Author Archives: sheena

Photos from the Re-release

Thank you to Eesha Patel for snapping her way through the evening.

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Honoured guests Lyn Beazley and Ken Michael with Sheena Ong, documentary maker of The Humanitarian Engineer.
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A show of support from the Engineers Australia contingent was led by Susan Kreemer-Pickford and included former and current WA Division Presidents Will Neethling and Francis Norman.
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James Que Zheng, Bec Dracup and Andrew Perren – Engineers Without Borders represents!
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Fletcher Young, host of the evening and founder of social enterprise Australia’s Bridge.
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Darren Lomman of Dreamfit Foundation was interviewed in the documentary – here in conversation with Lyn Beazley, James Trevelyan and Ken Michael.
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A lovely mixed crowd of students, professionals, academics and more of all ages and backgrounds was what made the evening most special.
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Camera lady Eesha Patel on the other side of the lens with friend Will Houghton.
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James Higgins and James QZ were among the audience members – the former perhaps watching a cameo of himself!
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Sheena introducing the documentary.
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Darren Lomman, Ken Michael and Lyn Beazley.

Read the event reflection.

Re-release: Screening the Second

As an event, the re-release screening was always going to sit in the shadow of the Premiere: a smaller budget, a shorter evening, a more intimate venue, no catering and fewer frills…

But this second screening on 27 February 2015 matched – and in some ways even outshone – its sister event of the previous year, with tickets selling out a week before and the personalities on board bringing as much warmth, life and sparkle as was enjoyed at the Premiere.

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What a treat to have Lyn Beazley, WA Australian of the Year & former WA Chief Scientist, sharing her words, wisdom and zeal and Fletcher Young (pictured later), founder of social enterprise Australia’s Bridge, hosting proceedings with his humour and charisma!

And I found out with mixed delight and alarm that we were in some illustrious company from the audience too, with former WA Governor Ken Michael, Engineers Australia WA President Francis Norman, TCCP CEO Judy Hogben and Dreamfit CEO/founder Darren Lomman among an audience diverse in age and background.

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And the event, from my point of view?

Murphy, it seemed, appeared to have cut me some slack since the Premiere. Hurrah! We weren’t terrorised by neighbouring rock concerts. Hurrah! People weren’t greeted with empty plates by the end (although admittedly thre was no catering this time…) Hurrah! I hit play and the documentary actually played

Murphy, it seemed, appeared to have cut me some slack since the Premiere.

Things were definitely looking up!

But of course, in my experience of events (and this project generally) there’s never a perfect run, and it dismayed but hardly surprised me that my only two regrets of the evening occurred at my own hands. I record them here for posterity – and I guess, some plea for redemption in disclosure.

…there’s never a perfect run…

1) The forgotten thank you: corporate friends

Woe betides she who doesn’t consult her paper!

After thanking nearly everyone involved in the documentary and the screening I forgot a small but very special shout-out I’d planned to make: to all the friends who had helped promoted the screening within their companies.

They’d stuck up posters around their office kitchens or hijacked their companies’ bulletins by slipping in spiels about my project, and I just wish I’d remembered to acknowledge them for playing a part in increasing the doco’s visibility and making the screening the sell-out that it was.

2) The understated thank you: Engineers Without Borders

I could – and should – have promoted Engineers Without Borders Australia more strongly. I owe this organisation a great deal: they not only introduced me to the concept of humanitarian engineering, but more germane to this screening they delivered me the grant that refreshed the film from raw green original to the more polished product we enjoyed on the night of the 27th.

With their warm hearts and cool $6,000, the awesome folk at EWB enabled me to dive back into editing and production when I’d thought it all over in May 2014 – this time not alone but with Wendi and Noah of Balthazaar Media availing the pro tools and knowledge to make the film better than I could’ve ever managed on my own.

…the awesome folk at EWB enabled me to dive back into editing and production when I’d thought it all over…

Thank you all so much. My gratitude is all the keener for my failure to justly express it on the night! But these painful self-recriminations fade as we learn to forgive ourselves, and what remain are the moments of delight. And there were many that evening indeed…

1) Lyn’s address

Lyn’s address bubbled with enthusiasm not only for the documentary (incredibly humbling) but more importantly for the rich scientific heritage and assets of WA, a whirlwind tour on which she took us, refracted through her wide-ranging passions of science, technology, zoology, maths, physics, women in STEM, community wellbeing, sustainability…

And let’s not forget that splintering, solar smile! She was pretty much bouncing at the lectern. What a “fine lady”, as she calls everyone else!

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And let’s not forget that splintering, solar smile!

2) The new edit

I’m yet to meet someone who thinks that the documentary was better without the motion graphics, tighter editing, crisper audio and improved production values that distinguished the second version. Kudos again to Wendi and Noah for their hands in this!

3) The conversations that followed

Humanitarian engineering as a concept naturally ignites with people, I think, because it is at once so beautiful and so sensible. This was apparent among many an inspired audience member I talked to after the film, and I hope that these dialogues will continue and evolve.

After all, the desire to explore ideas – have conversations, ponder the role and meaning of humanitarian engineering – is where it all began, and those outcomes as far as I’m concerned are the project’s only important measure of success.

Did the documentary inspire people? Did it give them pause for thought? Did it make them feel proud or challenged or reflective, and did they sense the paradigm shift afoot in the engineering world: that we see ourselves every inch as “humanitarian” as the professions more typically associated with a people-centred approach?

Humanitarian engineering as a concept naturally ignites with people… it is at once so beautiful and so sensible.

4) My wonderful events team

Nicola Lazaroo and James QZ were so helpful and generous in the lead-up and on the night; Fletch was fantastic as MC; and Eesha Patel’s papp skills let us to capture the night as more than just memory. Thank you guys!

5) The audience

A great mix of engineers and non-engineers attended, elderly and as youthful as 1 month old, students and professionals, retirees and academics, people near/dear to me, acquainted with me, utterly unknown to me and vaguely familiar… a real mosaic of a crowd!

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So that’s the wrap on the second release! And I think I can call CUT on this take at last…

…but then again, it’s the same sense of gratitude and closure I felt after the Premiere (at least as far as production’s concerned) so who knows what lies ahead of The Humanitarian Engineer?

Anyone have another 6k?

Photos from the Premiere

Many thanks to Gary Lazorov for capturing the evening.

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Guests and relatives Simon Loh and Diana Koh with the documentary’s director Sheena Ong and MC Russell Woolf.
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Honoured guest Carmen Lawrence, former premiere of Western Australia & Director of UWA’s Centre for the Study of Social Change, gave a closing address.
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Sheena Ong, documentary maker of The Humanitarian Engineer.
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Nibbles by new caterer on the block LUANCH by Luan Nguyen at the all-ages event.
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Mentor, friend and fellow EWB member Fletcher Young and his lovely fiancee Pip with Sheena.
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Darren Lomman, CEO and Founder of Dreamfit Foundation, was one of the interviewees featured in the documentary.
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Working hard behind the scenes, volunteers Phil Whyte and Tom McCleery welcome punters and friends Kat Lau and Fion Lau to the Premiere.
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Souvenir postcards from the event.
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Posters and flyers: an invitation to stay in touch and continue the conversation after the Premiere.
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Guests queueing up at the event which sold out online a day in advance.

Read the event wrap-up.

Premiere: It’s a Wrap!

Countless people on the night asked me how I was feeling. I must have replied earnestly but without 100% lucidity because I was, in truth, incapable of feeling anything more than impressions, so strong was my focus on the execution – the “doing” – of the event.

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It’s only in the come-down of the event that sense emerges, that meanings take form, that any sort of reflection or evaluation happens. To summarise, I’ll say that the dominant notes in this emotional chord are relief, gratitude, horror and elation. And something warm and melty beyond measure.

…relief, gratitude, horror and elation…

Of course in the state of retrospection, the negatives hit you first. Three moments I could have done without are:

1) The sound not playing

My number one fear… actually… materialised. (How could it, after I’d mental-noted it so fiercely as to (surely) jinx it out of possibility?!) The introduction had gone smoothly, my segue slick enough, and I hit play, and it played… silently! Bm bm bm!

What followed was a 5-minute agonising wrestle with the laptop, but Russell was in his element. My garrulous MC rose to the occasion by bursting into song, bantering about the weather (prompting giggles given his past life as the ABC TV weather man) and his encounters with Hugh Jackman, and who knows what else.

Russell was in his element. My garrulous MC rose to the occasion by bursting into song…

I swore that the audio gremlins were to blame; having checked the playback feverishly beforehand, there could be no logical explanation for its failure now! – nor, it seemed, an explanation for why it “chose” to start working again after desperate, directionless fiddlings. To cut a long story short, I do have a theory now – a rational one – and this is both a relief as the world makes sense again and a sting because of the blame to myself implied.

Anyway, a big lesson to take is that things are logical, and troubleshooting should always start with a review of the simplest cause. Remember that! Check the basic settings first. Have faith that things – technology, at least – abide by the principles of reason.

2) The rock concert next door

It was slightly off-putting to have big bassy sounds filtering through the auditorium, and I fretted that the viewing experience was undermined by this constant breakage of the fourth wall.

To be honest, it probably was, and it’s disappointing for me as the director that I had to fight for my audience’s attention. I had a strong impulse to whip out my magic wand Flitwick-style, to seal off the world and immerse the audience in the world I’d created on screen… to lock them into that headspace and none other. But hey, even a dimmed capacity to feel is a capacity to feel. If they could comprehend and feel affected at all, I am not complaining!

I had a strong impulse to whip out my magic wand Flitwick-style…

3) Not enough food

Granted, I dawdled on my way out of the theatre, but by the time I’d entered the foyer I was greeted with completely empty plates. My faults were both underestimating the turnout (budgeting for 100 guests, not 150) and grossly misjudging a reasonable food-to-people ratio.

My lovely caterer Luan and I have learnt plenty from this experience. However, I’m told that those who did score a bite were much rewarded, so go Luan!

The Premiere wasn’t perfect, that’s for sure. But it’s fitting, too, because that’s really a reflection of the whole journey of making this documentary. Stuff went wrong, but the thread of what went right is even more powerful. I’ve much to be grateful for, and my top handful of soaring moments of the night were beautiful indeed.

…the thread of what went right is even more powerful. I’ve much to be grateful for, and my top handful of soaring moments of the night were beautiful indeed.

There are my highlights of the evening:

1) The way the documentary was received

People enjoyed it, people were impressed by it, and most importantly of all, people were affected by it – emotionally and intellectually. If their remarks can be taken at face value, they were prompted to feel and to think.

People enjoyed it, people were impressed by it, and most importantly of all, people were affected by it.

For the last few months of promoting the documentary and its Premiere – actually, throughout the whole process of making it – I’d nursed a quiet dread: a fear that I was building up to nothing, that it was all a farce, that I had no “product” behind my efforts and no leg to stand on when it came to actually delivering the goods. Would tonight see me crash and fall? Had I been orchestrating my public humiliation?

I’d nursed a quiet dread… Would tonight see me crash and fall? Had I been orchestrating my public humiliation?

But the Premiere vindicated my efforts. It validated my project. And for that I am thankful, elated and humbled beyond description.

2) Russell and Carmen

Russell Woolf was the MC and Carmen Lawrence, an honoured guest. Having them on board was not just a score, but on the actual night I truly realised that I was in the presence of consummate professionals. Wow.

I truly realised that I was in the presence of consummate professionals… I couldn’t think of a better note to tie up the themes and set the tone for discussion afterwards.

Russell is a Master of Ceremonies to boot – a true professional, bringing huge personality, humour, fun and energy to the proceedings. And Carmen spoke so beautifully, so eloquently and so (it felt) perfectly in her final closing address and response to the documentary. I couldn’t think of a better note to tie up the themes and set the tone for discussion afterwards.

For the umpteenth time on this project, I realised that the shine of others is the substance of your project’s own shine. Russell and Carmen brought class and character to the evening, and I’m exceptionally grateful to them both… and just a little star-struck!

…the shine of others is the substance of your project’s own shine. Russell and Carmen brought class and character to the evening, and I’m exceptionally grateful to them both… and just a little star struck!

3) Talking to the guests: friends, family, strangers

There were faces I’d seen anytime between one day ago, one year ago, and never. I’m particularly stoked that on most occasions we cut through the niceties to have substantial conversations – nourishing, rewarding and fun.

I loved hearing the different responses and the energy bounced off by the screening. Everyone has a different wavelength, I think, but it’s stunning to experience the full spectrum – and an honour to have supplied the prism.

4) All hands on deck

Phil, my right-hand man; Lauren, right-hand lady; Luan, caterer; Gary, photographer: a superb logistical team that pulled the night off to a tee. My stress levels simmered at a cool 100 Celsius thanks to conscientious prior organisation and the support of my awesome team!

A whole bunch I hadn’t recruited beforehand showed their true colours, too: Tom McCleery, Clare, Pumps, Mum, Steve, Bec, Moe, James QZ, Friberg, Em and more were the finest help I (mostly) didn’t ask for but could not have done without. You guys… legends!

A whole bunch I hadn’t recruited beforehand showed their true colours, too… legends!

I’m dazzled by the array of high notes of the night, which were the above and others:
…surprise flowers from Maree and the anonymous gifter
…the sight of the queue to the ticket table (“People came!”)
…the ticket sellout beforehand; the rise of the waiting list
…the news article in Western Suburbs Weekly

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…having Darren and Anneka there as they featured in the documentary
…surviving the director Q&A
…raising enough to cover event costs and undertake modest further distribution activities
…shutting down my laptop to see “Battery Critically Low” (so the whole time it was plugged in, the powerpoint…?!) and feeling heart-stoppingly, chillingly lucky to’ve evaded the disaster that might have been; I credit Steve’s lucky giraffe!

…heart-stoppingly, chillingly lucky to’ve evaded the disaster that might have been.

There are no other words now but thank you: to Carmen, to Russell, to everyone who attended, to everyone who supported me before, during and after… and to what/whom I owe but don’t know.

The idea of the humanitarian engineer is the beginning and end of this all, and I hope we go forth with that image central in our minds.

The idea of the humanitarian engineer is the beginning and end of this all.

Thanks for playing a part.

sheena