/News 30.10.23

First Nations Spotlight: Michael Hudson

Michael Hudson is a proud Bangarang and Yorta Yorta man from northeast Victoria, Australia and an award-winning filmmaker. His short film, Ties That Bind, won the short screenplay award at Sydney Film Festival in 2019. Last year he undertook a directors’ attachment on the Garth Davis sci-fi feature, Foe, as well as First Nations horror film, The Moogai.

Michael Hudson directing on the set of his short film Ties That Bind

Michael grew up in country Victoria on Yorta Yorta country, the same land as his ancestors. As a “fair-skinned” Aboriginal kid in a town where “everyone knew everyone”, Michael felt cursed by the complexity of his identity growing up. “I couldn’t escape the fact that I was Aboriginal,” he says, “But then there were Aboriginal kids who called me white. It was very confusing for me for many, many years.”

Like countless artists before him, Michael learned to channel this adversity into a powerful form of creativity, and the identity complexity which had plagued his childhood morphed into a point of distinction in adulthood. “It gave me a unique perspective because I could see the world through two different minds. I think that’s beneficial to my work as a filmmaker. And I think it gives me an interesting angle to tell Indigenous stories.”  

“My connection to my culture is through family and storytelling…that’s how I’m connected to my grandmother [respected Yorta Yorta and Bangarang elder, Irene Thomas]. I’m carrying on her legacy of storytelling.” 

Michael Hudson

After a short stint at film school, in 2015 Michael released his self-backed short film Leonids, attracting instant attention and critical acclaim in the process, including a Best Cinematography award at Screen It Film Festival in 2016. “You hear a lot of these Hollywood directors say ‘Oh, we had a Super 8 camera growing up, we made movies.’ And that’s how they got into filmmaking. We were lucky to eat growing up, let alone have a camera to play with. But I did make up movies in my head and basically did that for a very long time.” 

After the success of Leonids, those imaginary narratives took on a whole new meaning, with commercial and career prospects attached. A career-defining moment for Michael as a filmmaker came in 2019 when he wrote and directed the award-winning short film Ties That Bind, collecting Best Short Screenplay at Sydney Film Festival.

Director Garth Davis and Michael Hudson on the set of Foe

At the start of 2022, Michael secured one of his biggest career opportunities to date with a Director Placement on the new sci-fi feature film, Foe. This placement allowed Michael to shadow director Garth Davis, best known for his Academy Award-nominated feature, Lion. He also got to work with lead actors Saoirse Ronan (Little Women), Paul Mescal (Normal People) and Aaron Pierre (The Underground Railroad) and built relationships with key decision-makers at the international production companies behind the film, Anonymous Content, See-Saw Films and Amazon Studios. “Not bad for the fair-skinned Aboriginal kid from the country,” he reflects.

Gillian Moody and Michael Hudson at Sydney Film Festival

Of his experience as an attachment on Foe, Michael said: “How often does a director get to sit in and observe another director’s work? Every director works differently. The way they think, the way they process information, and how they deliver information is completely different. The fundamentals are there, but how they get there is different.”

“As a filmmaker, a storyteller, a director, and a communicator, that’s where I took a lot away from Garth.”

Michael Hudson

It’s also unique that an international feature film would come to Michael’s patch, with a major stint of production taking place at Winton Wetlands on Yorta Yorta country. Foe is set in a dystopian future where climate change has ravaged the globe, requiring a desolate-looking landscape, which part of the wetlands perfectly resembled, Michael explains. “They used CGI for the rest. We were shooting at a beautiful farmhouse barn, which looked legit. I drove up and was like, ‘Oh, I didn’t know this was here.’ And Garth was like, ‘It wasn’t. We built it.’ 

That was the first of many wow moments for Michael on Foe. His Director Placement was extended beyond Winton Wetlands, to Docklands Studios Melbourne where he experienced the magic of creating blockbuster visual effects and otherworldly space scenes in real time. 

“I’d be lying if I didn’t mention how beneficial it was to be working alongside these amazing producers,” he adds. “I knew that I wanted to get my confidence up on a film set, not TV, so this experience gave me a lot more than I was expecting.”

Michael doesn’t take the opportunity of networking with international producers for granted. “I wanted to establish these relationships because I want to work with these people one day.” Living regionally comes with obvious impediments, he continues, especially as a new Dad. However, creativity and creating great work is not defined by geography. “Creativity doesn’t come from having everything laid out before you, with all the opportunities at your feet,” Michael says. “Sometimes, creativity actually comes from being restricted.”

In late 2022, Michael undertook a producer placement on Jon Bell’s First Nations horror film The Moogai. “I wanted to work on this project for three reasons, the first was John Bell is breaking new ground in First Nations Horror – or what I’ve coined Cultural Horror – the second was Mitch Stanley as a First Nations producer and the third was Kristina Ceyton at Causeway Films.” They’re three people in the Australian film industry who speak directly to Michael’s passions for creating unique genre horror. Outside of Australia, he’s looking at the careers of Guilermo Del Toro, Jordan Peel and Bong Joon-ho for ultimate inspiration. 

“I learnt so much on the set of The Moogai. For us First Nations mob, we speak about monsters as a matter of fact. So, the story language in this project felt unique and local. But also, horror transcends languages and cultures, so it’s local for local and local for international. That’s the beauty of what horror can do. I’d love to continue pushing that cultural horror boundary.”

Michael Hudson
Gemma Crofts, Michael Hudson, Maria Lewis and Kimia Hendi in the writer’s room on Unravel

Michael is currently wrapping up his debut feature film script, Unravel, about a First Nations family haunted by trauma. Simultaneously, he’s collaborating with Orange Entertainment on a TV series, Summer of Evil. Michael’s work recently earned him recognition as one of Screen Producers Australia’s 2023 Ones to Watch, where he’s developing Conservation, a film about an Indigenous fine art conservationist restoring a cursed painting. “I want to write and direct and produce films,” Michael says, “But ultimately, I want to have my own production company that specialises in Indigenous genre. For me, that’s where I feel there is a lack of storytelling in this sector, and that’s what I’m most passionate about.”

To learn more about bringing your next project to Victoria, contact Joe Brinkmann, Head of Incentives & Production Support at VicScreen

[email protected]