NewsThe "D's"

The "D's"

I recently interviewed Toni Powell about her life journey which is amazing. I asked Toni To write something up for members and I'm thrilled to share her story below. I'd love your feedback at the end.


I have a wise friend who spends her life helping people deal with what she calls life’s D’s – a list that includes death, divorce, disease, diagnosis, depression, disaster.

The year I turned 47 seemed to be a year of D’s though not all of them started with D.

There was death – the dreadful death of my father that left me bereft. There was the anguish of finally letting go of my spiritual beliefs. The loss of my faith was profound - a death that left a gaping hole.

We moved interstate that year and so lost connection to friends and the calm of familiar places – it seems to me that moving house is often the death, at least for a time, of community.


My identity was undergoing change as well – I’d been ‘mother-of-five’ for so long and now there were only two left at home. It was strange.

I was Displaced, Disordered, Dismayed, Distressed, Disoriented, Disbelieving and a little Depressed.

I began thinking, in my 47th year, that my life was now pretty much over. My life, at least the good bits, had already had been lived.

I remember talking to myself, in some sort of confused wonder, saying “Really? Really? It’s over already? That’s it? That was it?”

It seemed true, definitely so, I was sure of it.

I was sure that there was nothing, absolutely nothing, to look forward to from this moment on. The future held menopause, deafness, general infirmity, Alzheimer's and my poor breasts continuing their slow travels south.

I was plagued by the thought that I’d never fall in love again. The excitement was over and I didn’t know if I’d invested my life wisely.

The other thing that I knew for sure was that I needed something to look forward to. I knew it was crucial.


So I made a decision.

I set a goal.

I threw a lifeline out into the future.

And the results were a series of events so unexpected and unlikely that they ended up being the subject of an Australian Story episode.

The decision I made was to make a film.

Over the years, in the brief few seconds of free time I had between being mum and running our business I’d fantasize about dream careers and the life I might have had. Filmmaker was always top of the list.

Singer, interior designer, architect and town planner were other alternative lives that appealed to me – surely it couldn’t be too hard to design shopping malls superior to the ones I shopped in?

The goal I set was to win the Shootout 24 hour Filmmaking Challenge.


I need to backtrack so that you can get an idea of what was behind this decision and goal.

For the past 8 years the town we’d moved from had been running a Film Competition called The Shootout and each year hundreds of people would flock to the town to make a film in 24 hours. Each film had to include 5 items that were only revealed at 9pm on Friday night just prior to the 24 hour timer being started.

It was a mad race with an attractive $10,000 prize. Over the years I’d watched with envy as small teams ran around our town – it seemed exciting. It never occurred to me to enter because I just assumed it was a competition for young people.

Films are handed in by 9pm Saturday night and the waiting game begins.

As no one is told who makes the final cut everyone attends the Top 10 screening on Sunday night – all the entrants, their crew, their families, most of their friends and loads of locals.

Two months before we moved interstate I’d attended the Top 10 Films screening. I loved the films that were selected from the 180 films entered that year, they were surprisingly good.

I saw that some of the filmmakers were older and was so disappointed to realize that, as we were moving, I’d missed my chance to enter.


In December 2003, just after we’d moved, I found out that serendipitously (miraculously?) The Shootout was now franchising and an event was planned in Toowoomba for the following October. Toowoomba was only three hours from our new house!

At Christmas I floated the idea to friends and family – this was going to need to be a group effort. I wanted to know who would join me in my quest to win The Shootout.

My eldest daughter was a brilliant photographer and, while inexperienced with video, took on the role of camera. My long time friend had some video and script experience and he was keen. I knew we’d need his skills onboard as I barely knew the difference between a producer and a director.

My son-in-law and granddaughter were cast as the cast and we were set to go.

As director, holder of the story idea and the only person stupid enough to think we had a chance at winning I decreed that we needed to meet every month for the next 9 months to plan and practice for the October event. I knew lots of professionals entered this challenge and that we’d have to work hard to have any chance.


Over the next few months we planned and practiced shooting the film, then we spent days prior to the competition mapping out every shot around Toowoomba. Not everything went to plan on the day and we handed in our film knowing it hadn’t gone that well and we’d be unlikely to make the cut.

When our film came on as one of the Top 10 we were all over the moon.

Sitting in a 1500 seat theatre and hearing people laugh at all the right bits was one of the best moments of my life. It was incredible and very exciting.

Our little film was a huge hit winning Best Film and multiple other categories and we took home over $13,000 worth of prizes.

However, in the end, the best prize wasn’t the cash. The real prize we took home were two comments that changed my life – one from a jury member:

“You’ve no idea how good this film is do you?”

And one from Kristi Street, the founder of The Shootout:

“This is the best entry we’ve ever had – you should re shoot this film and enter it in film festivals.”


Kristi’s words started the ball rolling and the reverberations are still being felt 12 years later.

We took Kristi’s advice and re shot the film. The new version proved just as popular and over the following 18 months screened at 160 film festivals around the world and garnered another 5 awards along the way.

And there I’d been thinking that my life was over, that nothing exciting was ever going to happen again.

This has been such a great lesson for me. Now I know that it’s not over till the fat lady sings and I get to decide when she sings.

I’m also more aware now of the power of one decision, the impact of one goal and the importance of having a lifeline set in the future.

I try to keep in mind that just because a door closes doesn’t mean it’s shut.

Just because I can’t see a door doesn’t mean there isn’t one. I may just have to cut it myself.

And… just because a door has a No Entry sign (no entry because I have no experience, insufficient education, am too old, have no evident talent  or one of 42,000 reasons people will tell me that I can’t do something) doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t do everything in my power to rip down the sign and yank open the door.



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