Joshua Lee’s The Fathering Project begins with a deceptively delicate question: How can you be a good father if you’ve never had one? Filmed over a single school semester, Western Australian-based filmmaker Joshua Lee’s humble documentary The Fathering Project turns passion into poetry in the pursuit of finding what it means to be a father in today’s society, amidst major economic decline and the shifting public idioms of masculinity.

Not only does Lee turn the camera on himself to penetrate his open wounds – whose introduction includes candidly admitting to growing up fatherless himself – but we’re introduced to a crowd of single dads who share the singular aspiration to be better parents, all linked through “The Fathering Project”, a not-for-profit organisation that helps strengthen the bonds between fathers and their children.

The Streets of Armadale

Subverting and splintering the tough veneer of modern masculinity, Lee’s deeply-personal project is first and foremost an intimate illustration of the collective trauma present in the streets of Armadale, one of Perth’s most violent suburbs that is soured by quotidian occurrences of drugs, suicide, crime, and violence. Driven to understand why statistics around depression, addiction and incarceration are tipped so heavily towards men from similar lower socio-economic backgrounds, his research leads him to the front door of The Fathering Project, which pivots the director’s solo odyssey into a cumulative presentation of Australia’s undervalued cultural heterogeneity and unsung social institutions.

source: Screen Australia

Arranged in a concise 27-minute package, we’re invited into the lives of single fathers Traverse, Kim, Charlie and Ron, whose individual circumstances lead them to collectively aspire to break the generational cycle of trauma and affliction that they’ve been burdened with before they repeat the pattern for their own children. Meeting at regular meetings and fortnightly BBQ’s at a local school, organised by Community Facilitator David Walker, Lee promptly learns that solidarity may be the key – not to answering his initial query, but putting him on the right path towards it.

Side By Side

Like Cornel Ozies’ documentary Our Law from earlier this year, which profiled Western Australia’s first Indigenous-run police station, The Fathering Project details an adaptable social structure that aims to acclimate itself within similarly-struggling suburbs across Australia. While the film’s ABC premiere will give these men a national platform to help and identify those who face comparable hardships, Lee’s intermittent interviews with his subjects demonstrate the importance of lending an eye and an ear to those in need, and as we see over the course of the film’s earnestly truthful journey, unspoken catharsis is found just by the pure act of genuine companionship.

As we reach the documentary’s enigmatic ending, we become witness to a group of strangers-turned-friends, who emerge from this program not unchanged, but sharpened into something new – trying to become the best fathers they can become. A conversation-starter that doubles as a highlight of a side of Australia not commonly represented in the media, The Fathering Project is less concerned with solving answers as it is raising questions.


Complicating our notions of modern masculinity, Joshua Lee’s The Fathering Project wears its heart proudly on its sleeve as it presents a series of sympathetic subjects through genial direction and a warm smile. This meta-interrogation is unwavering in its conviction, an airing of vulnerabilities that reverberates with elemental emotions that is traced in wholesome sentimentality. In a poetic manner, the film’s confident conclusion reminds us that this campaign was never about a definite resolution, but the observance of transformation, which as we learn to understand, is the real victory.

The Fathering Project is set to premiere on Compass on ABC1 at 6.30pm on Sunday 12 July 2020.

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