They’re a local institution – every year since 1968 the Bells Family Carnival set up at Batemans Bay for the summer holidays.
But what do they do for the rest of the year? Where do they go? How do they live day-to-day? Is carnival life even financially viable?
Intrigued, Batemans Bay film maker, Isabel Darling, started asking questions. She didn’t realise it would take many years, over seven in fact – much of it on the road with the Bells – to get those questions answered.
“I was so curious about these people – I knew nothing about them or where they came from. They would arrive at Batehaven, hang out for a couple of months, then disappear,” Darling said.
Finding they travelled the country in a huge circuit – including Batemans Bay but venturing as far as Darwin and Adelaide – Ms Darling joined the Bells family to film their lives. For seven and a half years.
“I had to build trust; they were receptive but a bit nervy to start with,” Ms Darling said, but it wasn’t long before “they treated me like one of the team, it was very natural.”
With the Bells Carnival spanning six generations and staging carnivals for 100 years – the last 55 visiting Batemans Bay – the release of Ms Darling’s Walkey Award nominated film is timely.
Her company Torchlight Media is joining Eurobodalla Council to present a special screening at Bay Pavilions tonight (Thursday 7 December) in a carnival-themed soirée with festival-inspired cocktails and canapés from 5.30pm.
After the screening, Ms Darling and film producer Tom Zubrycki will join in a Q&A with the audience.
“It means a lot for me to showcase this film here, now,” Ms Darling said.
“People can expect the unexpected. It’s a character driven, multigenerational drama in observational documentary style. Like a fly on the wall, the audience gets to see the Bells as they are; salt of the earth people there to put on a show.”
Ms Darling said the 85-minute screening provided viewers with a sense of just how hard these people work.
“The carnival is all for fun and we take it for granted we’re going to get this show every year,” she said.
“Look closer and the costs are through the roof, they are really up against it. But they are so resilient and such a strong part of our culture, and I don’t think Australians will sit by and let this die.”
For more information or to book, click HERE.
Images: Isabel Darling