“Working in Communities, Connecting with Culture”: Reflecting on U-matic to YouTube A National Symposium Celebrating Three Decades of Australian Indigenous Community Filmmaking

In June 2010, the Film and Television Studies program at Monash University and the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) co-hosted a national symposium celebrating three decades of Australian Indigenous community filmmaking. [1] The occasion for this event was the DVD release of the internationally acclaimed Indigenous community film Two Laws (1981), produced thirty years earlier by the Borroloola Aboriginal Community with independent filmmakers Carolyn Strachan and Alessandro Cavadini. Two Laws was not the first project of this kind in Australia, but its unique and highly innovative representation of Indigenous history and culture based on the Borroloola peoples’ oral storytelling tradition was without precedent at the time of its production, making it a landmark work in documentary cinema both in Australia and around the world.

The aim of the symposium was to honour members of the Indigenous community at Borroloola by bringing them to Melbourne to speak about the significance of Two Laws – or Kanymarda Yuwa, as it is commonly known in Borroloola – as well as other projects they have been involved in since that time, including Journey East (known as Buwarrala Akarriya) (The Yanyuwa Community with Jan Wotisky, 1989), Aeroplane Dance (known as Ka-Wayawayama) (Trevor Graham, 1994) and, most recently, a series of animated song lines, produced in collaboration with John Bradley and others. The idea was for ACMI to serve as a meeting place for a dialogue or conversation between the members of the Borroloola community, their collaborators (Strachan, Cavadini, Bradley, Trevor Graham, Amanda Kearney, Tom Chandler and Brent McKee) and other invited guests, including Aunty Joy Murphy Wandin, a much respected Wurundjeri elder (who welcomed the visitors to her country on which ACMI is located), Indigenous filmmakers Darlene Johnson and Romaine Moreton, Indigenous film curator Elizabeth McNiven (formerly of the Australian National Film and Sound Archive), Walter Saunders (the inaugural director of the Australian Film Commission’s Indigenous Branch) and academics in this field: Faye Ginsburg (New York University), Stephen Muecke (University of NSW) and Maryrose Casey (Monash University).

We wanted to create a space where people could collectively view films that had not be screened for many years, as well as have the opportunity to see new short and digital projects (including the animations from Borroloola) which hitherto had not been seen outside of the community, and which we had special permission to show. The screenings were designed to play a central role in the event; around them we organised panels of guest speakers to lead discussion not only on the specific projects, but also wider issues in the development of Indigenous community filmmaking.

Unfortunately, at the eleventh-hour, these plans were thwarted when the community members from Borroloola who were travelling to Melbourne for the symposium received news that a senior lawman had unexpectedly passed away. They made the decision to return home. Although their absent presence was strongly felt throughout the event, we continued without them because they had specifically asked us to; indeed, they asked us to watch their films and to dedicate the symposium to “the old people” whose voices are heard in their films.

It was a long and passionate conversation between guests and the more than one hundred participants from national and international universities, Indigenous media organisations and the general public. The conversation was sometimes heated. At other times, the auditorium was filled with laughter. And as we sit together now, as a symposium convenor (Therese Davis) and presenter (Romaine Moreton), to reflect on the event, we suggest that it was also a very timely conversation. U-matic to YouTube brought representatives of three generations of Indigenous and non-Indigenous filmmakers working in Australian Indigenous community filmmaking together in a public forum for the first time. It provided participants with an opportunity to reflect on this important chapter of Australian film history. And, in our opinion, this historical perspective has helped to begin the process of breaking down problematic divisions and categories that exist in the ways that many people think about Indigenous film and the communities and culture it gives voice to.

A Cinema Across Media

It is often assumed that Indigenous community cinema is simply “low-end” filmmaking. Sometimes, it is just this. But, as with other cinemas discussed in this special issue of Screening the Past, Indigenous community filmmaking employs a wide range of screen media and formats. This cinema includes the hundreds of documentaries and dramas that have actively involved Indigenous communities and been produced in and distributed across the full spectrum of Australian screen media. On film, this cinema dates back to Two Laws and other feature-length collaborative projects in the Australian 16 mm independent cinema of the mid 1970s and early 1980s: Alessandro Cavadini’s Ningla A-Na (Hungry For Our Land) (1972); Phillip Noyce and Gary Foley’s Backroads (1977); Essie Coffey and Martha Ansara’s, My Survival as an Aboriginal (1978); Ned Lander and Graeme Isaac in collaboration with Aboriginal rock-reggae band No Fixed Address’ Wrong Side of the Road (1981); Alec Morgan and Gerry Bostock’s Lousy Little Sixpence (1983). It continues through to the made-for-television films of the early 1990s such as Aeroplane Dance (discussed in this dossier) to the recent 35mm, commercial feature film Ten Canoes (2006), made by non-Indigenous filmmaker Rolf de Heer with the people of Ramingining (also discussed in this dossier), as well many of the films in the “Blak Wave” of films by the current generation of Indigenous filmmakers.

This cinema across media has and continues to take numerous forms beyond film. Around the same time thatIndigenous activists and communities beganworking with independent filmmakers, others were exploring the possibilities of video in projects, ranging from production of low-tech oral history videos at Yuendumu in the Northern Territory in the early 1980s (leading to the formation of the Warlpiri Media Association in 1985, now PAW Media and Communications) to urban-based projects around Indigenous land rights and protests such as Madeline McGrady’s We Fight (1982). In the beginning, these works and others were distributed and viewed on the clunky U-matic video format at schools, trade union halls and universities. Later they were widely shared as VHS tapes, while most recently they circulate as DVDs and/or appear on Indigenous media websites and online archives. [2]

Indigenous community films also comprise a great deal of the content for Indigenous television. They have been broadcast on remote area “pirate” stations, free-to-air terrestrial and satellite broadcasting distribution, and transmission services such as RIBS (Remote Indigenous Broadcast Service). [3] The ABC’s Indigenous Programs Unit (IPU) was established in 1987, producing magazine series such as Blackout and most recently Message Stick – series which, like their SBS counterpart, the Indigenous affairs program Living Black, have routinely featured short films and documentaries. In 2009, the Australian National Indigenous digital TV service (NITV) was established. Its aim is to “acquire and commission a range of programming which reflects the diversity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and communities … support locally produced content, and help to further open up career paths for Indigenous people in the industry”. [4]

In the new digital era, chances are that, as we write this introduction, some form of Indigenous community film is being uploaded onto an online screen platform. Footage shot by the late Aboriginal community filmmaker Frank Djirrimbilpilwuy from Milingimbi of the Chooky Dancers’ “Zorba the Greek Yolgnu Style” on YouTube has, to date, received more than 1.8 million hits from around the world. [5] On the web you can also view the work of community filmmakers from the Western Desert on an inter-community video sharing site, IndigiTube: The Voice of Remote Australia or short films from Indigenous Digital Storytelling projects based in rural, regional and metropolitan Victorian communities on the ACMI website (discussed in this dossier). [6] The U-matic to YouTube dossier reflects this diversity, with contributions addressing a range of different media and formats, from independent film to made-for-TV movies and commercial cinema, and from three-minute digital stories produced by members of Indigenous communities in workshops to 3-D modelling digitally animated songlines.

Studies of Indigenous Community Filmmaking

But here’s the problem: despite the fact that this cinema reaches across the full expanse of the Australian mediascape, Indigenous community filmmaking is generally overlooked and undervalued in Australian film studies. We agree with Adrian Martin that a general prejudice in the discipline toward smaller film projects is one of the reasons for this oversight. In his review of Indigenous filmmaker Mitch Torres’ community-based documentary Whispering in our Hearts (2002) that counters this trend, Martin wrote:

It should be no secret by now that most of the best work in Australian cinema occurs not in the narrative feature realm, but in short films, documentaries, animation and experimental work – although this knowledge remains secret in official tomes like the Oxford Companion to Australian Film. [7]

As critics and scholars around the world applaud the new wave of Indigenous featuressuch as Samson and Delilah (Warwick Thornton, 2009) and Bran Nue Dae (Rachel Perkins, 2010) – and we think they should – this symposium was, nevertheless, a timely reminder that these films and the talented Indigenous artists behind them are deeply connected to a long and rich history of community based shorts, documentaries, experimental works and (more recently) animations. Both Perkins and Thornton began their careers working at the Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association (CAAMA), which was founded in 1980 by Freda Glynn and John Macumba in association with Phillip Batty. CAAMA, since that time, has gone on to become the largest Indigenous production house in Australia – with an impressive record of institutional collaborations with Australian media organisations such as Screen Australia, ABC-TV and the National Nine Network, as well as international corporations such as the Disney Channel. [8]

In addition to the prejudice in Australian cinema studies toward shorter projects, there are several other problematic gaps and divisions in the scholarship on Indigenous film. As scholars have argued, there is comparatively very little written on Indigenous film as film, or even as a particular cinema in international film studies (Columpar, 2010; Mills, 2009). Even the broad focus of Hamid Naficy’s category of “accented cinema” omits the forms of deterritorialisation that Indigenous people have suffered through dispossession of their land, thus sidelining this cinema to the margins of the marginalised. Similar omissions are found in Australian scholarship, where, with a few exceptions, most of the sustained work on Indigenous film has been conducted by anthropologists, sociologists and communications scholars.

It is nearly forty years since Bruce McGuinness and Gary Foley in Melbourne made the advocacy documentary Blackfire (1972) with non-Indigenous collaborators Annette Blonski and Martin Bartfield, making it the first film to be written and directed by an Aboriginal person (McGuinness) – yet we know very little about this work. It is over thirty years since Essie Coffey directed My Survival As An Aboriginal in collaboration with Martha Ansara, making her the first Australian Indigenous director of a feature length documentary – yet there is no single scholarly article on Coffey and her film and video projects. In 1993, Marcia Langton celebrated Coffey’s achievement as the beginning of “a minor social revolution” in her influential essay, Well I Heard It On The Radio…, which was written to coincide with the formation of the Australian Film Commission’s Indigenous Branch (now Screen Australia’s Indigenous Department). [9] Since 1993, Australian Indigenous film and television content has developed at a phenomenal rate, becoming what Maureen Barron, former Chair of the Australian Film Commission, described as “one of the most critically lauded and successful sectors of the Australian film industry” (10), setting the standard for other parts of the industry across all benchmarks: innovative production initiatives, international awards, bold storytelling, box-office successes, high levels of local community production through Indigenous media associations, fast uptake of digital modes of production and distribution, and so on.

Yet, despite all of these achievements, to date there has been no comprehensive historical analysis of the content produced in this vital sector of Australian film and television. Instead, film scholars have tended to leave the work of sustained or book-length studies in this area to others who, with a few exceptions (Ginsburg; Deger; Hartley and McKee; Peters-Little) have by and large tended to concentrate on issues of infrastructure and technology – i.e., content delivery. This overemphasis on delivery also contributes to what is, in our view, a highly problematic division in the Indigenous media sector between so-called remote and urban Indigenous groups: a division reinforced by a disproportionate number of studies, Government reports and commentaries dedicated to media produced by Indigenous people in remote areas or Remote Indigenous Media Organisations (RMIOs) (for example: Willmot, 1984; Michaels, 1986; Batty, 2003 and 1993; Meadows and Molnar 2000, 2001, 2002; Hinkson, 2004; Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, 2005 and 2006; Deger, 2006; Rijavec 2007; Rennie and Featherstone, 2008).

We are not for one minute questioning the value of the work on RMIOs, but we are suggesting that the imbalance in Indigenous media studies —  that is, more studies on content delivery than content itself; more studies of so-called remote media than that which originates in urban and regional centres — has contributed to a misleading picture of Indigenous cinema as spatially divided between north and south, remote and urban, traditional and colonised. As Romaine Moreton has suggested elsewhere, the practice of defining Indigenous identity and culture through the remote/urban binary is not new. [10] It was first articulated by Australian historian C.D. Rowley in The Remote Aborigines (1972) in an illustration from that book that depicts a line drawn across the centre of a map of Australia, demarcating the powerful and persistent colonialist conception of Indigenous Australians as remote, native and by implication “authentic” on one side (the top half of the continent), or urban, colonised and by implication “inauthentic” on the other side (the lower half of the continent).

Moreton argues that this way of defining – and dividing – Indigenous identity has a negative flow-on effect in media, influencing terms of Government inquiries and media polices, funding determinations, television programming, press reviews, audience expectations and experience of Indigenous content, public debate, and (as we are suggesting here) research projects and academic scholarship. The discussion at U-matic to YouTube went some way toward breaking down this division by bringing representatives of Indigenous communities from across Australia into dialogue. Presentations at the event pointed to the complex networks of exchange that exist between communities across the country that film and other media help to sustain, as well as new networks being opened up in and through new media. As Darlene Johnson explains in her interview in this dossier, the thing that has brought her, as “an urban, fair skinned Blackfella from Bondi Beach”, together with David Gulpilil, as “a traditional Aboriginal Yolngu man from Ramingining”, is, in her words, that “we are both passionate about portraying Aboriginality on screen”.

Models, Methods and Motivations

Contributions to the symposium and dossier have also helped to provide greater understanding of different models and methods of collaborative film and video in Indigenous community filmmaking, both past and present. By inviting non-Indigenous film collaborators to speak alongside Indigenous community representatives and filmmakers, the symposium acknowledged the importance of non-Indigenous involvement. It also enabled what was, at times, quite robust debate about complex aspects of this involvement and its social and cultural implications. Just as importantly, contributions to the discussion also demonstrated that while some Indigenous communities choose to invite non-Indigenous filmmakers into their communities to work with them and that there is a legitimate and productive role for these collaborators, other communities choose to invite professional Indigenous filmmakers. There is some scholarship on models of Indigenous and non-Indigenous collaboration in the Australian cinema (Davis, 2007; Davis and Plate; Deger; Hinkson; Peters-Little, 2002), and Nancy Wright’s article on Ten Canoes in this dossier contributes to this body of work.

There is, however, less scholarship on models of inter-Indigenous collaboration. Contributions to the dossier by Darlene Johnson, Romaine Moreton and Kimba Thompson in many ways break new ground by providing insight into the different methods each of these filmmakers is developing for working in their own and other Indigenous communities. [11] Their personal accounts help us to better understand how Indigenous filmmakers apply knowledge based on their lived experience of both Indigenous culture and the position of Indigenous people in contemporary Australian society to their work. In their different ways each of these filmmakers also touches on the issue of responsibility to community: forms of responsibility and respect specific to Indigenous culture that help to distinguish Indigenous work from other cinemas.

This is not to say that all Indigenous film is community filmmaking or to suggest that it should be. What came out of the discussions at U-matic to YouTube, and underpins many of the contributions to this dossier, is that connection with community and culture, and the expressions of an Indigenous worldview that are generated in that process, are found in some form or other in all Indigenous film. Or, to put this slightly differently, that all Indigenous film is about transmitting a worldview that is specific to Indigenous culture as it is practiced in all of its diverse contexts.

Discussion at the symposium also touched upon the issue of what motivates communities to make films. Two Laws was motivated by the Borroloola community’s then-urgent need to communicate their history and law to white lawmakers who refused to recognise their land rights. The papers and interviews gathered here attest that much of the new film work is driven by a desire in communities to pass on Indigenous culture to their children. We learn that both Graeme Friday (Borroloola) and David Gulpilil (Ramingining) see film as a means (among others) for teaching their children about their law and culture, in the face of social change that is often characterised in terms of the loss and “disappearance” of that culture. These views can be tied to a broader international debate about an urgent need for so called “cultural salvage” of Indigenous languages and performance, driven most recently by the UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage (2003), which recognises that

the processes of globalization and social transformation, alongside the conditions they create for renewed dialogue among communities, also give rise, as does the phenomenon of intolerance, to grave threats of deterioration, disappearance and destruction of the intangible cultural heritage, in particular owing to a lack of resources for safeguarding such heritage. [13]

No one would dispute such threats. But the symposium demonstrated that the flipside of this threat of disappearance is that the use of film as a means of preventing it, by capturing or preserving culture, has also led to forms of cultural reappearance – innovative forms of resurgence mediated by cinema. At the symposium, Chris Healy from Melbourne University referred to works that address these processes as taking a “historiographic approach”. Films such as the those by Johnson and Moreton historically account for the forms of social transformation and intolerance that against which the UNESCO convention seeks to safeguard intangible heritage (such as song and oral storytelling), while simultaneously performing cultural renewal and maintenance of these forms.

Into the Digital Future

Finally, the symposium’s reach across a wide range of formats from the past and present, from 16mm to U-matic video to YouTube, reminds us that the history of Indigenous community filmmaking coincides with a wider cultural transformation: the transition from analogue to digital media. Digital technology now affects all the major areas of filmmaking (script, production, postproduction), exhibition and distribution (theatres, television broadcasts, DVDs, online film). As many scholars have commented, digital technology also affects our experience of these films. Many in the field are only just now catching on to what Peters-Little (2004), Martin (2005) and Healy (2008) have all argued: namely that most Australian Indigenous film is viewed on television. So what happens when we begin to also watch Indigenous community-based dramas and documentaries on DVDs, laptops and mobile phones?

Thomas Elsaesser and Malte Hagener have argued that these new modes of watching constitute

a new form of appropriation and ownership … the DVD allows one to scale down the experience, displace movie viewing by making it mobile, and manipulate the film in ways that engage our bodies not only as total sensory or perceptual surface, but enabling or empowering it with different kinds of agency as owners, users and consumers, and as prod-users and prosumers of the commodity ‘film’ we can treat it as an experience to be shared, a text to be studied or a possession to be treasured. [14]

These new digital viewing contexts raise a number of interesting questions in relation to Indigenous community film. For example, the release of Two Laws as a DVD radically alters the control the community and its non-Indigenous collaborators have to date asserted over conditions for viewing this film. As discussed at the symposium, in the past Two Laws was mainly shown in theatres as a projected film (with the exception of the circulation of a small number of VHS copies for use in the community and universities). Strachan and Cavadini stated at U-matic to YouTube that this decision was made by both them and the community, to ensure that spectators would have an immersive-type experience of “sitting down with the community”, an effect that is structured into the work through its very particular use of the wide angle lens. They also suggested that their decision to release the film more widely now was due to the introduction of widescreen television technology that allows viewers to experience its wide angle viewpoint.

But, as Elsaesser and Hagener suggest, these new technologies also mark a new mode of viewing that, in this case, shifts the experience of the film not only from widescreen cinema to widescreen TV, but also from public viewing to private viewing. Does this shift, as Elsaesser and Hagener suggest, enable a new mode of “ownership”? And do these new modes of possession contradict Indigenous practices of ownership and transmission of knowledge? As these questions were unpacked, discussion at the symposium rehearsed an attitude to digital media in Indigenous communities internationally that Faye Ginsburg has identified as an “oscillation” between “ambivalence and enthusiasm”. [15] Walter Saunders and others at the symposium cautioned that Indigenous communities need to take a great deal of care in their adoption of digital technologies for public-sphere media, or else risk losing hard-fought control over cultural knowledge.

At the same time, others at the symposium argued that, while digital technology raises serious issues about ownership and Indigenous cultural knowledge and Intellectual Property that must be worked through, communities are enthusiastically embracing digital media because it offers them unprecedented forms of access and intercommunication. The Two Laws DVD makes the film available to a younger generation, while access to Indigenous film from online community-based websites and archives helps to tell the story of Australian Indigenous culture and its history from an Indigenous perspective. And the animated songlines from Borroloola apply 3-D modelling applications from digital architectural design to enable young people in that community to have a virtual experience of being “in country”, travelling the songlines of their traditional lands.

We can say therefore that these digital modes of film production and distribution are not necessarily creating the individuated modes of watching and possession that Elsaesser and Hagener describe in their analysis of new media but, rather, that they constitute new forms of Indigenous networking, communal reception, popular memory and connection to culture.

An Overview of the Dossier

The dossier begins with a set of papers and transcripts that deal with the films from Borroloola. In cinema studies, the Borroloola community is most well known for Two Laws which (as we said) is widely considered to be a landmark documentary. In “Two Laws: A Filmmaking Journey”, Carolyn Strachan and Alessandro Cavadini discuss the political context in which they were working at the time of the film’s production and explain how they “surrendered control” (as they put it), handing over responsibility for the script and direction to the community. In “Was Two Laws Experimental?”, Stephen Muecke continues the discussion of the work’s wider context by interrogating it as a work of experimental cinema in international film history.

Two Laws is also a seminal example of the Australian Indigenous community filmmaking tradition mentioned above, in which communities invite independent, non-Indigenous filmmakers or anthropologists in to their communities to make films with them and/or for them. This “commissioning model” of community filmmaking, as we call it, has been the preferred model for the community at Borroloola since Two Laws. While other communities have gone on to create their own media associations and production houses, the community at Borroloola has “chosen”, as senior Yanyuwa elder Graham Friday says in “‘These Are The Choices We Make’: Animating Saltwater Country”, to work with a range of different non-Indigenous filmmakers and anthropologists. These and other papers on the Borroloola community’s films following it combine to create a micro-history of this commissioning model of community filmmaking, one that accounts for how it was developed in this particular community and why it has changed over the years.

This work of film history also provides an opportunity for contested viewpoints. The dossier contains two pieces on the Borroloola community’s  Aeroplane Dance. Trevor Graham’s commentary from a filmmaker’s viewpoint explores questions of story, cinematic form and cross-cultural collaboration. This is followed by Maryrose Casey and John Bradley’s “Aeroplane Dance: Whose Story?”, offering an interdisciplinary analysis of its representation of Indigenous performance. In different ways, the papers that comprise this micro-history of filmmaking in Borroloola also raise important questions about audiences for Indigenous community films – including the question of why this community is shifting away from a use of film to educate white Australia toward production primarily for the community’s use in transferring cultural knowledge from the older generation to the younger ones.

Questions of audience also arise in Nancy E. Wright’s “Models of Collaboration in the Making of Ten Canoes”. It looks at how the community at Ramingining employed a model very similar to the Borroloola people in the Ten Canoes project, which is, to date, the most expensive and arguably the most ambitious community filmmaking project in Australia. The paper asks: what happens when a community engages the feature narrative film format as a mode for expressing their collective story and law? Wright’s analysis of the models of collaboration employed in this project discusses the inevitable compromises that were made by both the filmmaker and the community in the process of translating Indigenous story and law into a commercial film for mainstream audiences, while also weighing up the gains and benefits of this model. .

The final section of the dossier is devoted to community projects that involve professional Indigenous filmmakers. This includes an interview with Darlene Johnson, who presented her short film Two Bob Mermaid (1996) at U-matic to YouTube and participated in several panel discussions. The interview by Therese Davis was recorded after the symposium; in it, Johnson speaks, in detail for the first time, about an extraordinary group of films she has made over a nine-year period with the Indigenous community in Ramingining in Arnhem Land. As with non-Indigenous filmmakers who have made films in this community (including Rolf de Heer), Johnson was invited there by the community, in this case by David Gulpilil and his family. In the course of the interview it becomes clear, however, that there are some important differences between her collaboration as an Aboriginal filmmaker with the community and others such as de Heer’s. Johnson talks about these differences in terms of specific Indigenous cultural forms of responsibility, trust and respect. She also talks about why, as a writer/director, she wants to move into producing so that she can develop a model of Indigenous filmmaking that can ensure a cultural perspective across the entire filmmaking process: pre-production, production and post-production. But, perhaps most importantly she expresses the great joy she experienced working with the community in Ramingining, which she considers a “privilege”.

As we said earlier, the scholarship in this field of media pays greater attention to community film and television produced in remote areas than others. The panel discussion at U-matic to YouTube about the ACMI/Koorie Heritage Trust’s Digital Storytelling projects shifted the focus to Indigenous communities in regional Victoria. These projects are supported by resources provided through the collaboration of a major screen institution (ACMI) and a state Indigenous cultural institution (Koorie Heritage Trust). The projects involve “low-tech”, digital video workshops conducted in Indigenous communities around different themes (youth, elders) and coordinated and run by professional Indigenous filmmaker, Kimba Thompson. The panel discussion reproduced in this dossier involved Thompson as well as Helen Simondson from ACMI and Jason Eades from Koorie Heritage Trust. It provides the background detail of this collaborative project and its aims. Thompson also shares some personal stories of working “in community”, as she puts it, that beautifully illustrate the interconnected nature of individuals’ stories in Indigenous communities. The discussion also shows how these stories are interwoven in and across the various projects over the years to create an important cultural history which, as Eades suggests, helps members of Indigenous communities in Victoria (especially younger members) “to connect to their culture”.

The final presentation at U-matic to YouTube and the final paper in this dossier is by Romaine Moreton. Her short film The Farm (2009), which was screened on ABC TV in the 2009 New Blak series of shorts, is an example of a professional Indigenous filmmaker making a work in her own community – in this instance, Moreton returning to Bodalla in regional New South Wales where she grew up. But the project also complicates the notion of community in important ways, because the fictional story (which draws on Moreton’s personal experience) is about an itinerant family of bean-pickers – a group typical of the Indigenous people who, as a result of ongoing forms of colonial displacement and dispossession, find themselves living on another Indigenous group’s land. Through a small girl’s eyes, the film tells a story about Indigenous remembrance and healing, as the child connects with the old people of this country where she now lives. Moreton explores these interconnections between communities, between past and present. She also discusses the healing effects of filmmaking itself: how a film can bring a community together and the flow-on effects and pleasures that creative work can produce – including more filmmaking!

Like many people who attended the symposium, our hope is that this event and the dossier it has produced will help to generate greater interest in the history of Indigenous community filmmaking and Indigenous film in general. As Trevor Graham said, the symposium was the beginning of the work of telling the history of Indigenous stories for film and television in Australia, a complex history that has evolved over three generations: from non-indigenous filmmakers in the 1970s and 1980s working with activists and communities on 16mm, to the filmmakers of the 1990s working to get Indigenous stories on television, to the new generation of Indigenous artists working across all sectors of the Australian media. As Indigenous film archivist Liz McNiven reminded us at U-matic to YouTube, it is a history that goes back to Indigenous activists such as Gary Foley, Lester and Gerry Bostock, Madeline McGrady, Walter Saunders, Marcia Langton, Freda Glyn and many others who helped to establish the training programs, institutions, media associations and networks that people like Sally Riley, Rachel Perkins, Erica Glyn and others have continued and developed. Those are the cultural sites and institutions that help to support the Australian Indigenous filmmakers who are developing new and diverse ways of connecting with culture through film. And what this symposium showed is that it is also a history of filmmakers working in and with communities from around the country, for communities are not only the source of Indigenous stories but the very heart of the Indigenous way of being that helps to distinguish this cinema and its unique worldview.

Works cited and consulted:

Batty, Philip, Governing Cultural Difference: The Incorporation of the Aboriginal Subject into the Mechanisms of Government with Reference to the Development of Aboriginal Radio and Television in Central Australia, (PhD thesis, School of Communication, Information and New Media, University of South Australia, 2003).

Batty, Philip and O’Regan, Tom, “An Aboriginal Television Culture: Issues, Strategies, Politics”, in Tom O’Regan, Australian Television Culture (St Leonards, NSW: Allen and Unwin: 1993)

Columpar, Corinn, Unsettling Sights: The Fourth World on Film (Carbondale: Southern Illonois University Press, 2010)

Davis, Therese and Moreton, Romaine, “Healing Wounds from the Past: Performing History, Loss and Memory in Whispering In Our Hearts: The Mowla Bluff Massacre”, Interventions: International Journal of Postcolonial Studies, forthcoming 2011.

Davis, Therese, “Indigenising Australian History: Contestation and Collaboration in First Australians”, Screening the Past, no.24, 2009.

Davis, Therese and Plate, Cassi, “Surrendering control: Two Laws as Collaborative Community Film-making: an interview with Carolyn Strachan and Alessandro Cavadini”. Studies in Documentary Film, vol. 2, no.2 (2008),pp.149-168.

Davis, Therese, “‘Remembering our ancestors’: Collaboration and Mediation of Aboriginal History in Ten Canoes”, Studies in Australasian Cinema, vol.1, no.1 (2007), pp.5-14.

Deger, Jennifer, Shimmering Screens: Making Media in an Aboriginal Community, (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2006)

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Ginsburg, Faye,  “Station Identification: The Aboriginal Programs Unit of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation”, Visual Anthropology Review, vol. 9, no.2, (1993), 92-98.

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Hinkson, Melinda, “New Media Projects at Yuendumu: inter-cultural engagement and self determination in an era of accelerated globalization”, Continuum: Journal of Media and Cultural Studies, vol. 16, no. 2, 201-220.

Langton, Marcia, ‘Well, I heard it on the radio and I saw it on the television’: An essay for the Australian Film Commission on the politics and aesthetics of filmmaking by and about Aboriginal people and things (North Sydney: Australian Film Commission, 1993).

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End Notes:

[1] U-matic to YouTube was co-convened by Therese Davis (Monash University) and Helen Simondson (ACMI) in consultation with the Centre for Australian Indigenous Studies, Monash University, The Koorie Heritage Trust (Victoria) and Dr Romaine Moreton (Umulliko Higher Education Research Centre of the University of Newcastle). It was supported by the Research Unit in Film, Culture and Theory at Monash University, ACMI, Centre for Indigenous Studies (Monash University), Arts Faculty of Monash University, and College of Arts, University of Western Sydney. The symposium is an outcome of the ARC-D project “Working Together:  Indigenous and Non-indigenous Collaboration in Australian Film and Literature” (2006-10) led by Professor Nancy E. Wright (University of Queensland), Dr Therese Davis (Monash University) and Dr Brooke Collins-Gearing (University of Newcastle

Very special thanks to Helen Simondson as co-convenor at ACMI for helping to make this event and its associated screenings accessible to a public audience and to Jessica Scott also from ACMI for her assistance “behind the scenes”. Thanks also to Jodi Brooks, Cassi Plate and Paul Collis for their help and support throughout the symposium, and to Jodi for the very helpful feedback on this introduction. To Liz McNiven for her much appreciated involvement in the symposium and for transcriptions of the audio recordings for the dossier. To John Bradley for negotiations with the Yanyuwa community. To Lynette Russell and Nancy Wright for generous grants from their centres. To Carolyn Strachan and Alessandro Cavadini for making the long trip from New York to Australia to share their unique experience. And finally to Faye Ginsburg who also travelled to Australia to join us, and whose sharp critical insights and boundless energy helped to sustain the rigour and liveliness of the event.

As with the symposium, the U-matic to YouTube dossier is dedicated to the memory of the “old people” of Borroloola, who, in the words of their countryman, Graham Friday, “worked so hard to hold onto their country, their history and the stories that they cherished”.

[2] For example, see: PAW Media and Communications http://www.pawmedia.com.au/archive/?u=archive (accessed 14 May 2011); Gary Foley’s The Koori History Website, http://www.kooriweb.org/foley/indexb.html (accessed 25 May 2011).

[3] For more information about these schemes, see Indigenous Broadcastinghttp://australia.gov.au/about-australia/australian-story/indigenous-broadcasting (accessed 25 may, 2011).

[4] See http://nitv.org.au/ (accessed 25 May 2011).

[5] See “Zorba the Greek Yolngu style”,

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O-MucVWo-Pw (accessed 11 May, 2010). For the background to this YouTube clip, see Yolngu Guya Djamamirr (Frank Djirrimbilpilwy Garawirritja, 2008), a short film that tells the story of how the YouTube clip launched the Chooky Dancers’ career as one of Australia’s most popular Indigenous dance groups and explains how the Chooky Dancers’ Zorba performance was created as a thank-you gift and tribute to the Greek-Australian carer of dancer Lionel Djirrimbilpilwy’s young, disabled daughter.

[6] IndigiTube: The Voice of Remote Australia, http://www.indigitube.com.au/ (accessed 11 May, 2010); For a sample video from the “US Mob” ACMI/Koorie Heritage Trust Digital Storytelling project see, Tim Church “Me and My Mob” (2006) http://www.acmi.net.au/dst_my_mob.htm (accessed 11 May 2011).

[7] Martin, 2005.

[8] See http://caama.com.au (accessed 10 May 2010). On Indigenous Media Associations and Rachel’s Perkins’ career, see Faye Ginsburg, “Embedded Aesthetics: Creating a Discursive Space for Indigenous Media”, Cultural Anthropology, vol.9, no.3, (1994), pp.365-382.

[9] Langton, 1993, p.23.

[10] Gallasch, 2007, v.

[11] Romaine Moreton, plenary paper, “The Farm and Indigenous Remembrance”, Found in Translation: Textual Explorations of Australia and the World, International conference, Monash University Prato Centre, 21-25 September, 2010.

[12] For more on this topic, see: Langton, 1993; Ginsburg, 2010: Davis, 2009 and Davis and Moreton, forthcoming 2011.

[13] See UNESCO.ORG,  http://www.google.com.au/search?hl=en&client=firefox-a&hs=Sya&rls=org.mozilla%3Aen-US%3Aofficial&biw=1280&bih=589&q=UNESCO%27s+development+of+a+Convention+to+Safeguard+Intangible+
(accessed 25 May 2011).

[14] Elsaesser and Hagener, 2010, 176.

[15] Ginsburg, 2008, 127.

About the Author

Therese Davis and Romaine Moreton

About the Authors

Therese Davis

Dr Therese Davis is Head of the Film and Television Studies programme at Monash University. She is the author of "The Face on the Screen: Death, Recognition and Spectatorship" (Intellect, 2004) and co-author with Felicity Collins of "Australian Cinema After Mabo" (Cambridge University Press, 2004). She is currently working on a large research project looking at collaborations between Australian Indigenous and non-Indigenous filmmakers and writers, funded by the Australian Research Council (with Nancy Wright at University of Queensland and Brooke Collins-Gearing at The University of Newcastle.

Romaine Moreton

Dr Romaine Moreton is from the Goenpul nation of Stradbroke Island. She specialises in Indigenous philosophy and knowledge with a focus on media technology and communication, informed by her experience as a filmmaker and performance artist. She is currently a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Umulliko Higher Education Research Centre, The University of Newcastle. She has published on Australian Indigenous film in "Artlink Magazine" and "Interventions: International Journal of Post-Colonial Studies" . Her most recent short film "The Farm" was screened on ABC TV in 2009 in their "New Blak" series.View all posts by Therese Davis and Romaine Moreton →