Farming filmmaker premiering feature

Just A Farmer Leila McDougall

Young farmer-turned-filmmaker, Leila McDougall, is set to arrive in Broken Hill tomorrow for her film’s premiere at the Silver City Cinema. A personal crusade by Ms McDougall, Just A Farmer aims to raise awareness of farmer suicide and the devastation it leaves behind.

“During Covid, we (Leila and her husband) couldn’t run our not-for-profit event called Live Rural because we were all in lockdown and so we were trying to think of ways that we could engage people and still get the message out there about mental health and get people talking, having conversations, and still checking in on people,” Ms McDougall told the Barrier Truth.

“We were all doing the same thing, watching things on streaming services for our way of connecting and interacting so we thought, well, what better way to try and get a message across than through storytelling and so we thought we’d make a movie.”

According to the National Farmers Report 2023, an Australian farmer dies by suicide every 10 days, and people in rural populations are twice as likely to die by suicide. The report also found close to half of Aussie farmers have had thoughts of self-harm or suicide.

It’s statistics such as these that contribute to the reasons driving Ms McDougall to continue her advocacy addressing mental health gaps in remote regions and saving lives by elevating awareness and fostering dialogue.

“I’m not a filmmaker by any means. I’m a farmer. We just wanted to spotlight this issue and show everyone the importance of supporting Aussie farmers in our rural communities because we are the backbone of this country. Our metro counterparts wouldn’t be able to live in cities if they didn’t have rural communities,” she says.

“It’s not just the farmers, it’s all the people that work for farmers, the truck drivers, everyone in the agricultural industry that are so heavily relied on to provide food, so I hope the film really opens a can of worms and gets people to understand that simply without our rural communities, we wouldn’t survive.”

Just A Farmer tells the story of Alison (played by McDougall) who is left to manage an ailing farm and an alcoholic father-in-law (Robert Taylor, known for Longmire) after her husband Alec’s (Joel Jackson, known for I Met A Girl) sudden death by suicide.

Directed by Simon Lyndon (Chopper, Concealed, Blackrock), the film also stars Damian Walshe-Howling (Bikie Wars: Brothers in Arms), Susan Prior (Puberty Blues), and Trevor Jamieson (Lockie Leonard). Members of McDougall’s local Tatyoon community also feature.

“The film, it’s not all doom and gloom. It’s a fictional story so it’s got to be entertaining as well. It’s got the undertone of the mental health and getting through after the community loses someone to suicide,” Ms McDougall explains.

“The film shows that importance of conversation around suicide, having conversations with people, processing grief and dealing with grief and then also for people to just see that their families aren’t better off without them, because life without them is pretty tough, and it’s about getting people to think and empathise with other human beings.

“I think in today’s society, our empathy is lacking. We always think about what someone else’s words do to us rather than what our words do to them, so I think we need to start to empathise, and I hope the film does that.

“I hope it makes people sit and think and then just really appreciate their loved ones or people around them and to start connecting again.”

Just A Farmer is screening at the Silver City Cinema this weekend with session times on Saturday, March 23 and Sunday, March 24 (each at 3.45pm), the latter of which Ms McDougall will be in attendance, as will some of Broken Hill’s mental health support services.

“We opened across the country [on Thursday], but I’m excited to be in Broken Hill – I’ve never been there before. On Sunday we’ll have the screening and then answer any questions or have a chat with people.”

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