Former Narrabundah College student Emma Watts has made a new, timely documentary series about frontline health workers in the hotspots of England, Italy and the United States filming their lives as they care for COVID-19 patients, her work being shown on the prestigious PBS News Hour.
The series, A Diary from the Frontline, is accompanied by an evocative score composed by her mother, Canberra composer Ruth Lee Martin, who lives in Wright.
"I love working with Emma because it's a really comfortable relationship," Ruth said.
"If I write something and it's not right, she'll go, 'No, that's good' or if I write something she likes, which I usually do actually, she says, 'Mum, that's great, I love that, that's really going to work perfectly'. So it's a very easy comfortable relationship working with my daughter."
Now living in Melbourne (but not in a hotspot), filmmaker Emma and her husband Nenad Macesic, an infectious disease doctor, had been working in New York before they returned to Australia last November. They have a three-year-old son Milo and were living in Manhattan, with Nenad working at the New York Presbyterian Hospital.
"One of the reasons I created the series was because when COVID hit, my husband and I started having to have very serious discussion about our wills and where our son would go if anything awful happened to both of us and whether he would move out of the house while he was on the wards," she said.
"Although we've been so lucky in Australia, it made me realise that COVID must be having an enormous effect on the lives of healthcare workers at home and at work and that potentially there was a bigger story to be told about the impact of this virus on the lives of healthcare workers and their families around the world."
A nurse in England, a San Diego doctor, a nurse in Philadelphia and a doctor in Italy recorded their daily lives at work and at home for the documentary.
Emma, who had also made a documentary about about young doctors with drug-resistant tuberculosis, had friends in the medical world, also through her husband, and wanted to tell their story, feeling they were "living history at the coalface".
The four subjects filmed on their phones with equipment sent to them by Emma such as tripods and audio equipment. She also sent crews to each participant to film for a day. She said each worker's story was raw and real and she felt a responsibility to share the "precious content".
"I found in a lot of the news coverage, the mainstream news coverage of COVID has been really great, but I've found it's a lot of doctors standing in corridors will the PR person telling them what they had to say," she said.
"And what I found so refreshing with these diaries was that it was the person's entire life.
"Also at a time when people are protesting about lockdowns, I also wanted to show what it was like at the coalface for these people. So that people would understand why it was important we all stay at home."
Both mother and daughter have worked on projects before and love collaborating.
"She's quite a brilliant composer and I found that it really set the tone for the whole series. There's a theme piece that goes through all the stories and it gives the series a feeling of consistency and feeling that the stories belong together," Emma said.
"She's really great with emotion as well. Her music is quite subtle but it really brings out the emotion."
Ruth, meanwhile, said she was moved by watching the stories, especially of her cousin, English nurse Ali Harris who had to transition to intubating COVID patients. Ruth said Ali was a courageous person and the whole series had made her appreciate living in Canberra.
I think there are a lot of people who have really been pushed towards the creative world by that school.Filmmaker Emma Watts on her alma mater, Narrabundah College
"I've just seen such a difference in how the outdoor spaces are being used by Canberrans, getting out and really enjoying it," Ruth said.
"I think the thing about A Diary from the Frontline is that it makes you realise how lucky we are to live in Canberra."
Emma, meanwhile, said she owed a lot to Narrabundah College, graduating in 1999.
"I studied media at Narrabundah College and they had fabulous teachers there and I guess it's a very creative college," she said.
"I still catch up with Laura Gordon, she's an amazing actress who was in my year in Narrabundah. And I think there are a lot of people who have really been pushed towards the creative world by that school. The definitely encouraged us to think outside the box in terms of our careers and we were encouraged to be creative."
- All four episodes of A Diary from the Frontline can be seen here.