Sofya Gollan

Sofya Gollan had so many credits and achievements to her name when she joined the Sync Aus programme in 2015; yet she felt she had hit a place and time in her life where she wasn’t progressing. Even if we have credits and accreditations, the subtle and not so subtle barriers in society continue to discriminate against our Deaf and disabled professional progression – and stop us in our tracks.

Sofya in a bright red jacket in the passenger seat of a car, giving direction to an actor in a hoodie behind the wheel.
Sofya Gollan – on set, directing her short film, Gimpsey (2016)

Sarah Pickthall talks with Sofya Gollan

I met with Sofya online in May to discuss the impact of Sync way back then in helping her shed her skin and think again. She is now holding a position of authority as Screen Investment Manager at Screen NSW. Sofya and I share a history of sorts – our involvement in inclusive television. For myself, this meant working for 10 years as part of the Art Attack Team in the UK with their ‘sister’ project ZZZap, which was designed to include deaf children along with mainstream programming for children in the UK. I wrote scripts for the show and my hands, now retired, were The Handymen. Sofya, quite early in her career, joined the presenter team at Play School in Australia and has been involved in the programme for over 30 years alongside a career in media.

Sofya on an orange sofa, presenting live on Play School, for ABC, Australia
Sofya Gollan presenting on Play School, for ABC, Australia

An award-winning director and writer of documentary and drama films, Sofya’s films have been screened in major international festivals over the decade. One of her most recent short films, GIMPSEY, which she wrote and directed, was nominated for an ACCTA Award in 2017 in the Social Shorts and is featured at the beginning of the film we made when we spoke together on Zoom.  

Loving a leadership metaphor, and that being a part of what we explore in a Sync programme, I asked her to recall the one she chose all those years ago. She was unable to recall it, which in itself was quite funny.  Yet choosing a leadership metaphor doesn’t mean you have to stick with it. 

A fluorescent green snake shedding the skin from it's head.

In fact we can choose different metaphors and analogies that reflect where we are at any one time in our professional careers. Our conversation continued with a focus on Sync being something that allowed her to shed her skin like a snake. 

Watch the video of our conversation – including short clips of Sofya’s film Chlorine Dreams (1998, 10mins.) A young girl finds a ghost-like boy living in her pool.

Sofya and Sarah talk over Zoom, May 2020
Audio Description of the Zoom conversation between Sofya Gollan and Sarah Pickthall

It’s not just the deafness but the intersectional experience of gender identity and being a person with a disability, she explained. The industry is still so biased in so many ways.  The blend of being deaf and a woman was hitting hard at the time, so how did Sync help? ‘Well, I think it was in our coaching that we explored the idea of saying yes to everything.’  I remembered the coaching conversation we’d had at the time. 

Sometimes adopting a different strategy for a while can bring an unforeseen opportunity. Putting herself ‘out there’ was not new to Sofya but in the face of rejection and doors slamming, choosing this with a lighter, less defeated strategy, of saying ‘yes, why not?,’ felt different. With Sofya well known to audiences in Australia, she already had the natural ability to put herself out there, but driving this in a different way. 

Shedding the skin of old tactics and bringing in the new paid off.  The first opportunity she said yes to, ‘can be directly attributed to getting me to where I am now’ she shared. It was that simple.  

In her role now, investing in other people, she is responsible for the end-to-end management of screen content that ranges from international co-productions to stand-alone short films. Not only that, as a creative, she still holds a passion for narrative development in VR and is making her own work shedding the skin of other people’s thinking with a focus on new lived experiences in compelling story lines. 

Sync allows you to rethink things, gives you the time, the space and the attention to refresh yourself and renew. So why not you? Whether you are part of Sync now or are thinking of applying to be so, our plans are to share insights and activity in the weeks and months ahead. That’ll be about taking a different tack, shedding your own skin, breaking through and seeing what emerges in these very taxing times.

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