Connectivity – to people, their ideas, their talents and resources – has been paramount to the success of Helen Leake AM (BA‘ 83) as a movie producer and esteemed movie industry administrator, and she credits her studies at Flinders University for planting the seeds of these lasting connections.
“It was the cross-fertilisation of teaching across faculties that really challenged me to think differently,” says Helen. “The scope of what I learned was a real hallmark of a Flinders education, and it underlined my belief that whatever you do, you need to do it well because it will come in useful someday.”
Having already had a successful career in computing and running her own business before pursuing an Arts degree at Flinders, it was the broad thinking and challenges set by her lecturers – particularly Brian Medlin teaching Philosophy and the dual influences of Dean Jaensch and Neil Blewett teaching Politics – that led Helen on a more rigorous path of inquiry and curiosity.
The connections she made among the “fascinating body of like-minded students” at Flinders – especially with film students Craig Lahiff, Scott Hicks and Kerry Heysen, who went on to enjoy major cinema successes – pointed Helen in the direction of an unexpected future career.
“There were so many interesting people attached to the film course and we were all following similar paths. Because I was good at English, people would ask me to read their scripts, so I started gravitating more towards what I truly loved, which is telling stories. I found that film was a fantastic way to do this, through pulling together so many diverse talents and influences to tell a story in a highly creative, collaborative unique way.”
Beyond writing and producing films, Helen’s talents have extended to film industry administration, with her time as CEO of the SA Film Corporation from 2004 to 2007 marking a period of strong revival in the local film industry that saw a string of feature films shot in Adelaide that enjoyed international release. She sees her dual creative and administrative roles as entirely complementary.
“Filmmaking is totally a team effort, and my key role is to put the right people together for each project to give it every chance of achieving its full potential. It’s no easy task, but that’s the joy of my work, seeing an idea through from inception to reaching an audience.”
Helen is now creative producer and co-owner with Gena Helen Ashwell of Dancing Road Productions, which has a new feature movie, Carnifex, set for a local cinema release in December. She also sits on the board of directors of Screen Australia, placing her in a pivotal role in a changing market, in which she forecasts that obtaining funds and financing for films will become increasingly diverse.
“The screen industry is cyclical and coming out of COVID disruptions presents many challenges for continuity of work for the vast number of people involved – but with the film we just completed in South Australia, we placed particular emphasis on training crew, which included a lot of Flinders graduates,” says Helen. “I’m happy to say that this led to many of those people obtaining a steady succession of work ever since. It’s this on-the-job training that builds careers in the screen industry, and this is what we must keep fostering to ensure a healthy future for the SA industry.”
Helen Leake AM has been awarded a 2022 Distinguished Alumni Medal for her distinguished service to, and continuous fostering of, business and innovation within the film industry.