As judge on the Betty Roland Scriptwriting Panel, I am pleased to announce that this year’s Betty Roland Scriptwriting Prize and $30,000 goes to Kris Mrksa for his sensational mini-series on the James Hardie asbestos cover-up, DEVIL’S DUST. Read more for my comments on this year’s winner:
Betty Roland Scriptwriting Prize 2014
THE WINNER: DEVIL’S DUST (Fremantle Media/ABC TV)
It is always challenging to adapt real-life stories for the screen. In DEVIL’S DUST screenwriter Kris Mrksa has tackled the widely recognised story of Bernie Banton’s lengthy campaign to bring James Hardie Industries to account for its asbestos operations. By interweaving Banton’s story with real-life journalist Matt Peacock’s crusade to expose the company’s evasions, Mrksa masterfully creates a compelling narrative that is impressive in its sweep of recent social history.
Against the backdrop of corporate malfeasance and million dollar compensation claims, Mrksa has also crafted a very human story. Banton is a vibrant, earthy character with the eloquence and belligerence of a passionate man betrayed by the institutions he trusted. His family life gives us insight into the man who became a folk hero to many. Peacock’s character is equally well drawn. Driven to bring those responsible to account, he doggedly pursues justice for Hardie’s victims. Banton and Peacock become a formidable team as they take their David and Goliath fight to the highest court in the land, winning over state and federal politicians in the process.
It is Mrksa’s talent for transforming complex material into an engrossing story, balancing both the personal and the political, that sets this script apart from the others. Giving a human face to one of corporate Australia’s most shameful episodes, the script has burnished and preserved the legacy of Bernie Banton. By illuminating the lengths to which James Hardie went to thwart the case against them, Mrksa has also left us with an unsettling feeling that maybe the institutions designed to protect us are not always on our side. This is emotional, thought-provoking drama at its best.