The Oasis Short Film Comp Launched!

Cate Blanchett helped launch a national filmmaking competition, which asks secondary students to raise awareness about homelessness in Australia.

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Cate Blanchett, Peter Garrett, a handful of Salvation Army workers and young people gathered under a marquee tent in Surry Hills this morning. To an outsider's eye, they may have appeared to be a slightly odd mix. Each was there, however, to help launch The Oasis: Homeless Short Film Competition, a national competition asking for high school students to raise awareness about homelessness in our community.

The competition is part of an extensive education and outreach program, which aims to tackle the growing incidence of youth homelessness in Australia. The initiative was originally launched in 2008 with the premiere of the AFI award-winning documentary The Oasis on ABC Television.

A two-years-in-the-making observational documentary, The Oasis gave us a confronting glimpse behind the doors of Surry Hills' Oasis Youth Support Network - a youth refuge for homeless teens, run by Salvation Army worker Paul Moulds. For the past twelve years, teens have come to The Oasis with a barrage of problems including drug addiction, mental illness, criminal convictions, domestic abuse and teenage pregnancy.

Blanchett, looking characteristically stylish, recalled the first time she had seen the documentary at a premiere screening in 2008. "It was a powerful reminder that not every child is born into a safe and secure home," she recalled. "I was struck by the problem of youth homelessness but I was also inspired by the workers and the stories of some of the street kids."

The Oscar-winning actress, who is also co-director of the Sydney Theatre with husband Andrew Upton, stressed that the arts could be used to help combat social problems and issues. "Film and theatre have an exceptional and unique power to promote awareness and provoke change," Blanchett said.

With that in mind The Oasis: Homeless Short Film Competition, of which Blanchett is a patron, asks young people to watch the documentary which can be streamed for free online, read and use The Oasis curriculum resource which has been distributed to every high school in the country, and to make a three minute short film that engages with homelessness. "This competition is important because it actively engages school students in understanding and highlighting the issues of youth homelessness encouraging them to focus on young people less fortunate than themselves," Blanchett said.

Blanchett urged young people to not only raise awareness about this "complicated" problem but just as importantly "provide powerful and positive solutions." She believes that the young people who engage in initiatives like this are the "policy makers, philanthropists and the artists of tomorrow" and that we needed to find ways to "imagine our way out of the problem."

Following Blanchett at the microphone was former Midnight Oil front man and Government Minister Peter Garrett. After considerably adjusting the microphone to accommodate his height (which he joked he "was used to doing"), Garrett launched into a rundown of how the government was committed to aiding this initiative and taking homelessness seriously. Urging young people to become engaged with these issues, Garret added with a grin, "If you can do it in three minutes with a song, you can do it in three minutes with a film."

Also speaking at the launch was Oasis School Liaison Officer, Bree Orsini, who recounted her personal experiences of homelessness as a teenager and explained how The Oasis came to her aid.

The Oasis' committed founder and youth outreach worker, Paul Moulds, also spoke at the event and gave a touching rundown on how a number of the young people featured in the documentary were doing now. Concluding his speech, Mould said that "great progress has been made but we still haven't solved youth homelessness."

The 15 finalists of The Oasis: Homeless Short Film Competition will be screened by the Sydney Theatre Company later this year, fittingly where The Oasis documentary had its premiere screening in 2008.

Entries for The Oasis: Homeless Short Film Competition close on September 16, with winners to be announced November 2011. $25,000 in prizes will be awarded to the winning schools. For more information, go here.

Picture caption: Blanchett, courtesy of Getty Images/Mike Flokis

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