BackTrack Boys (2018), the award-winning documentary about Bernie Shakeshaft's Armidale youth program, will be broadcast on SBS on Sunday night, free-to-air for the first time.
Director Catherine Scott thinks it is her best work in her more than 20 years as a filmmaker, including as senior producer of SBS' Dateline.
She feels her craft and storytelling skills came together to tell a powerful, human story that deals with justice, reform, and education.
The film tells the stories of youths desperately trying to turn their lives around with the help of Shakeshaft's team.
"These are real people," Ms Scott. "I tried to structure it like a drama; the stakes of the film are close to the audience's heart, and they rally for all these young people and Bernie."
An off-the-cuff conversation at a party sparked Ms Scott's interest in BackTrack. She had made several films about prison; had she heard about Bernie Shakeshaft?
As the mother of a child with ADHD, and who bought a diabetic alert dog for her son, Ms Scott felt a personal connection to the story of a jackaroo who used dogs to reform troubled youths.
"He's an incredibly compassionate and generous human being," she said. "He has led an entire community; he's inspiring other people to embrace what he's doing, and give the kids a second chance."
The documentary has been critically praised, and received awards from the Sydney and the Melbourne International Film Festivals, among others.
Ms Scott has seen cinema audiences sob during a scene when a boy is taken to jail; like Shakeshaft, they can see the promise of this young man who may be lost in the system.
"It's a roller-coaster ride," Ms Scott said. "You're sitting on the edge of your seat at moments, because you don't know what's going to happen to some of these young people."
The overall message, she said, was inspiring. "The audience sees these young people thriving; after having gone through so much in their lives, they're heading in the right direction.
"All the things that we grapple with as a culture and society were bubbling away in the stories of these kids: domestic violence, drugs, poverty, the cycles of prison and recidivism, jobs and skills, and the fact that the education system is constantly failing huge sections of our young people."
The documentary, Ms Scott believes, transcends political ideology, because, at the end of the day, people care about their communities and their children.
"It packs a punch, and it really has hit a chord out there," Ms Scott said.
Inspired by Bernie Shakeshaft's example, others throughout Australia have come up with community-led solutions to rescue troubled youths and lower crime rates.
Some through surfing, building community gardens, or (as in Dubbo) operating a drive-in cinema. A similar program has started in a Wellington correctional facility, while a police officer will try to adapt the program to Brooklyn and Hornsby Heights.
A Queensland juvenile detention centre has developed a curriculum based around the documentary, while St Aloysius' College, Sydney, teaches it in their visual arts program.
Ms Scott encouraged around the country to document their stories and share them on the film's website (www.backtrackboys.com). The site also hopes to raise money to BackTrack, or for similar programs in other communities.
Despite its success in lowering juvenile crime rates, BackTrack hardly gets any funding, Ms Scott said. Mr Shakeshaft runs the program on foundation money and donations, while many of their government funds stopped during filming.
"We want the political establishment to see what he's doing, and give him some support," Ms Scott said. "He's spent so much time raising money; he could do more good if he had it."
A fundraiser page on the Documentary Australia Foundation site (https://documentaryaustralia.com.au/project/backtrack-boys/) also hopes to raise $500,000.
Without the Foundation's support, Ms Scott said, the film would not have been made in the way it was, or reached so many people.
Australian filmmakers, she said, have a fight on their hands. Streamers like Netflix, Google, and Apple TV are taking audiences away from national broadcasters, which are mandated to show Australian stories.
"If people in regional Australia really want to see their stories on screen, they have to support and lobby their local politicians to have quotas for Australian content," Ms Scott said.
She would like to make a sequel telling the story of the BackTrack girls, now more numerous than the boys. Her next project is about sex workers around the world fighting policies making it illegal to live their lives; Evangelical-led anti-trafficking organisations conflate sex work with sex trafficking, and push abolitionist policies that violate sex workers' rights.
SBS will screen BackTrack Boys (2018) on Sunday, September 15, at 8.30pm. Catherine Scott's Country Town Pride, about a transgender truck driver who organized Wagga Wagga's first Mardi Gras, is also on SBS On Demand right now.