Meet the man who made Struggle Street

May 22, 2015 by Henry Benjamin
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Filmmaker Marc Radomsky is the writer/producer of Struggle Street..a ratings record-breaker for SBS-TV showing life on the other side of Sydney’s tracks. He talks to J-Wire.

Marc Radomsky and his small team spent six  months filming and six months editing the controversial documentary for SBS. The viewer was  introduced to Ashley and Peta, to William, Dave, Chris, Corey Bailee and Bob amongst others in a three part series The Guardian newspaper described as being “important television”.

Prize-winning Radomsky has made over 200 broadcast documentaries including films for ten JCA campaigns showing the needy, the desperate and the disadvantaged faces of Sydney Jewry.

Radomsky spoke to J-Wire:

JW: Why an insight into Struggle St?

MR: My entire mission in story-telling is to get people to feel something because that’s where I believe you can create change. That’s why I work in factual television.

I think we live in a world where people are increasingly disconnected and social media does disconnect people from real person to person interaction. I’ve seen kids text each other while they are sitting next to each other.

JW: How aware is the community of the broader aspects of city life?

MR: I believe many involved in community affairs have no idea about how some people are living. There is a stigma that pervades when it comes to issues like poverty and our community is not immune.

JW: You focus on actual cases. Why?

MR: The most interesting story-telling for me is through working with real people.

The JCA has enormously good intention and does enormously good work.

I told their stories with integrity and empathy, trying to walk the viewer vicariously in the shoes of the people in the film.

If you live in a comfortable home and there is nothing wrong with that you’ve got no idea what it’s like to live in a housing commission You have no idea what it is like to live in an area like Mt Druitt or on Struggle Street. There is a Struggle Street within all our cities with communities which I see hands on doing the work I do.

So I tried to bring the stories of struggling community members to the JCA audience with integrity.

On television, I strive to find a way to get to the truth and to bring that to the viewer.

Marc Radomsky   Photo: Henry Benjamin/J-Wire

Marc Radomsky Photo: Henry Benjamin/J-Wire

Producing these films is about awareness, but not an intellectual awareness. It’s about an emotional awareness. because we are disconnected from feelings. People don’t feel anymore  because they have to a degree less human interaction.

We increasingly dehumanise things by labelling them. We know that from the Holocaust and the way Jews were labelled. Look how asylum-seekers are labelled…how whistleblowers are labelled

Dehumanisation leads to persecution.

JW: You talk about sound bytes. Please explain.

MR: Look at the Internet and Wikipedia. People believe what they read on the Internet despite the fact that it is open to correction.

Struggle Street is a perfect example of believing what they are told. The promo which caused all the furore was not a promo it was the opening of the series.

People were criticising Struggle Street before they even saw it. No-one had seen the show except for the mayor. But the public had strong opinions about how bad it was before it was screened.

When the show went to air and it became clear that there was balance empathy and dignity and it was not exploitative.

I want people to be able to feel, to be able to think and to be able to see that there but for the race of God you do go. If you can walk in someones else shoes vicariously even for an hour then you can open the door to empathy, If you can open the door to at least seeing the other side then that could represent the beginning of change.

Radomsky learned his craft and experienced  the power of making films on the effects of apartheid before leaving his native South Africa to establish a new home in Australia in 2000.

Radomsky said he was driven by “story-telling activism”. That’s what I try to do.

JW: Is there a Jewish Struggle Street?

MR: No question about it. Issues can be incredibly confronting  If you don’t see it , it’s not there…or you can pretend it’s not there. And you can assuage that by the donation. That’s how it works. People know it’s there but don’t want to think about it too much. Thank god there’s the JCA. and so they can help.

Not everyone can be out there doing what JewishCare does or the COA or the others inside the JCA or other community organisations.  There’s a lot of good work being done but there certainly is a Struggle Street.

JW: Where did the idea originate?

MR: The production company Keo with whom I work made Skint, a UK program which examined the effects of Scunthorpe steel mills closing down in Scunthorpe and a downturn in the fishing industry in Grimsby.

JW: How did you get so up close with the subjects on Struggle Street?

MR: You have to earn an enormous trust when you take on a show like Struggle Street

In Mt Druitt there are all sorts of people many from a lower social-economic background. Struggle Street is an Australian story.

JW: What about the criticism?

MR: The tabloid media did their best to make publicity gains out of reaction to Struggle Street. Despite their extremely hyped-up criticism about Struggle Street being exploitative Channel 9 fast-tracked  UK production “Life on the Dole” off the back of the program. The British program was deemed to be completely exploitative by most critics.

JW: How successful was Struggle Street?

MR: SBS regular ratings for a good program are around 250,00 and they are over the moon when the figure tops 330,000. We got 1.5 million for each of the two screenings. That’s up there with MasterChef and My Kitchen Rules.

JW: Was the program all about strugglers?

MR: The series did not limit itself only to those struggling in Mt Druitt. We introduces a chorus of other voices throughout the production from many walks of life. We did that to maintain the balance.

We did focus on the main characters but we wanted to give the bigger picture. We tried to find balance. The series was not about Mt Druitt it was about people who lived there who were struggling. Some of them “never had a chance”.

I do intimate, immersive’s about getting the real story and telling it with dignity empathy and truth and to reflect their story honestly in a way that is true to them.

There is now understanding and compassion for those people which did not exist before the show. For me that is a sign of its success.

I don’t like looking at things.  I want to get inside and be with people telling their stories with their own voices and capture what is really happening. That’s what I do.

JW: What is the reaction following the show?

MR: It was the highest rating local series in the history of SBS and it launched a national debate. Hopefully it will be game-changer.”

Communities have to bond together and help each other because not enough help is coming from government.

Mt Druitt showed this spirit with their criticism of  the supposed imbalance of the show which has been “blown to bits” following the screening.

There is hope in the strength of the community but that hope does not detract from the struggle.

JW: How does it impact on Jewish fund-raising for local needs?

MR: When you sit on Jewish committees who is making these decisions?  Who was in the room with the heroin addict trying to feed their baby?

JW: The future for those on Struggle Street?

MR: People who live in housing commissions may well be marginalised and do not have the same opportunities…so we get back to that labelling again.

A person could rush to Mt Druitt Hospital suffering from a psychotic episode and be turned away because there are no beds.

In Australia, how can that be?

In 2008/2009 Marc filmed, produced, wrote and directed ‘Tackling Peace’, (Screen Australia/ Channel Ten) profiling the journey of a group of Israelis and Palestinians who try to overcome the inherent prejudices of their divided worlds in order to play together on the same team under the banner of peace in an International sporting competition in Australia. ‘Tackling Peace’ was selected as the opening film in the 2009 Jerusalem AICE Film Festival, nominated for Best One hour Documentary in the 2009 Australian Film Institute (AFI) awards, received a special mention at the 2009 Gold Panda awards in China. It won the Provincia Di Milano award for outstanding flm in the 2010 28th FICTS International Sport and society film festival held in Milan.

His program “Allan Kessing: The Reluctant Whistleblower”, (SBS 2009 Law & Disorder series) won the 2010 Logie award for Most Outstanding Factual Program.







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