Belinda's Baby

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Belinda Wardlaw-Jones is one of the few women in Australia to be born with a rare form of muscular dystrophy, an incurable muscle-wasting disease which can drastically reduce life expectancy. Despite her condition and against the advice of many, she and her husband Andrew decide to have a child. In this confronting documentary, Belinda and Andrew share their hopes and fears as they prepare for and experience parenthood in the face of sever disability. Belinda defends her decision to proceed with this pregnancy, believing it to be her right to become a mother, whatever the medical risks and ultimate social costs may be.

Belinda’s pregnancy compounds her disability and she is forced to have up work. As personal finances wither away, government funding is sought. After nerve-wracking delays, some funding is granted. However it brings a host of new complications: a constant stream of managers, bureaucrats and carers resulting in an acute lack of privacy and loss of control over their lives. When Belinda gives birth she makes Australian medical history. Not only has she outlived her life expectancy by her 17 years, she has created new life. This powerful documentary looks at fundamental issues of medical ethics, welfare priorities and human rights from a frontline perspective. It is ultimately a story of struggle, courage and survival.

The film was shot over 18 months and presents a “warts and all” account of two battlers. At the start of filming, no-one could predict the emotional rollercoaster ride that Belinda and Andrew would experience.

The making of Belinda's Baby by writer/producer/director Celia Tait

I met Belinda in late February 1996. A colleague had told me about a woman with muscular dystrophy who was three months pregnant. Belinda had that week been informed by a social worker that her child, when born, would be fostered out if her husband Andrew was working full-time. The social worker (although she hadn’t met Belinda), was of the opinion that Belinda would be unable to care for her own child.

We met the next day. Belinda ‘leaped out’ at me. Here was a woman with a terrific energy and ability to communicate. She has the capacity to both laugh at herself and show raw emotion and anger. A real fighter, who was told she wouldn’t live past 18 years old but was still making big waves at 32.

And she touched many chords with me. At the time my husband and I were fighting (and had been for years) for reasonable compensation for my stepson who on being hit by a car, had been left physically and intellectually disabled. Although Belinda’s circumstances were completely different, she hit many buttons. Her life was a constant fight for basic human rights.

By luck, I managed to secure a speedy commission, and within a month we were filming.

Filming was a slow and sporadic process requiring the crew (and the Wardlaw-Jones family) to be ‘on call’ over 18 months. Responding to important elements of their story often meant filming happened with little or no warning.

The process was an emotional voyage for everyone concerned. We tried to film Belinda and Andrew through thick and thin. At times they were too stretched to cope with us and ‘shut us out’. It required huge courage and energy on their part to brief me as to what was happening in their lives when things weren’t going well. Introducing a film crew to witness events first-hand was on many occasions traumatic. Yet it seemed to empower Belinda at the same time – she was able to let someone know what life was like.

It is a confronting story. Life isn’t always ‘happily ever after’. It was/is my intention to illuminate the complexities of living with a disability / being a carer for someone with a disability. It’s easy to judge from a point of view of ignorance. Harder to do so when you begin to see the enormous complexities facing families with disabilities. If anything, I hope the film raises questions rather than presumes to answer them.



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reviews

"One of the best pieces of Australian- produced television to go to air this year"
- Media Week, James Manning, 27/09/04

"We welcome the return of the impeccable Who Do You Think You Are?"

- The Sunday Age

"A documentary that confronts, questions and raises many issues:medical ethics,personal choice and funding priorities - but none more so than the rights of the disabled, and of a mother and father."

- Karen Hobson, Canberra Times, 13/04/98

"… is full of emotion,heartache,frustration and determination."

- Melville-Fremantle Community Newspaper, 14/04/98

"… essentially a story of courage"

- TV Extra, 12/04/98

‘The filmmaker creates a perceptive, multilayered understanding of the young refugees’ experiences’

- West Australian

‘Delightful’

- Sunday Times

‘It is hard to remain dry-eyed as the schools multicultural soccer team sings Advance Australia Fair in the bus home from a match.'

- Sydney Morning Herald/ Melbourne Age

"... already acknowledged as the world's most exciting visual and physical theatre company...the reason to go and see Stalker is the way they marry jaw dropping spectacle with real purpose."

- Tim Marsh, London Times.
"Delightful documentary"
- Sunday Times, 01/07/07
"A sweet sign off for a lovely series"
- The Age, Michael Idato, 02/07/07
…."it is the irrespressible humanity, and often hilarity, of the couples that makes DKS such honest and engaging television"
- West Australian, Philippa Perry, 04/07/07
“Real insight into a pressing problem” 
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- Weekend Australian, Kerrie Murphy, 2 - 8/10/04
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- The West Australian, Sue Yeap, 07/07/98
"Unique footage" 
- Sunday Times, Bruce Butler, 01/03/99

"This is engaging and entertaining telly that also has something important to say"

- Sunday Age 04/01/09
"Engaging and entertaining telly that has something to say”
- Sunday Age
"...the most thought provoking, moving, entertaining and enlightening doco series in years"
- Wagin Argus 18/12/08

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- West Australian 03/01/09

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- West Australian, Mellissa Kent, 31/10/02
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- Lucy Belmont, The Age

"A dose of Reality TV without the hype"

- Weekend Australian, Simon Canning, 25 - 31/03/06
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- West Australian, Ara Jansen, 25-26/03/06

"All three groups of fishermen feature in Lobster Tales, an ABC documentary that will change the way you look at these delicious crustaceans forever."

- Sunday Mail, Brisbane 3/12/00

“The great achievement of Lobster Tales, a delightfully oddball WA-made documentary on the lucrative local crayfish industry ... strikes such a lovely balance between the lobsters and fishermen that it’s more like a well-wrought tragi-comedy than a traditional nature doco"

- Mark Naglazas – The West Australian Today 1/12/01

“Even for non-lobster-lovers, this quirky feature provides plenty of interest ... the highlight is the underwater photography by Leighton de Barros which is up-close and stunning."

- CYCLOPS The West Magazine, The West Australian Newspaper 2/12/00

"shows ordinary people doing extraordinary things ... the program usues the magic of TV to bring an important WA story to life"

- West Australian, Keith McDonald, 27/06/02

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- Jive TV Review, 23/11/10

“A sense of reconciliation emerges in the program and there's considerable poignancy as elements of a family torn apart by war, politics and circumstance are reunited…"

- Sydney Morning Herald, Doug Anderson

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- West Australian, Sue Yeap

"This documentary never becomes bogged down in legalese and is a compelling tale of one family's devotion to their son"

- Sun Herald

"A remarkable story and a clever and affecting piece of storytelling"

- The Age

"An emotional journey...unflinchingly captured on camera"

- The West Australian

Koori queens proudly get out and about in this high-spirited and affirming documentary."

- Melbourne Queer Film Festival Guide

"We get a rare glimpse into the world of indigenous gay men in tonight's Sissy ... an energetic, inventive and occasionally touching Western Australian-made documentary that looks at the lives of three colourful drag queens."

- Mark Naglazas, The West Australian Today

"Considering the double whammy served up by homophobia and racism, Sissy insists on having a good time while handling thought-provoking material."

- Mims McIntyre, Melbourne Times, 14/03/01,

[Shaun Micallef’s] quest to discover if there is ‘‘greater purpose than being a semi-professional Australian TV personality’’ makes for a funny and watchable journey.

- Louise Rugendyke, Sydney Morning Herald, 08/12/14

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- TV Week, 12/12/16
This powerful documentary reveals a side to Shaun Micallef we don’t usually see - the Aussie actor and comedian is on a quest to find the very meaning of life itself... He is an inspiring host and an entertaining traveller.

- Sunday Mail Adelaide, Adelaide 15/01/17

"It's a compelling story and you made a compelling film out of it. Just terrific."

- Richard Walsh, Consultant Publisher, Allen & Unwin
“This is vital viewing for those that crave the whole truth”
- Ian Cuthbertson, The Australian
The Dreamhouse is, no mistake, a heart warmer and a tear jerker. But it's more than that... The Dreamhouse instead shows [the housemates] as people with abilities, flaws, hopes, desires and dreams the same as any of us
- Ben Pobjie, Sydney Morning Herald, 07/08/14
Every so often a TV show comes along that changes the way we think about others, about society, about ourselves. Positively, for the better and in a way that enriches the lives of everyone.
- Paul Kalina, The Age, 31/07/14
"It’s a fascinating insight into a world most of us never see"
- The Age Green Guide, Barbara Hooks, 10/04/03

"A fascinating insight into the world of the night"

- Canberra Times, 14/04/03
"A fly on the wall insight" 
- Melissa Kent, West Australian, 16/04/03

“Surprising, raunchy, hilarious, crazy! Expect the unexpected!”

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"Puppetry most certainly is an art from and some of the performances here will take your breath away"

- The Australian, Ian Cuthberston, 23/08/08

“I have been directly or indirectly involved in WDYTYA productions in the U.S., Canada and the U.K …I must say that this one [Andrew Denton's episode] of the very best I have seen”

- Stanley Diamond, Montreal, Executive Director, Jewish Records Indexing - Poland, Inc.
Arguably its strongest line-up of celebrity guests yet
- The Daily Telegraph - Holly Byrnes 07/06/14

"...it's the most engaging detective series in years"

- Doug Anderson, SMH, 11/1/08

"... surprising, extraordinary and often moving" 

- Sunday Telegraph
"Outstanding, at times touching and very, very real"
- Sydney Morning Herald 5/10/09

"A compelling, lovely adaption of an excellent British format"

- Sydney morning herald- Sydney TV
"...is so elegantly simple it manages to compel almost without fail, never overstepping the human stories it is designed to tell..."
- Michael Idato - Sydney Morning Herald 20/12/10
"..utterly compelling.....revealed how powerful straightforward storytelling can be.... More please."
- Frances Atkinson, The Green Guide "The Rated , The Age 23/12/10
"...takes prominent Australians on an often complex, and sometimes unsettling, genealogical journey.... - has proven addictive t.v."
- Graeme Blundell -The Australian 18/12/10
“Their stories are revealing, sometimes shocking and always emotional”
- Feast Magazine 19/03/12

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- Melinda Houston – SMH, 25/03/12

“It's the perfect mix of history and celebrity..."

- Sunday Herald Sun, Melbourne , 01/04/13

"... this program has about it a quiet authenticity that allows the subject’s story to unfold of its own accord."

- Age Melbourne, 18/04/13

"The series is more than a peek into the backgrounds of the famous; it also chronicles the social and cultural evolution of our national identities via these celeb family histories. 4/5 stars"


- Sunday Age, Melbourne Critic's Choice, 01/04/13

"Each episode is essentially a feature documentary, well-researched and produced, and presented usually with a humorous or deeply emotional touch... This show is seriously habit-forming"

- Weekend Australian, Graeme Blundell, 06/04/13
This stylishly produced series is in fine form this season. Each episode combines the intimacy, and sometimes voyeurism, of observational documentary and the puzzles of the well-told detective story. It is a brilliant concept.
- Graeme Blundell The Australian, 25/08/15

This series is fascinating and so well done...
(pick of the week)

- Weekend Australian, Australia Lyndall Crisp - The Australia, 08/08/15
There are enough twists and turns here to make you think you’re watching an actual drama.
- Cameron Adams,Herald Sun, Melbourne, 25/08/15

"... explores the family histories of its subjects with class and humour. Verdict: A Hit." 

- Michael Idato, SMH, 31/12/07.

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