Tish Peiris is a former journalist now filmmaker who is using this medium to tell stories and advocate for people with disability. She is currently making a short film about the accessibility of New South Wales beaches. In 1994 Tish sustained a brain injury in a car accident in Sri Lanka. Since forging a career in filmmaking she has discovered that when opportunities to work don’t come knocking, you have to open the doors yourself.
The best advice I ever read about getting the job that’s right for you was from an actor from the Theatre of the Deaf. He said: “you have to make your own opportunities.” If the phone doesn’t ring (and it often doesn’t for most people working in the arts) you need to create your pathways.
It can be hard but the results can be far more satisfying. The film project I’m working on now is a series of short clips about people with disabilities accessing the beach and surf in three areas of the state; Bondi, Newcastle and Pambula. It’s for the Able Movement, an organisation that promotes people with disabilities moving into mainstream employment and made possible as a result of a grant the organisation received from Surf Lifesaving NSW. It’s been a fantastic experience and I’ve met some of the most wonderful and kind people along the way.
I love filming and it’s a skill I’ve become very good. That’s usually because I find it easy to get on with people. It’s about having the right attitude. I view this project as a stepping stone to secure funding for the next one which is a film script I’m developing about an Australian soldier with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Not just about disability
I grew up in several places across the world including Beirut so I am very interested in the fallout of war and human rights. I was becoming a well-known journalist when I first had my car accident in Sri Lanka. I spent a month in a coma and was finally evacuated back to Sydney and spent several months in hospital and in rehabilitation.
The script I’m working on now is called Bamboo Curtain. Some parts of it are violent and I think people will find it surprising that it’s not about disability. People tend to pigeonhole you when you have a disability and think that everything you do would be focused on this one aspect of my life.
Working with so many people with disability is very important to me though. I wrote a research paper for Nova Employment a few years ago and I was struck by how important meaningful and appropriate work is to people with disabilities. From Paralympians to academics to working in administration, the interviewees loved working and the freedom that came with it through the money they earned.
Speak from the heart
Last year I honed my public speaking skills when I was a disability champion as part of the Live Life My Way program. I speak from the heart which seems to have resonated well with people. At the moment I’m speaking for free just for experience and contacts at some Rotary meetings. Some of their events have had as many as 50 people. I’ve been relishing the challenge.
My experience has proven to me that if no one gives you a break you just have to make them yourself. I’ve made several films by myself using a $300 camera, an iphone app for sound and natural light so that I can work on my craft. It has forced me to have total confidence in myself which is proving to be an invaluable attribute.
View Tish’s projects here: