Filmmaking Bringing Young and Old Together


For over ten years Lithgow High School Filmmakers have been making award winning films that have been screened all over the world with high regard.

Their talented teacher and Blackheath resident, Sean O’Keeffe, has involved these young filmmakers with the wider community and with the Blackheath community in particular … from the multi-award winning “Wind Girl” in 2009, to “Bullets to Buttons” in 2015.

Their latest award winning film grew out of a partnership initiated by Jo Davies at the Blackheath Area Neighbourhood Centre and features the talents of Lithgow High School, Blackheath Public School and Mount Victoria Public School students, both in front of and behind the camera.


Bullets to Buttons final poster


The goal was to bring young people and senior members of the community together to share their amazing stories and experiences. “Bullets to Buttons” tells the story of Blackheath resident Sheelagh Gillis’s great uncle JB Holmes, who was a member of the North Irish Horse Calvary Unit. As a 14 year old who lied about his age, JB participated in the Christmas Day Truce of 1914, in Belgium. After losing the buttons on his clothing he was gifted some new ones from a German soldier. They had been fashioned from lead bullets.




The film features interviews with Sheelagh and a presentation she gave to students and community at Blackheath Public School. The Blackheath students were mentored in film production by the older high school students. They all worked together to document Sheelagh’s presentation and then re-enacted some of the elements of her story out in the school playground.

They also re-enacted the war scenes in the story on location at Millionth Acre Recreation Ground, with participants from Lithgow High School Film Makers and the 18th Battalion Re-enactment Group. The recently harvested plantation was eerily similar to the battle wasteland depicted in photographs of World War One, and under the tutelage of the re-enactors the students had a glimpse of some of the conditions soldiers faced during those terrible battles.

“Bullets To Buttons” took several months to make. Ian Rufus and Lithgow Living History Group provided invaluable support with costumes and props, resulting in an exciting and educational experience for all involved.

A significant benefit of the project and its sister documentary project “Three Trees”, was the connections that were made between the students and older members of their own community.

“Frequently in these projects what emerges is a breakdown of the sorts of stereotypical perceptions both groups have about each other,” said teacher Sean O’Keeffe. “The experience is often very moving for everyone, and we had somewhat cynical teenagers in tears and hugging the residents we interviewed for “Three Trees” by the end of the days’ filming.

Both films have screened internationally.

About Planetary Health Initiative

Blue Mountains City Council’s Planetary Health Initiative is working in collaboration with the Mountains Community Resource Network, Lithgow City Council, Western Sydney University’s Lithgow Transformation Hub, and the Sustainability Workshop, to establish this communications platform on behalf of the community. It is supported by a grant from the Disaster Risk Reduction Fund (DRRF) which is jointly funded by the Australian and New South Wales governments.

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