Opera singer Tiriki Onus sets out to uncover the mystery surrounding an untitled 75-year-old silent movie discovered inside a vault that has compelling links to his larger-than-life Indigenous grandfather William Bill Onus: charismatic cultural leader, entrepreneur, theatre impresario, television host and possibly the first Aboriginal filmmaker.
Co-director Alec Morgan is a multi-award-winning filmmaker with productions that have screened at over 50 film festivals, in cinemas and on television in many countries. His documentary credits include the landmark production Lousy Little Sixpence, that first exposed the story of the Stolen Generations and Admission Impossible that exposed the secret history of the White Australia Policy. He directed End of the Earth a history of human impact on Antarctica. He was Creative Head of channel 9s hit history series Our Century and scripted the series Raising the Curtain about Australian theatre. His innovative feature Hunt Angels won 8 awards including 3 AACTA Awards and the prestigious Joan Long Award for contribution to Australian film history. He recently wrote and directed episodes of the ground-breaking factual series Australia In Colour, one of SBS’s highest rating productions. His latest feature documentary Ablaze was made in collaboration with first-time director Tiriki Onus. It won the 2021 Victorian Premier’s History Award.
Co-director Tiriki Onus is an opera singer, playwright, educator and filmmaker. He picked-up filmmaking skills by assisting on the production of, and appearing in, a number of documentaries including Lin Onus: Bridge Between Cultures, Moomba: What’s in a name? and Kwaya’s Uganda Music Project. He also worked with award-winning Indigenous filmmaker Richard Frankland on Yinga-Bul: Stories of a Song Man. He wrote and acted in the critically acclaimed musical drama, William and Mary, about the love affair between his grandparents, William and Mary Onus. He also studied to be an opera singer. For Deborah Cheetham’s Indigenous opera, Pecan Summer, he created the character of ‘Uncle Bill’ based on his grandfather and played that role. He has also appeared in theatre works Der Vampyr and The Tenderland. Tiriki’s directing debut on the feature documentary Ablaze, announces a career move from theatre to film on a subject close to his heart – the true story of his charismatic activist grandfather Bill, Aboriginal rights activist and possibly the first Indigenous filmmaker William Bill Onus.
Tiriki’s uncovering of his Indigenous grandfather’s life story soon becomes a discovery of his people’s greater story – of the legacy of Yorta Yorta and all First Nations people and of the hardships they have endured and the victories they have won. Ablaze is a story about re-discovering the Australian past, about connecting with the lives of those who have come before us and about appreciating the legacy of those who have struggled to create a more just and equitable Australia. It is a story about truth telling -about the truth of the Australian past and the present challenges we face. It is also a story about the importance of people like Bill Onus, who bravely stand up for democratic freedoms and who never give up on what is right.