Documentary winning hearts

The students on stage recreating an episode of Count Down with John Farnham and Molly Meldrum.

Sunbury and Macedon Ranges Specialist School’s musical has gained a much bigger audience since it originally hit the stage. It is now the centre of a documentary bound for Netflix.

Airing on ABC last week, This Is Going To Be Big is a heart-warming two-part docu-series starring teenagers living with disabilities and neurodiversity as they prepare for their moment on stage.

Their parents and teachers are with them, but the spotlight is on the teens coming of age, wanting to show who they are and what they can do.

“We hope the local community can get a chance to see the documentary and gain a greater understanding of our school and the way we work,” principal Joanne Nolan said.

“We hope to open the minds of viewers as to the potential our students have and ultimately help to make the world a kinder and more tolerant and inclusive place.”

Filming took place at the Bullengarook campus from August 2022 to March 2023 against the backdrop of classes and lunchbreaks, as well as the auditions, rehearsals and performances of the school’s biennial musical production.

Chelsea, Elyse, Halle and Josh each have their own reasons for wanting to make the cast, and viewers are invited to learn their stories.

Music teacher Darcy Nolan and drama teacher Lori Nichols are co-writers on the script for the jukebox musical, The Time Travelling Trio. It tells the story of three students doing a project on John Farnham when they find a way to go back in time to cross paths with the singer at key moments in the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s.

School facilities manager Tony Rains is the producer of the musical, which was staged at The Mountview Theatre.

Writer and director Thomas Charles Hyland said he wanted to make an authentic coming-of-age film that captured the essence of high school life.

“I wanted to depict the teenage experience with an ensemble and in a manner that felt relatable,” he said.

“What I didn’t expect was to meet such wonderful, charming and emotionally intelligent students like Halle, Josh, Elyse and Chelsea.

“The reason SMRSS felt right was partly due to the under-representation of the disability and neuro-diverse communities on screen.

“In addition to that, was the simple fact that the school, teachers, students, parents and I all shared a vision for what this film and series could be. It needed to be a collaboration, and it very much was.”

What Hyland wants people to take away from the documentary is “a strong feeling that we are in this together”.

“There are many moments that move me, but my favourite ones tend to be quite subtle,” he said.

“When you see a little look in someone’s eye, a wry smile between friends, or a groan directed at your parents – all great little details that remind me of being that age. But a special mention goes to the scene in which all the students find out what roles they will get in the production.”

The documentary had its world premiere at the Melbourne International Film Festival in August 2023 where it won the coveted People’s Choice Award and well as the Youth Forum Award.

The film won the Australian International Documentary Conference award in the category for Best Feature Documentary 2024. It was also short-listed for the Australian Film Industry Award’s Best Documentary earlier this year.

It is now showing at film festivals across Europe and North America and is expected to be available on Netflix in early 2025.

An adapted two-part docu-series premiered on ABC last Tuesday and is now available on ABC iview.