Over the past 2–3 years, Good Pitch² Australia has raised more funds than any other Good Pitch in the world—and has done so every year since the inaugural event in 2014. So far, over $7.5 million has been raised in philanthropic funding and 200+ powerful strategic partnerships and alliances forged. With Ian Darling, Chair and Moderator, Malinda is one of two key people, in large part, responsible for its success. In this two-part interview, we talk not only about what she does in her job but the thinking behind it—because she is a thinker. For anyone interested in how GP²A works behind the scenes, this conversation provides some valuable insights.
The first part was conducted in a clattery café, early in the early morning, before work; the second part took place in a bar that played excellent music, in the evening, and between professional engagements (Malinda works all hours). As she rightly points out, there’s the coffee conversation, which is the one below, and then there’s the wine conversation. In Up, Close and Personal , I ask Malinda about her professional background, the philosophical ideas that inform her work and a story she holds close.
Malinda has an intelligence and skill base ideal for working with documentary and impact—she can hold the big ideas in view, identify how the specific and nuanced story of a documentary will or won’t resonate with a social issue of import now and into the future, and balance the pragmatic demands of finance and diverse, complex organisational agendas with the optimism that fuels the desire for social change.
I have observed Malinda in a variety of work environments, over several months, and she’s always gob-smackingly impressive. Not only because she has knowledge, smarts and talent. She’s a leader of a unique and 21st Century kind. For a start, she’s not bossy or autocratic in style, and she’s unfailingly generous in her recognition of others contributions. Gently spoken but sharp, inclusive and warm, she’s quietly confident and ambitious to do great work but never self-important or status-aware. Malinda is also the only person I’ve ever met who smiles continuously while talking—even when taking some poor sap to task. It’s almost disconcerting and probably why Ian Darling, at the first Good Pitch Australia referred to his colleague as the “smiling assassin”. Under-estimate her and you might end up feeling like a jerk.
Malinda joined Macquarie Bank’s Graduate Program while she was still at university. She has worked in microfinance in India and Nepal and as a media advisor to former Labor Leader Simon Crean; she was Executive Director at The Caledonia Foundation and has been Executive Director, Good Pitch² Australia since it came into existence three years ago. She has a Commerce/Arts degree (with first class honours in History) from the University of NSW and a Masters in International Development and Public Policy with a full scholarship from the European Commission’s Erasmus Mundus program. She’s done a whole lot more. You can read her bio here.
THE CHAT—Part One
PJB: How were you involved with the set up of Good Pitch² Australia?
MW: With Ian [Darling], I worked out the objectives and mission statements—obviously adapted from what Britdoc and Sundance had built internationally—and how that would work in the Australian context with philanthropists and our own NGO’s, corporates, broadcasters, media.
PJB: One of the points of difference from the other Good Pitch events internationally is that with GP²A, the financial contributions come predominantly from philanthropists in the form of donations. Not everyone loves film or believes in it as a medium that impacts people or their understanding of the world. Do you encounter that view when, for example, you approach philanthropists who you want to get involved in Good Pitch?
MW: Yes… I always say philanthropy is about connecting to your passion. There are philanthropists who are passionate about the social issue area but don’t see the value of film. In those cases, the onus is on me to put a case forward and show how that film can be used to shift the landscape—be it policy change, shifting consciousness, changing behaviours, or shining a light on an issue that isn’t getting attention.
PJB: Are people convinced documentaries can do that?
MW: I think, across the board, people have a greater understanding of that now—
PJB: As a result of Good Pitch² Australia?
MW: We are part of the picture—of course, there’s the work of DAF (Documentary Australia Foundation) and the Shark Island Institute with whom we host GP²A—and there has been some great pioneering work by Australian filmmakers in the social impact space. Our role has been to provide a vehicle that could take that impact to the next level… Our first year was the most difficult because we were trying to articulate a new model and show what social impact documentaries (supported through the Good Pitch model) had done overseas. We used examples of the lobbying power of say, The Invisible War in the US, which was above and beyond any individual NGO’s capacity—the seismic shift that film created in the policy landscape! We were able to point to these international examples and say: This is our vision for what we’d like to do here. I’m so respectful of the people who got involved with us then and bought into the vision. It was a act of trust when we were at concept stage…We’ve worked so hard to make sure we delivered on that vision.
PJB: Is it your experience that most philanthropists have a direct and personal connection with an issue?
MW: Yes but it may not be a personal experience; it might be that they’ve been touched by someone else’s experience, someone they know. On Richard’s Side, for example, there were people who contributed to that film and campaign who didn’t have a direct experience of a child with disability but they had friends or family members who do… They could see how the film could be used within the broader public space to provide more support for Carers and people with disabilities. There are also philanthropists with a passion for social justice that goes way beyond their personal experience. With The Opposition, I don’t know that there was anyone in the room that day (Good Pitch² Australia 2014) who had first-hand experience of a land grab, but they could understand the injustice of having your home taken from you…
As I see it, that’s the role of storytelling: to touch our human heart and compel us to action. Films can also make us angry and anger can be a force for good—it can really drive change. We can be frightened of our own anger and resile from it, but without it, we often can’t move forward. When we stir and move it in the right way, it can be a positive emotion.
PJB: How else does Good Pitch² Australia differ from the GP international events?
MW: From the outset, we took the decision to be hands-on and holistic in our approach so we look after the films all the way through: from selection, to the pitch on the day, to beyond: production and impact. As I mentioned, we also have Documentary Australia Foundation (DAF) as a partner on the project. One of the things DAF does is provide a tax effective vehicle for the donations to be made and also contributes to the broader landscape for developing filmmakers and building impact in the field. GP²A is hands-on with the films in our portfolio, making sure the films teams are supported, the films completed to the standard that meets with the expectations of our international and local partners and supporters, and we are intimately involved in building, designing and delivering with the impact campaigns. We make sure that each campaign is as targeted and successful as it can be… One of the things I do is build the coalition of partners for each of the films.
PJB: On the day, there are the 8-9 people who sit at the table in the middle of the room and talk about why the film just pitched is useful to them in what they do, but their involvement extends far beyond turning up. When I was in the audience at the first Good Pitch² Australia event, I wondered how such a diverse bunch of people come to support the films and filmmakers, and what they do going forward. Give me an example of a specific film and how you put the partners together for the impact campaign.
MW: With Gayby Baby, for example, we had a film about kids growing up with same sex parents, as told by director Maya Newell and producer Charlotte Mars. That film connected with different points in the LGBTIQ agenda… What I love to do is build a group of coalition players who might not already collaborate together. The film operates as a vehicle where that can happen between different partners. So, we had a couple of philanthropists who were already engaged around this particular issue. Also at the table was a Westpac—they have their own diversity and inclusion agenda run out of Human Resources and employee action group—GLOBAL. On the day, Brad Cooper, the Head of Bankers Trust, which is a part of the Westpac Group, said something along the lines of: We can make our own corporate video or we can use this beautifully crafted film that tells a story much more compelling than anything we could deliver.
PJB: What did Westpac bring to the table, so to speak?
MW: They were fantastic. They connected us to other financial services and groups working on the LGBTIQ agenda, which is a space where the financial services sector can be non-competitive! So it was connections to law firms, accounting services and all the people in their networks. Westpac itself has 40,000 employees and a diverse network in the financial sector; they’ve got a lot of power and influence. With corporates, I don’t see them necessarily as fund-raising potential, although that’s wonderful when it happens: I see the power and influence they can bring to the film, and take it into arenas where people might not necessarily have engaged with that particular issue. I think that’s when you see the impact—when the conversations happen in unexpected places. I know from my partner who coaches a (non-professional) AFL side that there were conversations going on about Gayby Baby in the football Club. That’s social impact. When a broader public engages with these ideas and consciousness shifts; it’s not only the people entrenched in that issue or directly connected or living it daily.
PJB: So who else was around the table for Gayby Baby?
MW: The Head of Primary Schools Association. He was explaining that these conversations were happening with kids in the primary schools because there are five-to-seven-year-olds explaining reproductive technologies. The teachers didn’t have a language and a way of engaging in the conversation that is age-appropriate. He wanted to use the film as a professional development tool for teachers so they could have a more comfortable conversation in the school–room and actually talk about the diversity of families. It’s about kids growing up as gaybys, but this film within the broader context, is also about blended families, kids living with grandparents—not only the more traditional nuclear unit (mother, father, 2.5 kids). It’s about opening up peoples understanding of what a modern family looks like and re-defining family around love and security, not whether people are heterosexual or not. As Charlotte Mars, the producer said on the day, and I paraphrase, We’re all just as screwed up, as ridiculous and in love, as each other—
PJB: Ain’t that the truth…
MW: Wear it Purple was also on the table. There was a young, youth-led campaigner supporting the diversity agenda in schools with Wear it Purple Day. There was the Safe Schools Coalition, The Foundation for Young Australians who were also engaged because they were looking at different aspects of the LGBTIQ agenda. Families Australia was one of the peak bodies, an NGO representative of all the NGOs looking after families—they also have lobbying power. We had Alex Greenwich MP who co-founded the Marriage Equality Campaign and Tim Wilson, then dubbed the Freedom Commissioner at the Human Rights Commission… So you have all these people with power, networks and expertise—
PJB: And there were two philanthropists on the table?
MW: Yes, who had gayby babies within their families so they had a direct connection with the issue.
PJB: It was a diverse bunch, but united.
MW: What worked was that everyone had different networks and expertise; they could use the film in very different ways to have conversations in multiple spaces around Australia and where those conversations need to happen: at the policy level, the broader community, in the schools. It’s interesting to me, patching that together— where the film can be used strategically.
PJB: So the partners had never worked together before?
MW: No, they’d all worked on different aspects in their own arenas and this was the first time they collaborated together, sharing knowledge and expertise. So the film is also a vehicle for those conversations to happen.
With That Sugar Film, it was the same—there were all these people around the table saying: “Hey, we need to work together more.” They were all looking after different aspects of the same issue, from BUPA who have an interest in people being healthy and have 4.3 million policy holders, the obesity coalition, Dr. Jane Martin—one of the most successful campaigners on the anti-Tobacco lobby (who has turned to sugar as the new tobacco), the YMCA, Diabetes Australia…
Frackman was also extraordinary. You had a card-carrying CWA (Country Women’s Association) member sitting across from an environmentalist – they had different views on many things but on that issue there was real collaboration. That cross-over was so important… When Frackman was being made, 80% of NSW was covered in coal and CSG licenses. After the release of the film, and the way it was used as part of a larger campaign on the issue, we are proud that it’s now only 7%. The campaign became powerful when the groups started talking to each other and forming alliances, especially when they weren’t natural allies: Bob Brown and Alan Jones were on the same page! This film helped to create mutual territory where different parties could engage. This made a critical difference in taking Fracking from a regional issue to metro audiences.
PJB: Was there a moment in the Frackman campaign that stood out for you?
MW: Yes. It was a call from Kate Hodges, the impact producer at 3pm on the day a screening of the film was scheduled at the Hayden Orpheum—it was an event with Dick Smith and Dr John Hewson—she said, “I want to move cinema screening rooms, from the 350 seater to the 700 seater. Do you think we can do it?” It was a bold move and we didn’t know if we would fill it but… Kate moved Frackman to the bigger cinema and it sold out within the next 3 hours… The cinema was packed with Mosman locals wanting to know about Fracking and Coal Seam Gas. That was the moment we realised we had hit the mainstream with this issue, and we understood people were listening. It was thrilling.
PJB: You are obviously using your knowledge, strategic capabilities and contacts in putting this together from the time the films are being selected, tell me about that.
MW: When the proposals come in for Good Pitch and we’re looking at the films, I’m thinking: Where is that issue sitting in the Australian landscape and more broadly, internationally? How could this particular film contribute to shifting the dialogue on that issue? In some cases we’ve not selected some films because there is already a film out there that’s doing the work. We’re also looking closely at what the films can potentially reveal or explore and contribute, in a new way, to an existing debate.
At that time, I’m talking to key advocates, practitioners and experts to benefit from their advice about how things are moving and when that film might be released—maybe in 18 months or two years time. I’m trying to see ahead and make an educated guess about what might be going on… and if the timing and the message is right.
PJB: That’s not straight forward—
MW: And at the point of selection, I’m already thinking: Who is going to be on the table? Who are the possible coalition of partners? How might they engage in with the issue or the idea that the film presents, and how well will they travel with that and change something?
PJB: So the films are selected and then what happens?
MW: Before the Good Pitch event, there are two main workshops that take place at the Shark Island Institute in Kangaroo Valley. The first is an introductory workshop introducing the filmmakers to the Good Pitch process and explaining how we all work together and what they can expect over the coming months/years. The second workshop is specifically about the preparation of the pitches on the day. In the months between the first and second workshop, we are working with each film team, building their strategy, based on their storytelling. And as we tell the filmmakers, the story doesn’t have to answer all the questions, or solve the problems, it just has to open the door for a different kind of conversation to take place.
PJB: At the most recent Shark Island Institute workshop with the 2016 filmmakers, some of the filmmakers had the expectation that somehow the film had to do what was, in fact, the job of the social impact campaign. The (wrong) assumption is that Good Pitch will exert influence on the art or the editorial of the film as a result of the impact campaign, and filmmakers fear their films being branded “worthy” but that’s not what you are about… You put everyone at ease by explaining how you work and what the Good Pitch team does behind the scenes with the impact campaign and putting all the partners in place—and how that was NOT the job of the film.
MW: It would be a really boring film if it was any other way!
PJB: Agree… You don’t know what’s going to happen on the day of GP²A, which must be nerve-wracking, but what do you think all the prep work you do, does for the philanthropists, partners and donors in the audience?
MW: We’ve done the leg–work. And the people sitting on the table have done the due diligence for the room. They are putting themselves on the line individually and as an institution or organisation to say: Yes, we’re behind this film and what they want to do with the impact campaign. They don’t do that lightly. Westpac don’t say they’ll back something on a whim—they do a lot of due diligence. It’s the same with big NGOs—they have big brands, they have a lot to protect because their brand is their value.
PJB: White Ribbon was on the table for Call Me Dad, a film about a Men’s Behaviour Change Program and domestic violence. Did they have concerns when you approached them to partner with the film?
MW: Yes, they had valid concerns and good questions about how we would be talking about Men’s Behaviour Change Programs. Some of the feedback from those key organisations such as Mary Crooks from Victorian Women’s Trust, White Ribbon and other key leaders from the sector helped honed the message and language for the film. It helped Sophie Wiesner, the director, recognise and navigate filming because she had consulted with people who had worked in this space for 20 to 30 years and understood what was significant, typical, familiar and connected to other people’s experiences. So, instead of being like a person observing the Men’s Behaviour program having never seen it before, she had an informed view of how it worked and what was important in the bigger picture, while she was filming and of course, editing.
PJB: What are some examples of that?
MW: The strategies that the men would use in the programs to not accept responsibility for their behaviour was attached to their entitlement, and the language around that. It comes through in some of their interviews if you see the film—and the program facilitators who call them on that sense of entitlement. I think Sophie did a wonderful job as a director walking the line between being both empathetic and never letting the men off the hook.
PJB: I agree—we were given real insight into how that all worked, it felt like a privilege, no only because of the way the people who worked with those men in the program but because it showed a way forward, and one that wasn’t black and white.
MW: We all have that yearning for the world to be black and white but the grey is where life becomes interesting. It’s why I’m proud of the films GP²A has supported: they explore a zone in which we have complex and conflicting emotions and that’s often where the truth resides.
With the film Constance on the Edge, Constance hasn’t had the ‘perfect’ refugee experience—she and her family have had many successes but just as many challenges and the film shows that. Gayby Baby is the same. Maya didn’t set out to film perfect pin-up LGBTIQ families—she showed and revealed families grappling with a range of issues, just like we all do. If I’m a member of the public and I see those films, it might inform how I think or talk about marriage equality, refugee experience, land grabs, disability and care, or domestic violence – any of the issues – in a rich and nuanced way, rather than seeking unrealistic or false dichotomies that never ring true. If I’m in a policy setting, I might learn a different perspective and this can inform my work, my decisions.
The power of the film is as a communing tool—getting those people together in the first place. I think that’s why the films have worked: they’re real, they go in deep and it’s why they’ve succeeded in getting into our hearts. That makes us want to go deeper into what needs to change.
Part 2 of our conversation. It’s the wine not the coffee conversation.
Related stories:Alex Greenwich, BUPA, call me dad, Constance on the Edge, CWA, Diabetes Australia, Families Australia, Frackman, Gayby Baby, On Richard's Side, Primary Schools Association, Safe Schools Coalition, That Sugar Film, The Invisible War, the opposition, Victorian Women's Trust, Wear it Purple, Westpac, White Ribbon Australia, YMCA