuss in the course I lecture ‘Space & Place’ at HMKW.

As someone new to this region and Australia, the opportunity to learn more about this place I now call home from both cultural and scientific sources, is something I’m very grateful for.


What advice do you have for VMA students who are planning to make their first steps in film production/thinking about submitting their film project to a competition/festival?

Pre-production planning and refining what the film could be about and how it can be structured will make life much easier.  Especially in documentary, it’s inevitable that things will change, and evolve as you go, but having a solid idea, much like a strong research question, helps keep a shape to your film as you move through it.

Regarding submitting to a film festival, one idea is to submit to festivals that have a more specific theme or programming that corresponds to the subject or method of your film. Those are the events where you will meet others to share ideas and future collaborations with.

Academic conferences, art festivals, etc. may give you more of the experience you’re after than starting out submitting to larger film festivals with much larger open categories.

What are you working on at the moment? Could you already tell us a bit more about your future projects?

In addition to the commercial work I do, largely in the agriculture sector here in Australia, I am working on another collaborative film with the recorder player and music professor Dr. Alana Blackburn.  We are making an experimental film on the topic of resource management in the New England region of Australia.  The images I film of livestock, mining, and built environment resources are accompanied by a live musical composition produced with sounds recorded at the locations by Dr. Blackburn. This collaboration is part of a state-wide arts project in New South Wales called Regional Futures.

Thank you very much for the insights into your work. All the best to you and much success for your future projects.