Cameron and Sam Bloom at home with magpie

The true story behind Penguin Bloom – a ‘raw and authentic’ representation of disability

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This article originally appeared on SBS News. Click HERE to see the original.

By Jennifer Scherer

An accident in Thailand left Australian Sam Bloom paralysed. The unlikely arrival of an injured magpie helped her recovery. Her story has now been made into a film and is opening up a conversation about the representation of acquired disability on screen.

“Cam and I have always loved travelling, so we thought we wanted to take the boys overseas,” the 49-year-old told SBS News at her home in Sydney’s northern beaches.

“We were about four days into our holiday and one of the kids spotted a stairway up to an observation deck, so we all went up.”

They were staying in a tiny village near the ocean, and from the two-story balcony, the tropical vista stretched as far as the eye could see.

To this day, Sam wishes she had never seen that breathtaking view.

“I leant on a railing and it had dry rot,” she said.

As the safety barricade fell away, so did Sam, falling six metres onto the concrete below.

She shattered her spine at the T6 and T7 vertebrae, fractured her skull in several places, and lay in a burgeoning pool of blood – but she would not remember a thing.

Sam and Cam Bloom at their living room table reminiscing.

The couple reminiscing about times they travelled the world together. SBS News, Jennifer Scherer

“I don’t even remember going up the stairs. My first memory was probably a day or two after and my mum and sister flew over.”

“I remember saying to them ‘what are you guys doing here’ and that was my first memory, I had no idea where I was.”

For Cameron though, that day will be forever etched into his memory.

“It was an incredible shock,” the 49-year-old said.

“It was visually horrific and incredibly scary because none of us really knew whether Sam would survive.

“Just for the boys to see their mum laying there gasping for breath and bleeding, it was something you never forget.”

None of us really knew whether Sam would survive.


Three weeks later, Sam was flown home from Thailand and she began a gruelling path of rehabilitation.

“The doctors [in Thailand] just kept saying ‘it’s spinal shock’, so I just assumed in six weeks I’d be back to normal,” she said.

“[In Australia] I had an MRI and that’s when the doctor came up and so bluntly said, ‘you’ll never walk again’. I think I spent the first month crying.”

Coming to terms with her new reality, Sam fell into a depression, grieving an old life and an old sense of self that would need to be remoulded.

“For Sam, it was really difficult just facing the reality of being back in her home that she loved and being in the wheelchair,” Cameron said.

“Sam just became incredibly depressed and felt isolated.

“It was around that time that we found Penguin and there was this incredible change of atmosphere in the house.”

Meeting a magpie

It’s hard to believe, but Penguin, a young, injured magpie, would become an important part of the Bloom household, and Sam’s next chapter.

The family took in the ball of black and white fluff after it had fallen out of its nest. It was fragile and needed care, giving Sam a renewed sense of purpose.

“For the first year I almost felt like I was under house arrest, I couldn’t go out, I couldn’t drive I was stuck at home,” Sam said.

“Having Penguin here for company and companionship was just amazing.

“She would always be on my lap or on my shoulder, she was with me all the time so I would talk to her continuously … whinge to her, I should say. She was the perfect listener; she was never judgemental.”

Cameron, a photographer, documented the family’s relationship with the bird, which was later made into a book written alongside author Bradley Trevor Greive.

“We always had hope that we’d help Penguin get strong enough to live a free life and be released into the wild,” Cameron said.

“Sam’s recovery is more mental than physical, and around that time, Sam started getting back into exercise again.

“There was a real shift, when Penguin arrived on the scene everything changed, for the better.”

It’s this adjustment to life with an acquired disability that is captured in the film Penguin Bloom, starring Naomi Watts, and released this month.

The film portrays Sam’s life before and after her accident.

“It’s a big responsibility because you’ve got to play that story in the most authentic, responsible way,” Watts said at a recent junket.

“Getting the script right was super important, telling the story from Sam’s perspective but how it connects to the family and how the bird became the glue.

“To find that balance of hope, to find that balance of courage and how one family repairs, that’s a great story to tell.”

Getting it right

With the representation of disability on screen a key to getting the story right, Sam was involved in the film’s production to ensure her realities weren’t glossed over.

“I wanted it to be raw and authentic, no sugar-coating,” Sam said.

“I remember when I came home, you think ‘I’m the only one’, and it’s lonely. I think grief is quite lonely.”

Sam Bloom on set.

Sam on set: “She [Naomi] captured the essence of exactly how I was feeling, the anger, the frustration, sadness, feeling guilty as a Mum – but also happiness.” Image: Cam Bloom

To help the cast and crew gain an understanding of her situation, Sam offered an invaluable insight.

“Sam Bloom kept a diary that was really very personal and was only ever for herself – and she shared it with us,” said director Glendyn Ivin.

“In some ways, that was the real key to knowing what it was like to be in that situation, to be in a depression and have a physical disability that she had found herself with.”

The film’s sensitive portrayal of what it’s like to live with a spinal cord injury has received praise.

Tom Elphick, 26, was in Portugal with friends five years ago when he dived under a wave and hit his head on a sandbank, resulting in a C5 spinal cord injury. He was an aspiring professional dancer and had just landed a dream job at a prestigious dance company.

“I wasn’t able to dance anymore, having been so in command of my body it was so foreign to not even be able to lift my arm or move my finger,” he said.

“I didn’t know how to deal with that.”

Tom Elphick was 21 at the time of his accident in Portugal.

Tom Elphick was 21 at the time of his accident in Portugal. Supplied

Tom hopes the release of the film will give more people a greater understanding of what it is like to live with a spinal cord injury.

“This movie is showing all of the layers that come with a spinal cord injury and sometimes these people are on top of the world and they are kicking goals and really making strides in their own rehabilitation journey, and sometimes they just can’t get out of bed,” he said.

“For people with a spinal cord injury [the film is] a way of sharing their every day with everyone else.”

This movie is showing all of the layers that come with a spinal cord injury.


Tom is an ambassador for SpinalCure Australia and hopes the movie will serve “as a beacon of hope”.

“I think for someone with a spinal cord injury, it’s really cool to see that on screen … I want to get in touch with a story and I want to relate to it.”

That view is supported by Joanna Knott, chair and co-founder of SpinalCure Australia.

“Spinal injury is an ongoing mourning process because the individual has lost how their body was and the independence they had before. They have to adjust to a whole new life,” she said.

“Relationships with people need to be re-navigated and that’s complex.

“I think that the movie shows that it is possible to have a great life despite having a spinal injury and it helps people understand a little about the impact of a spinal injury on a person and a family.”

For Sam, she too hopes the film raises awareness of what the journey is really like.

“It’s not just the fact you can’t walk, there’s so much more to it,” she said.

“Penguin is kind of a vessel for telling my story.”

Sam, went on to be part of Australia’s para-canoeing team and often credits Penguin with saving her, during the time they had together.

Sam was in Italy competing, waiting for her husband Cameron to join her when that chapter would end, two years after they first took the bird in.

“It was really weird … the night before he left with the boys, she flew away,” she said.

“She came at the perfect time and left at the perfect time.”

Penguin Bloom was released in cinemas on 21 January.

Naomi Watts’ ‘Penguin Bloom’ Sells to Netflix in Key Territories

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This article first appeared in Variety. Click HERE for the original. 

By Matt Donnelly.

“Penguin Bloom,” the Toronto International Film Festival player led by Naomi Watts, has been acquired by Netflix in key territories.

The streamer will roll out the film in North America, the U.K., France and select countries in Asia on Jan. 27.

Oscar nominee Watts stars in the real-life survival story of Samantha Bloom, an active and vibrant Australian mom who is paralyzed from the chest down on holiday with her family. Her struggle to forge ahead is helped along by a wounded baby magpie her kids take in, named Penguin.

Glendyn Ivin directs from a script by Shaun Grant and Harry Cripps, based on the book by Bloom’s husband Cameron Bloom and Bradley Trevor Greive.

Andrew Lincoln, Jacki Weaver, Rachel House, Leeanna Walsman, Lisa Hensley, Griffin Murray-Johnston, Felix Cameron and Abe Clifford-Barr co-star.

Ivin directed the short film “Cracker Bag,” which was awarded the Palme d’Or at Cannes, and “Last Ride.” His TV credits include “Puberty Blues,” “A Beautiful Lie,” “Safe Harbour” and “The Cry.”

The film is a passion project for Watts, who produced through her Jam Tart Films alongside Emma Cooper and Made Up Stories’ Bruna Papandrea, Steve Hutensky and Jodi Matterson. Endeavor Content brokered the sale.

“We all fell in love with the life-affirming nature of Sam’s story and her undeniable spirit. The emotional journey she and her family go on after Penguin enters their lives is unforgettable. We have a wonderful partner in Netflix and we’re delighted they will be bringing ‘Penguin Bloom’ to audiences around the world,” the producers said in a joint statement.

Additional production companies include Screen Australia Presents, Endeavor Content, Roadshow Films, Broadtalk Productions and Create NSW.

Executive producers include the Blooms, Sonia Amoroso, George Kekeli, Meryl Metni, Ricci Swart, Greive, Joel Pearlman, Edwina Waddy and Jill Bilcock.

Watts is represented by WME and Untitled Entertainment. Papandrea and Made Up Stories is repped by WME and ID-PR.

[Movie Review] Watts Shines in This Major Heartwarmer | TIFF 2020

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This article first appeared in Collider. Click HERE for the original.


I welcome a heartening, feel-good movie based on an incredible true story any day, but it does feel like Penguin Bloom is making its way out into the world at an optimal time. If current  events, personal struggles or anything of the sort has you down, not only will Penguin Bloom encourage you to forge forward, but it’ll also inspire you to help others to do so, too.

From director Glendyn Ivin, Penguin Bloom is based on the true story of Samantha Bloom (Naomi Watts). In 2013, while vacationing with her family in Thailand, Sam leaned against a faulty balcony railing and suffered a fall that left the lower two-thirds of her body paralyzed. An avid athlete, traveler and very active mother, Sam is utterly devastated by her condition until an unexpected source of hope comes into her life, a baby magpie her family names Penguin.

While I’d like to bet Sam’s story would have played powerfully on the big screen told in sequence, the script penned by Shaun Grant and Harry Cripps based on the book by Cameron Bloom and Bradley Trevor Greive, ups the difficulty and the weight of the road to recovery tenfold by running with a non-linear format. By cutting back and forth between Sam’s surfing days and the aftermath of the incident, the film well depicts how, in reality, there’s no snapping your fingers and watching a problem vanish. Mere minutes into the movie when Sam’s husband, Cameron (Andrew Lincoln), tells her, “You’ll get better. I promise,” it feels like an empty promise. Whether it be surfing or jumping on the trampoline with her kids, being an active and engaged person is part of the fiber of Sam’s being. Taking that away leaves a gaping hole in her identity and that’s deftly expressed through the non-linear storytelling, with an added assist from select dream sequences that capture the distance between Sam now and who she was.

While this description may paint an exceedingly dreary picture, Penguin Bloom never wallows and also has a budding source of hope from the very start courtesy of the close knit Bloom family, which then winds up being amplified by the arrival of Penguin. Even as an animal lover, I didn’t expect a magpie to melt my heart this much. And I’m willing to bet that had a lot to do with Ivin opting to work with real magpies rather than a CG replacement. There’s a level of tenderness that feels palpable watching the ensemble care for and literally embrace her. And then Ivin ups the cute factor through spot-on Penguin framing. Penguin Bloom benefits from stunning and textured imagery all of the way through, but in all honesty, I could have watched 90 minutes of Penguin hopping around the Bloom house on floor level. There is no round of applause big enough for those magpie trainers. This isn’t just about getting the magpies to hit their marks; Penguin’s blocking says as much as any of her human counterparts.

And while Penguin is a lot to compete with, there’s no understating the value of Ivin’s human ensemble here. As is often the case, Watts is phenomenal; sometimes she’s so good it hurts. Not only does she have you feeling the difficulty of getting out of bed in the morning and the frustration of not being able to run to her children when they need her, but there’s also the unbearable emotional weight of knowing she’ll never get back what she lost. Watts continues to excel every step of the way as Sam starts to find new purpose, initiated by Penguin in a delightful sequence that will undoubtedly melt your heart. But, similar to the script structure, Watts approaches Sam’s rebuilding with exceptional nuance and respect for the complexity of recovery. There are the good moments and the bad, and Watts weaves them together expertly. She excels with Sam’s quieter, internal beats and also absolutely oozes with chemistry when sharing the screen with her co-stars, particularly Lincoln and Griffin Murray-Johnston, who plays their eldest son, Noah.

No one’s more challenged by the incident than Sam, but that doesn’t mean her loved ones aren’t reeling in a way that matters. While doing everything he can for the kids and telling Sam it’ll be alright seems like enough at the onset, adjusting to this new life and figuring out how to best support Sam is a struggle for Cameron. Lincoln beautifully captures the balance of trying to keep your chin up to support your loved ones while managing your own pain as well. As for Murray-Johnston, this is quite the debut performance. A good deal of this story is told through Noah’s eyes, and Murray-Johnston has no trouble holding his own opposite Watts and Lincoln as a soft-spoken kid who exudes warmth and kindness, but is also trying to cope with having the mother he knew ripped away from him and feeling responsible for it. And, per usual, Jacki Weaver and Rachel House go above and beyond with limited screen time, Weaver playing Sam’s mother and House stepping in as someone who encourages Sam to forge forward and believe in herself.

No matter what’s going on in the world, when I come home and see my cat Dewey, it immediately brightens my day. Penguin Bloom feels like a heaping dose of that sensation. Release plans have yet to be announced, but should Penguin Bloom get a 2020 debut date – in theaters or streaming – I’d truly be shocked if it didn’t wind up being a favorite of the year. As Noah says in voice over in the movie, considering how many people vacation in Thailand every year, there’s 20 million other people that this could have happened to. Most of us won’t know a struggle quite like this, but no matter what you’re going through right now, the Bloom family’s willingness to share their story could boost your spirits and serve as a very effective reminder of what we can overcome with the people we love.

[Movie Review] Oscars: Fall Film Fest Circuit Aims To Promote Early Contenders

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This excerpt first appeared in Deadline Hollywood Reporter. Click HERE for the original.

September 11, 2020

For sheer heart, I loved Penguin Bloom, world premiering at TIFF, with an outstanding performance from Naomi Watts that with the right push from the right distributor, could land her a third lead actress Oscar nod, and her first since 2012’s The Impossible, in which she played a wife and mother whose vacation in Thailand turned tragic when a major typhoon hit the country. In this true story, just like that one, Watts plays a wife and mother whose vacation in Thailand turns tragic when she falls from a rickety roof railing and becomes paralyzed (maybe Watts ought to stay out of Thailand).

The highly athletic Sam Bloom begins an excruciating journey back to some normality of life with the help of an injured Magpie bird that comes into hers and her family’s life at just the right time. The Walking Dead’s Andrew Lincoln plays the husband. The bird is brilliant by the way, and the movie is heartwarming, humane, and a life-affirming story that is much needed right now. I believe this is the kind of film audiences would turn into a sleeper hit. For me, it is the best narrative film I have seen so far come from the fall fest circuit.

Australian film Penguin Bloom is selected for Toronto

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This article first appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald. Click HERE to see the original.

By Garry Maddox,

It’s an inspirational Australian story, about a struggling family whose lives are changed when they find a baby magpie, that first went viral on Instagram then became a bestselling book.

And now a film, Glendyn Ivin’s Penguin Bloom, based on that book, will have a world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Naomi Watts with magpie in Penguin Bloom.
Naomi Watts with magpie in Penguin Bloom. CREDIT:HUGH STEWART

Shot on Sydney’s northern beaches with a cast headed by Naomi Watts, Jacki Weaver and Andrew Lincoln from The Walking Dead, the drama is one of just 50 feature films chosen for the leading international festival that has been “reimagined” because of the pandemic and will take place in September.

Ivin, who is in lockdown in Melbourne, was delighted by the selection.

“There are so few festivals happening around the world that I really thought there must be a glut of amazing cinema that hasn’t been able to find a home,” he said. “To be included is very cool. I’m very excited and breathing a sigh of relief.”

Based on real events, Lincoln plays photographer Cameron Bloom whose wife Sam (Watts) is paralysed in a near fatal fall on a family holiday in Thailand.

Back home on the northern beaches after spending seven months in hospital, the discovery of an injured magpie chick that their three sons call “Penguin” helps the family get through the crisis.

Screenwriters Shaun Grant (Snowtown) and Harry Cripps (The Dry) adapted the book by Bradley Trevor Greive and Bloom.

Ivin, whose recent work has included the television series The Cry, Safe Harbour and Seven Types of Ambiguity, only finished the film three weeks ago.

“There’s a simplicity in the story that’s incredibly warm and emotional and it really affects people,” Ivin said. “Whether it’s a short clip they’ve seen about the real Penguin online or they’ve read the book, there’s something very moving about this story.”

He made “a few little tweaks” during editing because the film seemed especially timely during the pandemic.

“It felt like we were making a film that was a metaphor for the times,” he said.

Ivin is unsure whether he will be able to get to the premiere.

“I’m in Melbourne so it doesn’t feel like I can leave my house at the moment,” he said. “But I’d so love to be there. I can’t believe our film is going to be shown to people for the first time and we won’t be there.”

Producer Emma Cooper, who optioned the book with Big Little Lies producer Bruna Papandrea four years ago, said the film was “a unique Australian story that is also universal”.

“It’s very much about the human spirit overcoming adversity and healing through a connection to nature and family,” Cooper said.

Watts is also one of the producers of the film, which is scheduled to open in Australian cinemas on January 1 next year.

A sequel to the book, Sam Bloom: Heartache & Birdsong, will be published around the time the film debuts in Toronto.

Another new Australian film, Roderick MacKay’s drama The Furnace, will have a world premiere at the Venice Film Festival in September.

Set during the Western Australian gold rush in the 1890s, it centres on a young Afghan cameleer (Egyptian actor Ahmed Malek) and a mysterious bushman (David Wenham) who go on the run with two gold bars.

Cameron Bloom Announced As 2018 GQ Creative Force of The Year Award Recipient

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This article first appeared on gq.com.au. Click HERE for the original.

Cameron Bloom Thanks Wife Sam For Inspiring Thousands

GQ STAFF 14 NOV 2018


Cameron Bloom had what seemed to be a perfect life, free of obstacles, until 2013. On a family holiday in Thailand, a railing on an observation deck gave way and his wife, Sam, fell six metres onto a tiled floor. She fractured her skull and had bruising on the brain, also rupturing her lungs and shattering her spine. Sam was told that she was paralysed and would never walk again. Sam returned home after months of rehab and was driven to having regular suicidal thoughts as she looked back on the life she lost.

It was an incredible tragedy for Cameron and his family, but at Sam’s lowest, a little magpie fell from a tree and into their life. They named the bid Penguin and Sam was charged with her care. The injured bird became a member of the Bloom family and as a photographer, Cameron began to document the unique familial interactions.

When the ABC picked up the story and images of Penguin at play with Sam and the kids, the story quickly spread and eventually, the family’s story was made into a book by best-selling author Bradley Trevor Grieve, titled Penguin Bloom.

Thanks to Cameron Bloom, Penguin became a metaphor in many ways, and opened conversations for difficult topics, times and also offered people different perspectives. To think that a simple relationship between an injured Magpie and Bloom’s family could turn Bloom into a story-teller shows just how remarkable his sensitivity and skill is. For these reasons, Cameron Bloom is GQ’s Creative Force winner.

Accepting the award, Cameron Bloom immediately took to thanking “the other creative forces” behind his success.

“It was our dear friend Bradley Trevor Greive who came up with the visionary idea to tell Sam’s difficult and emotional journey using my images of Penguin, and I feel he too should be equally recognised tonight.”

Bloom also thanked his children, saying: “To our three gorgeous boys who are probably killing themselves because we forgot to get a babysitter tonight, they feature so prominently in my images; their love of nature and ability to adapt to a new life caring for their mum and nurturing Penguin at the same time was both tragic and beautiful.”

Cameron Bloom also added, “Finally, I can recognised the incredibly bravery, resilience and humility of my gorgeous wife, Sam. I know most days are a struggle, but I also know that your determination in everything you do has given people perspective, and inspired thousands around the world to make the most of their lives.”

Naomi Watts to Star in Penguin Movie

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Shaun Grant to adapt ‘Penguin Bloom’; Naomi Watts to Star.


This article first appeared in Deadline. Click HERE for the original article.

EXCLUSIVE: Australian scribe Shaun Grant has signed on to adapt Penguin Bloom, the top-selling Australian book optioned last December by Naomi Watts, Reese Witherspoon and Bruna Papandrea for a film that will star Watts. The trio is producing the film with Aussie-based producer Emma Cooper.

Set on Sydney’s northern beaches, Penguin Bloom is the true story of a unique little bird that saves a family. The book is written by Bradley Trevor Greive, with photographs by Cameron Bloom. Cameron and Sam Bloom and their three boys were an everyday family until a shocking, near-fatal accident left Sam paralyzed. She fell from a balcony while on holiday in Thailand, and was left paralyzed from the chest down. As the family struggled to adjust to her new situation, an unlikely ally entered their lives in the form of an injured Magpie chick which the Bloom clan called Penguin. The wild bird became a mascot for the family. The book was published in April in the U.S. under the title Penguin The Magpie.

Grant’s recent scripting credits include the Teresa Palmer-starrer Berlin Syndrome, the Aussie film Jasper Jonesand Snowtown. Other percolating projects include True History Of The Kelly Gang, which reunites Grant with Snowtown helmer Justin Kurzel, and the political thriller A Man With No Enemies.

Photographs by:
Cameron Bloom
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