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Shirley Barrett

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Years active  1988-present
Name  Shirley Barrett
Role  Film director

Shirley Barrett wwwtheagecomauffximage20050505shirleynarr

Born  1961Melbourne, Australia
Occupation  Film director, screenwriter
Books  Love Serenade: Original Screenplay
Awards  Camera d'Or, AACTA Award for Best Short Fiction Film
Nominations  AACTA Award for Best Direction in Television, Australian Film Institute Award for Best Documentary
Movies  Love Serenade, South Solitary, Walk the Talk, Cherith, Chainsaw
Similar People  Rebecca Frith, Jan Chapman, Miranda Otto, Mandy Walker, Nikki Bennett

Shirley Barrett on her wonderful debut novel Rush Oh!

Shirley Barrett (born 1961) is an Australian film director and screenwriter. Her film Love Serenade won the Caméra d'Or at the 1996 Cannes Film Festival. She is best known for her films Walk the Talk (2000) and South Solitary (2010), both of which she wrote and directed. Barrett's script for South Solitary was awarded multiple prizes, including the Queensland Premier’s Prize and the West Australian Premier’s Prize.


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Early life and education

Shirley Barrett httpswwwbiblioimagescommacmillanausgetimage

Barrett was born in Melbourne in 1961. At a young age, Shirley Barrett "was a child with a creative bent.” In 1985, she moved to Sydney, where she began studying at the Australian Film, Television and Radio School (AFTRS). Her interests lead her to enroll in scriptwriting, “but soon discovered a knack for directing as well.” In 1988 during her final year at the AFTRS she made a short film titled Cherith that won the Australian Film Institute Award for Best Short Fiction.


After graduating from the AFTRS, she was given the opportunity to make her directorial debut on the television series Boys in the Bush, A Country Practice and Heartbreak High. She continued doing production work and directing television series until in 1992, “she found time to write her first feature.” As it is for many filmmakers, Barrett's transition from television into film was not a simple task, but in 1996, at age 35, her film Love Serenade, which she had written and directed was released. While the film did not reach box-office success in Australia, it sparked the interest of audiences and critics abroad, particularly those in, “France and the United States.” In the United States, critics like Roger Ebert praised her “special gifts as a storyteller.” As an independent filmmaker, the American interest in Love Serenade would prove crucial in facilitating the making of her next film. David Geffen, a major American film executive and producer “took a shine to the quirky comedy.” Geffen decided to offer her $5 million to fund her next film project with the freedom to realize it according to her own visions. This allowed her to write and direct her second feature film Walk the Talk in 2000.

In the meantime, she refused offers to direct both American Beauty and Erin Brockovich, decisions she later regretted.


Barrett began her career in television “with production work on the Logies.” After meeting Verity Lambert, she was given the opportunity to direct for a television series Boys in the Bush. She continued working in television during the 1990s directing episodes for various television series including “A Country Practice, Heartbreak High and Police Rescue.” Shirley’s most recent television directing work is on A Place to Call Home (2015).

Love Serenade

Shirley Barrett's first feature Love Serenade “was inspired by her many visits to a small town called Robinvale in Victoria.” She embarked on the scriptwriting process to make a film that explored, “how women can get completely the wrong idea about some men.” Not only was her film inspired by the small town of Robinvale where her husband had grown up but also, “from diaries written in her late teens.” Love Serenade was shot almost entirely on location in Robinvale and is about two young sisters whose lives are changed when an “aging hippie deejay” arrives in their desolate town. The film humorously incorporates "small town constrictions with visual flights of fancy". The sisters are played by Miranda Otto and Rebecca Frith and George Shevtsov stars as the washed up deejay. The deejay, who represents the “sleazy older man archetype,” is punished by death in the end “for sleeping with the two desperate sisters.” The film’s reception was varied but those who applauded Shirley’s work saw the film as “one of the most striking, fully formed and assured debuts in years.”

Walk the Talk

Much like Love Serenade, her second feature Walk the Talk (2000) was also inspired by the location in which the film is set. Walk the Talk is set on the Gold Coast in Brisbane, Australia where the filmmaker had spent time in the 1990s and become enthralled by the atmosphere. While at a club on the Gold Coast, "Shirley had met Carter Edwards, a variety circuit veteran who appears in the film as Marty". This encounter "came in handy when Walk the Talk started to develop as a script". Her own experiences on the Gold Coast "helped the page and reality coalesce". The film is "about dreamers and schemers, isolation and redemption, populated with iconic places and people", and stars Salvatore Coco as Joey, a desperately ambitious young man and Sacha Morler as his girlfriend Bonita. After winning a large settlement from an accident that leaves Bonita paraplegic, Joey starts a talent agency hoping to "make his mark on the world". Joey encounters Nikki Raye (Nikki Bennet), “a variety club singer” and decides to represent her as an agent in attempts to thrust her, and himself into the limelight. The characters that Shirley Barrett created in Walk the Talk are "relegated to the fringes of a hero's journey". The comedic effect of the film emerges through the "desperation of these people living on the margins". To increase the authenticity of the film, "the entire film was shot on location". In order to depict Bonita’s character accurately, she met with a paraplegic woman and researched the condition because she, "didn’t want to do the character a disservice".

South Solitary

Barrett's third feature South Solitary (2010) is "another tale of outcasts". This film "took a decade to bring to the screen", after the filmmaker spent many hours researching for her script "in the State Library reading accounts of life on remote Tasmanian lighthouse islands". Once again, her script is inspired by its setting which also became "the most dramatic thing about South Solitary". The film stars Miranda Otto (who starred in Love Serenade) as Meredith a lonely young woman. This time around, she situates the actress "on an island in 1927, tending to a lighthouse so isolated that the only way of communicating with the mainland is via carrier pigeon". In the film, Meredith and “her uncle George (Barry Otto), a lighthouse keeper who has come to replace the previous one.” They arrive on the desolate island and meet the island’s inhabitants, a family consisting of the mother Alma (Essie Davis), her husband Stanley (Rohan Nichol) and their daughter Nettie (Annie Martin). Similar to her character's romantic perils in Love Serenade, "Meredith is desperate for some kind of connection with men", which drives her to have an affair with Stanley. As the film continues, "the population of the island dwindles to two", leaving Meredith in the company of Fleet (Marton Csokas), "a returned First World War soldier recovering form shell shock". Meredith is searching and longing for companionship while Fleet "shies away from the confusion and misunderstandings of human contact". Despite this tension between the characters, they develop affections for one another. The plot of South Solitary reveals her attempt to depict "the bravery and accomplishment of the women on these islands", amidst a landscape that is more forgiving to men who are drawn to such harsh living conditions.

Personal life

Barrett is married to Chris Norris, who has worked on special effects for Mad Max: Fury Road, and they have two daughters. She currently resides in Sydney, Australia.

As writer

  • 1988 - Cherith (short)
  • 1996 - Love Serenade (screenplay)
  • 2000 - Walk the Talk
  • 2009 - Steamboat (short)
  • 2010 - Before the Rain
  • 2010 - South Solitary
  • As director

  • 1988 - Cherith
  • 1991 - Boys from the Bush (10 episodes)
  • 1992-1993 - A Country Practice
  • 1994 - Heartbreak High (7 episodes)
  • 1995 - Police Rescue (1 episode)
  • 1996 - Love Serenade
  • 2000 - Walk the Talk
  • 2006-2007 - Love My Way (5 episodes)
  • 2010 - South Solitary
  • 2011 - Packed to the Rafters (2 episodes)
  • 2010-2011 - Offspring (4 episodes)
  • 2011 - Wild Boys (2 episodes)
  • 2012 - House Husbands (2 episodes)
  • 2013 - Mr & Mrs Murder (2 episodes)
  • 2014 - Love Child (2 episodes)
  • 2015 - Winter (2 episodes)
  • 2015 - A Place to Call Home (2 episodes)
  • Other writings

  • 2015 - Rush Oh! (novel)
  • Won

  • Australian Film Institute 1988:
  • AFI Award for Best Short Fiction Film Cherith
  • Cannes Film Festival 1996:
  • Camera D'Or for Love Serenade
  • Valladolid International Film Festival 1996:
  • Best New Director for Love Serenade
  • Queensland Premier Prize 2010:
  • Script for South Solitary
  • West Australian Premier's Literary Prize 2010:
  • Script for South Solitary
  • West Australian Premiers Prize 2010:
  • Script for South Solitary
  • Nominated

  • Valladolid International Film Festival 1996:
  • Golden Spike for Love Serenade
  • Australian Film Institute 2006:
  • AFI Award for Best Direction in Television Love My Way
  • References

    Shirley Barrett Wikipedia