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.

Sam Bloom: Heartache & Birdsong

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Our new book Sam Bloom: Heartache & Birdsong launched 2 September 2020.

In Sam Bloom, Sam tells her own story for the first time – how a shy but determined Australian girl became a nurse and travelled across Africa. How she fell in love with a like-minded free spirit, raised three boys and built a life together on Sydney’s Northern Beaches. And then, in a single horrific moment, how everything changed. Sam’s journey back from the edge of death and the depths of despair is so much more than an account of overcoming adversity.

Sam’s captivating true story – written by close friend, New York Times bestselling author Bradley Trevor Greive, and featuring extraordinary photographs taken by Sam’s husband, Cameron Bloom – is humbling, heartbreaking and uplifting in equal measure. A triumph of raw emotion and incredible beauty, Sam Bloom: Heartache & Birdsong is a truly unforgettable book.

>> Buy the book



Flying higher: a magpie rescued a family. That was just the beginning

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This article first appeared in Good Weekend. Click HERE to see the original.

By Jane Cadzow

Sam Bloom is happy. So happy. It is January 2013 and she is on holiday in southern Thailand with her husband, Cameron, and their three young sons. They are staying in a quiet coastal village, Ban Krut, and have spent most of the morning swimming beneath a cloudless sky. Sam has always considered herself a fortunate person, but never more so than on this perfect day. From the palm-fringed beach, she and her family stroll to the reception desk of their hotel, to ask about hiring bikes. They’re thinking of cycling into the countryside after lunch.

At an open-air bar beside the lobby, Sam and Cameron order papaya juice with crushed ice and a squeeze of kaffir lime. It is tangy and delicious. The cups are still in their hands as they and the boys cross the hotel courtyard and climb a spiral stairway to a rooftop deck. The view from here is panoramic, sweeping from the sea to the lush green hinterland. Cameron is gazing at a Buddhist temple in the distance when a crashing sound makes him swing around. He drops his juice.

Later, Sam will have no memory of leaning against the safety barrier. Nor will she recall the steel railings giving way and slamming onto concrete tiles six metres below. She won’t remember teetering on the edge of the deck. She won’t remember falling.

The Blooms live in a white-walled, light-filled bungalow on a hill overlooking the water in the northern Sydney suburb of Newport Beach. When I arrive on a recent Friday afternoon, a one-eyed currawong is flitting about the living room. The family has adopted a series of injured or abandoned birds over the past seven years. This is the latest. “Frankie!” Sam says in a reproachful tone as it lands on my shoulder and starts pecking at my hair.

I don’t mind, I tell her. But Frankie has overstepped the mark as far as Sam is concerned. She cuts a chunk of apple and lures the currawong outside. Then she pours two cups of tea and leads the way in her wheelchair to a long wooden table near a row of windows. We talk about the Blooms’ first feathered foundling, a female magpie they called Penguin and came to regard as a member of the family. Penguin arrived 10 months after Sam’s accident, and three months after she came home from hospital.

Penguin, the magpie that inspired a bestselling book and movie.

Penguin, the magpie that inspired a bestselling book and movie.CREDIT:CAMERON BLOOM

As she writes in her memoir, Sam Bloom: Heartache & Birdsong, to be released next week, Sam was so depressed that she was contemplating suicide. Caring for the scrawny black-and-white chick was the distraction she needed: “I thought I was saving her life, but she was saving mine.”

Cameron, a professional photographer, took pictures of Penguin interacting with Sam and the boys – perching on their heads, fooling around with them in the kitchen, cosying up to them in bed. He posted the captivating images on an Instagram page that eventually had more than 100,000 followers. This led to a bestselling 2016 book, Penguin Bloom, published in 13 languages. The book inspired a movie of the same name, starring Naomi Watts as Sam. It will premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, which starts on September 10.

“Pretty strange,” says Sam, 49, when I ask how it feels to be portrayed on the big screen. Still, she is pleased with the movie: “They’ve kept it real. I didn’t want them to ‘Hollywood’ it, and they haven’t.” Cameron, also 49, who has joined us at the table, agrees: “It’s really close to everything that happened.”

Sam Bloom with her sons in Thailand in 2013, shortly before the accident that would change her life.

Sam Bloom with her sons in Thailand in 2013, shortly before the accident that would change her life. CREDIT:CAMERON BLOOM


For a moment, Cameron stood on the deck and stared in horror at his wife lying unconscious on the ground below. Then he raced down the stairs and tried desperately to staunch the blood that was seeping through her fair hair and pooling around her head. There was blood in her mouth, too: she had bitten through her tongue. A lump the size of an orange protruded from her back. Cameron shouted for help. His oldest son Rueben, then 10, ran to the front desk to call an ambulance.

Sam was taken first to the local medical centre, which wasn’t equipped to treat her catastrophic injuries. The ambulance headed north on a major highway, Rueben and his younger brothers, Noah and Oli, in front with the driver, and Cameron in the back with Sam. After four hours in stop-start traffic, they arrived at a large, modern hospital in Hua Hin, 200 kilometres south-west of the Thai capital, Bangkok.

Sam in the Bangkok hospital before her sons went home to Sydney.

Sam in the Bangkok hospital before her sons went home to Sydney.CREDIT:CAMERON BLOOM

Sam’s skull was found to be fractured in several places. She had bleeding on the brain. Both her lungs were ruptured and one had collapsed. Her spine was broken at vertebrae T6 and T7, just below her shoulder blades. The pain when she regained consciousness was almost unbearable, she says in her memoir, but the strongest sensation that washed over her was remorse. She wanted to apologise to her family for inflicting this drama on them and ruining their holiday: “I mean, what kind of idiot falls off a balcony?”

As a former nurse, Sam was acutely aware of the possible implications of a broken back. She says the Thai medical staff allowed her to hope that the paralysis affecting the lower two-thirds of her body was a temporary effect of spinal shock – that nerve signals would return when the swelling went down. When she was flown back to Australia a month later and admitted to Sydney’s Royal North Shore Hospital, a young doctor brusquely dismissed that notion. Her spinal cord was irreparably damaged, he said. She would never again walk, stand or sit up unaided.

While we drink our tea, we contemplate the vagaries of fate. Sam points out that when she and Cam decided their sons were ready for their first overseas trip, their original intention was to take them to two of her favourite countries, Egypt and Ethiopia. “Then there was all that political unrest in Cairo,” she says, “so we thought, ‘No, we don’t want to take the boys there. It could be dangerous.’ ” She smiles at the irony. “That’s why we chose Thailand. I said to Cam for years, ‘I wish we’d gone to bloody Cairo and I’d just got shot.’ ”

Cameron and Sam at their home on Sydney’s northern beaches, where she grew up almost living in the surf.

Cameron and Sam at their home on Sydney’s northern beaches, where she grew up almost living in the surf. CREDIT:TIM BAUER

For so long, Sam’s life had seemed charmed. She grew up a stone’s throw from where she lives now, and spent a large part of her youth at the beach, soaking up the sun and catching waves. The ocean felt like her natural habitat. While studying nursing, she earned spending money by serving behind the counter at her parents’ Surfside Pie Shop in Newport. Cameron, who had already started working as a photographer, was a regular customer.

They fell in love, and travelled together to exotic places before marrying and having children. Though Sam enjoyed nursing, she gladly gave it up to focus full-time on motherhood. An exuberant, athletic person, she liked nothing better than being outdoors with her kids: swimming, bike riding, running, skateboarding. “I’ve always been a tomboy, so having three boys was kind of perfect,” she says.

“I’d say to Cam, ‘I want to move. I want to move to the desert, where there are no people and I don’t have to see the ocean.’ ”

After the accident, paralysed from the chest down, she couldn’t even roll over in bed. Her mobility wasn’t all she had lost. Her injuries had robbed her of her senses of taste and smell. Like many survivors of spinal injury, she suffered from acute neuropathic pain caused by abnormal communication between damaged nerves and the brain. It seemed to her a cruel joke that parts of her body that otherwise had no feeling could hurt so much: she often felt as if she were sitting in stinging nettles and had bluebottles wrapped around her feet.

Mired in misery, she cut herself off from friends: they reminded her of her old life, the one she could no longer lead. In her house on the hill, she turned her eyes away from the sea. “I would sit here and get so angry and sad,” she says. “I’d say to Cam, ‘I want to move. I want to move to the desert, where there are no people and I don’t have to see the ocean.’ ” In her diary, she calculated the optimal year to kill herself – when her sons were old enough to cope with the loss and Cameron was young enough to start afresh with someone new.

Cameron had been told while Sam was in hospital that more than half of couples break up after one partner sustains a spinal injury. The Blooms’ marriage held together – Cameron was determined it would – but Sam’s despair settled over the house like a shroud. “It was certainly hard for the boys,” she says. “They’d say, ‘If you’re sad, we’re sad.’ And that would make me feel worse. I’d be lying in bed crying and feeling so guilty.”

Kayaking coach Gaye Hatfield vividly remembers the day in August 2013 that Cameron introduced her to Sam. “Oh god, I’ve never met a sadder person in my life,” Hatfield says. Cameron had persuaded his wife that getting out on the water might lift her spirits. And so it proved. On Narrabeen Lagoon, a short drive south of Newport, she learnt to propel and balance a boat using only her arms and shoulders.

“Leaving the wheelchair, that was the main thing,” Hatfield says. “Leaving the world and going out into the middle of the lake.” On land, Sam was entirely reliant on others. “But she could kayak on her own.”

Kayaking on Narrabeen Lake, where she learnt to propel and balance a boat using only her arms and shoulders.

Kayaking on Narrabeen Lake, where she learnt to propel and balance a boat using only her arms and shoulders.CREDIT:CAMERON BLOOM

Taking up paddling was a turning point but it wasn’t the game-changer. That came on a windy day in October that year, when Sam’s middle son, Noah, found a baby bird.

Penguin had beady eyes, downy feathers and a damaged wing. Like Sam, she had survived a terrible fall – in her case, from a nest in a 20-metre Norfolk Island pine outside the house of Sam’s mother, Jan, at nearby Bilgola Beach. The Blooms’ decision, after consulting a vet, to take Penguin home and try to keep her alive gave Sam a sense of purpose.

“The moment they rescued the bird, she started to heal emotionally and become a more functional person again,” says Bradley Trevor Greive, the US-based Australian author – best known for his global mega-seller, The Blue Day Book – who collaborated in the writing of both Penguin Bloom and Sam’s memoir.

Greive has a theory that, just as nurturing Penguin was therapeutic for Sam and cheering for the boys, photographing the fledgling was good for Cameron. The burden on him had been immense. Besides being the sole breadwinner, he was caring for Sam, looking after their sons and running the household. “He was the heart and soul and the engine room of that family,” Greive says. “His moment of solace was to sit behind the lens and look for something beautiful at a time when everything was awful. I feel like that’s why his images are so remarkable.”

Not everyone was beguiled by Penguin, or convinced that raising a wild bird in a domestic setting was a good idea. “I actually thought it was bizarre, the whole Penguin thing,” says Bron Watts, Sam’s oldest and closest friend. “There was birdshit everywhere, all through their house. And Penguin was quite aggressive towards other people. She would peck my hair. I felt as though Penguin didn’t like me.”

Watts, who had gone to Thailand to be at Sam’s bedside, was slightly unnerved by her habit of chatting to Penguin. “I was like, ‘Oh god, she’s gone like the weird bird lady. Wow, she’s really tripped over the edge.’ ” Bron laughs. “Yeah, I was a bit worried.”

The mess was annoying, but – as Watts acknowledges – Penguin’s company comforted Sam, and watching the bird’s valiant efforts to learn to fly spurred her into improving her own strength and fitness. She worked so hard on her kayaking that she made the Australian paracanoe team for the 2015 world championships in Milan. Later she summoned the courage to return to the surf, having decided that riding waves lying on a board was better than not riding them at all. She was selected to compete in the adaptive surfing world championships in California in 2018 and again early this year, winning the gold medal in her division both times.

Winning the adaptive surfing world championships in California in 2018.

Winning the adaptive surfing world championships in California in 2018 .CREDIT:CAMERON BLOOM

The publication of Penguin Bloom turned Sam into a minor celebrity. Overcoming a lifelong aversion to public speaking, she started giving talks everywhere from spinal rehab units to literary festivals and business breakfasts.

“Oddly, I kind of like it now,” she says. “I like the feedback – talking to people afterwards and hearing their stories.” The book prompted a flood of emails, many of them from people with spinal injuries who said reading about Sam’s experience had made them feel less alone. She still corresponds with some of them, offering what long-distance support she can. “And if I’m having a terrible day, I will reach out to them and have a whinge,” she says. “We whinge back and forth, and it’s really helpful.”

Meanwhile, Penguin’s fame grows. A three-minute video about the bond between the bird and the Blooms has been viewed 47 million times in the two years it has been online.

The upcoming movie – expected to screen in Australian cinemas early next year – was filmed in part in the Blooms’ house. The family moved out for almost three months, but at the request of Naomi Watts, who was both star and co-producer, Sam often watched filming from the wings. “It was pretty cool actually,” she says. “I’ve never seen a movie being made before. Naomi would ring and say, ‘What are you doing?’ I’m like, ‘Nothing.’ And she’d go, ‘Can you please come to the set?’ ” Watts wanted Sam to help her get details right. “For instance, if there was a scene where she was getting dressed, I’d say, ‘You need to slow down. Don’t switch on your tummy muscles.’ Things like that.”

With Naomi Watts, a star and co-producer of the upcoming film depicting the family’s experience.

With Naomi Watts, a star and co-producer of the upcoming film depicting the family’s experience. CREDIT:CAMERON BLOOM

One night, the Blooms invited Sam’s friend Bron Watts (no relation of Naomi) and her husband to join them at a cafe. “We thought it was just going to be Sam and Cam,” Bron tells me, “but half the cast was there. I’m talking to people whose children are acting as Sam and Cam’s kids, and they were just so excited to be part of it all. I suddenly went into a spin and burst into tears in front of everyone. Cam pulled me out and said, ‘What’s happened?’ I said, ‘I can’t believe they’re all here making money out of your misfortune. I can’t believe they’re so happy and Sam’s in a frickin’ wheelchair.’ ”

Naomi Watts then came over to talk to Bron. “She was so nice and normal,” Bron says. “I thought, ‘She’s the right person to be playing Sam’. I came to terms with it after that. I’m sure it will be a good thing for Sam and Cam.”

The role of Penguin went to not one but several trained magpies. “They were good at different things,” says Cameron, himself played by the English actor Andrew Lincoln. For Cameron, who visited the set less often than Sam, the first day of shooting was highly emotional. “We sat here in the lounge,” he says. “They were actually filming in Noah’s room but you have the headsets on and you watch a little iPad, so you see everything that’s happening and you hear the dialogue. They say, ‘Quiet on set. Action!’ All those things. Then you hear the voice of the little boy who played Noah.” Cameron pauses. “I just started crying.”

“I didn’t want to look at you because I don’t like crying in public,” Sam says to him. “Then Naomi comes out and she starts crying.” Sam found the entire crew empathetic. She remembers the director, Glendyn Ivin, saying, “Yeah, it’s okay for us. Once the film’s finished we all move on to the next job, but you’re still stuck like this.”

“I thought, ‘That’s really nice, that he acknowledged that.’ ”

Penguin was with the Blooms for two years. After making her maiden flight in the living room, she started to make forays around the neighbourhood. “She was always going down to the shops at Newport,” says Cameron, who got excited calls from the dry-cleaner, a lovely woman with a strong accent. “She would say, ‘Oh, you Penguin dad? The birdy go sing, sing, sing!’ Because Penguin had a really incredible song. And she was friendly.”

The young magpie grew more independent, venturing further afield and staying away longer. “She’d go for a week and then come back,” says Sam, who was also spending more time away from the house by that point, training for kayak races and going to the gym. Then Penguin spread her wings and left for good. Occasionally the Blooms thought they saw her in a tree or on a lawn, only to realise when they got closer that they were mistaken: “We’d be driving around,” Sam says, “and the boys would yell out, ‘There’s Peng! Peng? Nah, it’s not her.’ ”

Everyone was pleased for her, really. The hope had always been that she would return to the wild. And it seemed to Sam that, having come into their lives at exactly the right juncture, Penguin had also timed her departure perfectly. Though she, Cameron and the boys all missed her, they no longer needed her. In a sense, Penguin’s work was done.

Not that Sam sees this as a story with a happy ending. Some people come to accept their paralysis, she says. She is not one of them. “Sure, it gets a bit easier, but I’ll never be okay with it.” Each morning, when she opens her eyes and remembers what has happened to her, she is hit by a wave of grief. Her body is still racked by pain. Nevertheless, moments of joy can be found most days, and she has decided her life is worth living. Her sons are now 18, 17 and almost 15.

“I’m so glad I’m still here to see them grow up.”

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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