Presenter/director Sabour Bradley doesn’t do things half-heartedly. Whether wandering war-torn Syria, seeking revenge on internet love scammers or living under the Intervention in Arnhem Land, he’s sure to be amongst the action. His new five-part series, Head First, uncovers the secret lives of everyday Australians.
In each episode Bradley tackles big issues by discovering human stories within them. “Interesting characters have to be at the centre of the story,” he explains, “and the chance to jump straight into some kind of adventure. I needed to be able to participate in the journey they’re going on.” He goes with his gut on which stories to follow after pouring through rafts of media. “I’m a bit of a media-whore,” he laughs, “so I have to narrow it down to things I really want to tackle.”
The idea behind each episode could span an entire series. Instead, it’s reflected in one 45-minutes episode, so how does he do each story justice? “It’s hard to condense them down, there’s so much great footage that’s been left on the floor. But you’re only as strong as your weakest cut. We packed a lot of good stuff in.”
Making Head First was an exercise in sensitivity. The series features people who may have been subject to persecution had they voiced their situations locally. “Each episode had different issues around trust and compassion,” Bradley says, “especially when you’re going into a Syrian warzone with someone you only just met.”
Bradley is no stranger to confrontation (see his last series, Extreme Tourist: Afghanistan), so it’s somewhat surprising to learn that the episode posing the least risk to his safety was one of the most confronting. The episode called ‘The Wrong Body’ explores the lives of transgender Australians, a concept he found difficult to grasp.
“Someone is telling you that on the outside they are biologically one sex, but on the inside they are different. They’re on a transition of becoming their true self. At the end of each day filming, the crew and I would look at each other and say, ‘Wow. We. Know. Nothing’”.
Many episodes upend their expectations, even for Bradley. “In ‘Fame Lies and Sex Tape’ we go on what is expected to be a light jaunt with a young wannabe,” he says seriously. She is offered the chance to make a sex tape to achieve fame, which puts her in a place where all her morals and beliefs were questioned. “I came away from it feeling sick. It makes the story better, but it’s not fun when you’re in the middle of it.”
With a background in journalism, Bradley fell into documentary making as it better encompassed his love of travel and storytelling. “Daily stories come and go so quickly,” he says. “I always wanted to hook into something bigger and longer-lasting. People are always saying there’re no great Australian stories that tell us about ourselves and the world — this series does that.”
Head First starts on Wednesday, May 1 at 9.30pm, ABC2.