As NAIDOC Week runs from November 8th to 15th, we're showcasing Indigenous history, culture, and achievements in the Collarts way. If we delve into the timeline of Indigenous Screen & Media, Aboriginal directors, actors, and stories were ignored at best, racially stereotyped and exploited at worst. But as human rights became a more pertinent issue in the 1960s, and Aboriginal activists reignited a much-needed conversation about land rights in Australia in the '70s, representation shifted.
WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are warned that the following may contain images and names of deceased persons.
MY SURVIVAL AS AN ABORIGINAL (1978)
The first documentary directed by an Indigenous woman, My Survival As An Aboriginal is a groundbreaking portrayal of marginalisation and cultural knowledge in 'Bush Queen of Brewarrina' and Muruwari director Essie Coffey's community in Brewarrina, New South Wales. A personal perspective on Aboriginal life, with the camera being turned on the director herself, this documentary was new for its time, tackling schooling, traditions, policy, justice system, and more.
WHERE THE GREEN ANTS DREAM (1984)
Werner Herzog is an internationally acclaimed German director, but not many know about Where The Green Ants Dream, a part-fact part-fiction film following a land dispute between a mining company and the Aboriginal community in the Australian desert. Inspired by the real life Gove land rights case, this film exposes the holes in government policy that allowed corporations to claim sacred land for their own use. Fun fact: the contract drawn between Herzog and Wandjuk Marika, then leader of the Rirratjingu people and one of the primary actors, allowed his family to make enough money to move to their ancestral land in Yalangbara.
So many films around Aboriginal stories are stories about historical tragedy, but have you ever heard an Indigenous ghost story? Behold Bedevil, the first feature directed by an Aboriginal women, none-the-less by legendary artist Tracey Moffatt. Taking from tales she heard from both the Aboriginal and Irish sides of her family, Bedevil is a haunting trilogy set in Moffatt's idiosyncratic and highly-stylised Australian landscape.
You probably know Arrernte and Kalkadoon director Rachel Perkins for her hit films Bran Nue Dae and Jasper Jones. But before she broke into the mainstream, there was Radiance, an independent adaptation of Louis Nowra's 1993 play. Featuring a young Deborah Mailman, as well as fellow Aboriginal filmmaker Warwick Thornton as cinematographer, it's an emotional and powerful story about three sisters who reunite for their mother's funeral.
RABBIT PROOF FENCE (2002)
If you were a high school student in the 2000s, there's a chance you watched Rabbit Proof Fence by non-Indigenous director Phillip Noyce, based on the novel by Jigalong writer Doris Pilkington Garimara. A damning look at the inhumanity that occurred with the 'Stolen Generation', the film follows three Aboriginal children who are taken from their mother and decide to walk for nine weeks along the rabbit-proof fence to return home.
SAMSON & DELILAH (2009)
Samson & Delilah made a huge international splash upon its release, winning the 2009 Caméra d'Or (Best Feature Film at Cannes Film Festival) and Asia Pacific Screen Award for Best Film. It's for good reason: this Warwick Thornton-directed masterpiece tempers the brutality of reality and misfortune with the sweet and touching connection between the title characters, two Aboriginal teenagers living in an Alice Springs community who fall in love but must also face tragic hardships.
THE SAPPHIRES (2012)
Looking for an upbeat note? You'll find that and more in Wayne Blair's The Sapphires, a tale about four Indigenous women who start a girl group in the 1960s. There are some notable faces here: Jessica Mauboy, Miranda Tapsell, as well as Chris O'Dowd from The IT Crowd who plays their Irish manager. Plus, it's a musical—with catchy songs that'll stick in your head—rounded out by a feel-good story.
MYSTERY ROAD (2013)
By the 2010s, one-dimensional stories about Aboriginal stereotypes were harder to find, and Indigenous filmmakers were earning the recognition they deserved. Take Mystery Road for example: created by Ivan Sen, the crime thriller takes place in rural Queensland, as Aboriginal detective Jay Swan (played by Aaron Pederson) investigates a murder. Its success led to a TV series in 2018 of the same name, winning a breadth of awards.
There is no one who represents the true Australian voice likeGeoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu. Yothu Yindi member and multi-instrumentalist, his unique singing voice captured the hearts and minds of everyone around the country. Gurrumul, released one year after the singer's passing, dives into the story behind the man; about balancing the challenges of rising fame and dedication to his traditional community.
IN MY BLOOD IT RUNS (2019)
10-year-old Arrernte boy Dujuan Hoosan is the star of In My Blood It Runs, an intimate documentary not just about Aboriginal childhood, but also exploring themes of western versus cultural education, the judicial system, and family. Described as a "campaign for change", the film also spearheaded the #RaiseTheAge campaign, calling for the legal responsibility age to be raised to 14-years-old from 10 years. Collarts students can access a free screening of the film and exclusive panel with director Maya Newell, advisor and Arrernte leader William Tilmouth, and National Youth Indigenous Education Coalition co-founder Hayley McQuire via MyCollarts.