Steven Ball
Marie Craven
Solrun Hoaas
Daryl Dellora

Melbourne independent filmmakers

Leo Berkeley
Giorgio Mangiamele
Michael Buckley
Moira Joseph

Sarah Barton
(formerly Sarah Stephens until 1997). Born Sarah Murkin.
b. March 9, 1962, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.

BIOGRAPHY:   Sarah Barton was born Sarah Murkin in Melbourne in 1962 and was educated at Kilmaire College in Hawthorn. A brief marriage in 1980 saw her change her name to Stephens. The marriage ended a year later and soon afterwards her ex husband was struck down in a hit and run car crash that left him with a severe acquired brain injury. Sarah’s eldest son Jasper Stephens was born in 1983. His biological father is the actor Sean Myers whose career included playing Tony in Stork (1970 – credited as Sean McEwan) and many film and television roles in the 1970’s and 80’s. The relationship with Myers ended early in the pregnancy although they remained friendly. 


Sarah’s early career was in fashion before enrolling in an Arts Degree at Monash University in 1987. As a student at Monash University Sarah made short films with a group of women students including Rebecca McLean and Eva Orner. In 1992 Sarah completed a Graduate Diploma in Film and Television at the Victorian College of the Arts. Her graduating film was the short comedy Thanks for Coming (52 minutes, 1992) starring Kate Langbroek, Sean Myers and a very young Adam Elliot.

On graduating from the VCA Sarah established a production company with Eva Orner called Fertile Films. Together they made two documentaries for SBS television. Their first film Untold Desires (52 minutes, 1994) was inspired by Sarah’s first husband’s disability and won the first Logie Award for SBS in 1995. In 1997 Sarah married architect Geoffrey Barton and also directed Secret Fear (52 minutes, 1997) with Eva Orner for SBS. In 1999-2000 Sarah co-wrote and directed A Wing and a Prayer (52 minutes, 2000) for SBS with producer Catherine Dyson.

During this time her daughter Stella (born in May 1999) was diagnosed with cerebral palsy after a traumatic birth.  This event cemented her commitment to making films that advance the rights of disabled people and in 2003 she established the long running community television series on Channel 31 No Limits. She produced 70 episodes of No Limits between 2003-2005 and returned in 2011 as Executive Producer for the final three seasons. 

Sarah has also written, directed and produced many short documentaries and comedies about disability and her most recent documentary is the feature Defiant Lives (85 minutes, 2016), which took 8 years to make and premiered at the Sydney Film Festival in 2017. Defiant Lives was invited to screen at the United Nations in June 2017.

Defiant Lives

CRITICAL OVERVIEW:   Sarah Barton’s thematic interest in disability in her film work is intensely personal. Sarah’s first film made around 1990 while still a student at Monash University was a 15 minute drama called The Outing and was shot and edited on Super 8. The Outing was remade in 2011 with Sarah’s permission by Mark La Rosa. Sarah began making films about disability at a time when very few people were interested in this topic. Her first professional film Untold Desires is a frank and ground-breaking discussion of disability and sexuality and remains a classic in disability circles more than 20 years later. Her early films (Untold Desires, and Secret Fear) use interviews without narration to explore her themes with the addition of artistic visual elements that underpin and expand the emotional content of the film.  In the 1990s when SP Betacam gave many documentaries a distinctive low budget appearance, Barton shot visual sequences in 16mm to enhance the aesthetic and textural look of her films. In all her films Sarah Barton has striven to show disabled people at their best and to endower their world with aesthetically pleasing elements. Original musical scores have also been an important part of her films and she enjoys the process of working with composers to bring the films to life emotionally through music.


Barton’s feature documentary about the rise and fight of the disability rights movement Defiant Lives is an ambitious undertaking and was made possible by a Churchill Fellowship in 2010. Using modest travel funds from the Fellowship, Barton travelled solo to the UK and USA with her filming kit (camera, sound gear, tripod and suitcase lighting kit) and recorded more than 30 interviews with surviving pioneers of the disability rights movement. These interviews formed the foundation of the film and more interviews were conducted with Australian activists on her return.  Her many years of involvement in No Limits (2003- 5 and 2011- 2014) gave her the respect and credibility to undertake such a mammoth task, trying to distill an entire rights movement into a single feature film.


Her long time collaborator as editor is Rob Murphy.  They have worked together on Secret Fear, No Limits and Defiant Lives as well as many other short documentaries for the disability community sector.

Stroke A Chord TRAILER (2013)
Defiant Lives TRAILER (2016)


Breaking the Silence

The Outing (1990, 15 minutes, Super 8, Drama) – Credited Sarah Stephens

Thanks for Coming (1992, 15 minutes, BVU Video, Comedy) – Credited Sarah Stephens

Untold Desires (1994, 52 minutes, SP Betacam, Documentary) – Credited Sarah Stephens

Secret Fear (1997, 52 Minutes, SP Betacam, Documentary) – Credited Sarah Barton

A Wing and A Prayer (2000, 52 minutes, SP Betacam, Documentary)

Sharing Our Story (2002, 38 minutes, DV Cam, Documentary)

Stroke A Chord

No Limits – Episodes 1-70 (2003-2005, 70 x 26 minutes, DV Cam, Panel Chat show)

More Than Horseplay (2008, 26 Minutes, DV Cam, Documentary)

Sharing Our Story Revisited (2009, 34 minutes, DV Cam, Documentary)

Breaking the Silence (2010, 18 minutes, DV Cam, Documentary)

Stroke A Chord (2013, 30 minutes, DV Cam, Documentary)

Casa Del Crip (2014, 20 minutes, MXF, Comedy)

Defiant Lives (2016, 85 minutes, multiple archival and current formats, Documentary)


1993: “Best of the Fest Melbourne Fringe Film Festival” “Thanks For Coming”

1995: AFI Award – Best Television Documentary “Untold Desires”

Casa Del Crip

1995: Logie Award – Most Outstanding Documentary “Untold Desires”

1995: Human Rights Documentary Film Award “Untold Desires”

2003: Television Program of the Year – CBAA Awards “No Limits”

2005: Television Program of the Year – CBAA Awards “No Limits”

2005: Best Panel Program – Antenna Awards “No Limits”

2005 Program of the Year – Antenna Awards “No Limits”

2006: Best Panel Program – Antenna Awards “No Limits”

2014 Program of the Year – Antenna Awards “No Limits”

2017 Finalist Best History Documentary – ATOM Awards “Defiant Lives"


Defiant Lives

The Journal of Popular Television” (volume 3, Issue 2, published October 2015 Intellect Publishers).  Disability and Television – Notes from the Field. Chapter By Sarah Barton

Inspiring Australians, The First Fifty Years of the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust” by Penelope Hanley 2015.  Australian Scholarly Publishing pages 206-7

Interview with disability rights advocate Sarah Barton for World Day of Social Justice, by Yooralla, February 20, 2017.

“Protest and the Power of Disability” by Luke Buckmaster, The Guardian 17th July 2017

Interview with Sarah Barton by Gary Maddox Sydney Morning Herald – Friday 7 July 2017

Interview with Sarah Barton by Garry Maddox - The Age – Friday 14 July 2017

Review of Defiant Lives by David Stratton The Australian, Review – Saturday 15 July 2017

Review of Defiant Lives by Julie Houghton War Cry (Salvation Army magazine) – Saturday 15 July 2017

Review of Defiant Lives by Olivia Lyle City Hub – Monday 17 July, 2017.

New Australian Feature Documentary Defiant Lives Releases July 17, Film Ink magazine, July 2017.

Sarah Barton traces the disability rights movement in ‘Defiant Lives’ 2017 by Jackie Keast, IF magazine, July 20, 2017.

Defiant Lives: disability activism hits the big screen, by Sarah Hall, Uni of Melbourne website, November 28, 2017.

© Sarah Barton, November 2017.

Fertile Films website

Defiant Lives website

Video on Demand website

Contact Sarah Barton

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Melbourne independent filmmakers is compiled by Bill Mousoulis