Queen & Country Australia is a brand new cheeky and delightful documentary series which has just launched online.
The six-part series hosted by American travel writer Jesse Archer focuses on the beautiful and heartfelt stories of rural women competing to be the Beef Week Queen of Australia.
All episodes can be watched here.
Question: What is Queen & Country Australia?
Matthew Kelly: It's a 6 part digital series exclusively on YouTube that explores young women in regional areas competing to be the "queen" of their town. We like to call it "real reality" because while there's a competition, and there's tension and drama as the young women do their best to stand out from the crowd, we intentionally refrained from manipulating the process, which is part and parcel of reality television. We intentionally sought to understand the hopes, dreams and goals of these women, so it's a character study as much as anything. What we got, is what you see.
Question: Why did you choose to get involved in Queen & Country Australia?
Matthew Kelly: My business partner, Max Walker (who is the writer/director of Q&C and one of best doco film-makers around), and I both hail from the bush. We believe stories from the regional areas of our country are under-represented on the screen. Even more so the stories of women, who are the backbone of the country. This project shines a light on these young women who are under 25 and living in a small country town. As part of the celebrations of their local industry - in this case for Casino, it's the beef industry - we also learn about the people of Casino.
But, we still had to make this attractive for a wider audience, so we discovered a new talent, Jesse Archer, a US travel writer and actor from Los Angeles. Like a "fish out of water" we get his take on this contest, the young women, and Casino. We believed his fresh perspective would be preferable to an Australian personality, who might be too familiar with the subject matter. It turned out to be a masterstroke and the smartest decision we made - Jesse is brilliant and wows everyone.
Question: Why will audiences love Queen & Country Australia?
Matthew Kelly: They will love the women, their stories and it being told in a way where you learn truly about them as people. There is nothing superficial in Queen and Country. But we think everyone will love our host Jesse. He's into all things weird and wonderful. He is openly gay and had reservations about visiting a small town like Casino. But the girls and the community welcomed him with open arms. It was a joy to see him learn more about our country, these young women and to kick some stereotypes to the curb.
Question: What was the best part about being involved in Queen & Country Australia?
Matthew Kelly: It was being back in Casino, my home town and being able to make a film that shone a positive light on it. Like any town it has its issues, but it has so many positive aspects. It's a reminder for people in metro areas that life in the bush can be pretty bloody good. The other aspect is that while we are in business together, Max has been one of my closest friends since childhood. So the chance for us to finally work together, on a passion project like this, was irresistible.
Question: What was the most challenging component of filming Queen & Country Australia?
Matthew Kelly: Like many documentary-style programs, you never know quite what you are going to get. We knew these young women had stories to tell but how would it translate to screen? And how would our unknown talent, Jesse, handle it? We also had to rush filming for a few days so were starting a number of days before dawn and getting home well after midnight. The adrenaline kept us going!
Question: What is Beef Week Queen of Australia?
Matthew Kelly: It's the lucky person crowned as such during the Beef Week festivities in Casino. She is chosen by judges after interviews, public speaking and social observations. They have to articulate why they entered, what they hope to achieve from being Beef Week Queen, and what motivates them to represent Casino. Each candidate also represents a breed of cattle (Ms Braford, Ms Limousin etc) and must have intimate knowledge of that breed and its place in the cattle world!
Question: How did you go about portraying the extraordinary rural women competing for Beef Week Queen of Australia?
Matthew Kelly: Each episode of the series focuses on one of these women. So we take a deep dive into their motivations for contesting Beef Week Queen but also their personal lives generally and what it's like to grow up, live, and work in Casino. Jesse took cues from their responses and personalities and so there are lovely, touching moments in the film. This includes the challenges when a parent gets extremely sick, the impact to your love life living on a farm, and the financial challenges for farmers trying to get ahead - something we're hearing a lot about now with the drought.
Of course the announcement of the winner is the climax of the film, and is a lovely emotional moment. I think Jesse was shedding more tears than anyone!
Question: What's next, for you?
Matthew Kelly: We really want this series to expand and travel. We think with Jesse we can tell more stories like this on regional Australian women for local and international audiences. The response so far has exceeded expectations. At the screening launch the audience was ecstatic and was either constantly laughing hard or wiping their eyes. And the online viewing numbers are tracking really well. So we're hoping that with this momentum and word of mouth we get a broadcaster or content platform, whether here or from overseas, interested in taking that next step with us.
Interview by Brooke Hunter