hybrid lives, hybrid dreams

keith gallasch sees some deadly yarns from fti

CORNEL OZIES’ BOLLYWOOD DREAMING STARTS OUT LIKE PURE BOLLYWOOD—AN ATTRACTIVE YOUNG WOMAN DANCING ELEGANTLY AND FLUENTLY IN TRADITIONAL INDIAN DRESS TO A HEAVY, PULSING BEAT ON SAND BEFORE A WIDE ROCKY OUTCROP. CUT TO A YOUNG GIRL IN PLAITS AND SHORTS SITTING ON THE TOP OF A SKATE BOARD RAMP, TELLING US IN VOICEOVER: “I’M DIFFERENT FROM OTHER GIRLS IN BROOME ‘CAUSE I SKATE, I DO BOXING, KICK BOXING AND LIKE I’M THE ONLY PERSON IN BROOME IN LOVE WITH BOLLYWOOD…IT’S PRACTICALLY MY WORLD.”

Bollywood Dreaming (8 mins) is a thoroughly confident short documentary about an engaging, ambitious girl, Jedda Rae Hill, daughter of an African-American father and an Aboriginal mother from Broome. When not addressing herself to camera about her dreams—to be a skate board hero, a WAAPA student, a Hollywood actress, a Hindi speaker and Bollywood star—she and her mother bicker gently about the risks that boxing and skateboarding threaten to a youthful complexion. In between we see Jedda skateboarding, shot mostly below the knee, emphasising the speed and her pleasure in it, and pulling back for the odd fall. An extended Bollywood episode confirms how much she’s learned from watching the films over and over.

Bollywood Dreaming ends on a slightly sad note. For all her ambition and potent sense of self, Jedda muses, “I doubt they’ll be hiring any Aboriginal African-Americans. But it’s a dream.” This short film is perfectly constructed and intimately realised, director Cornel Ozies doubtless benefiting from the considerable experience of the film’s writer and director’s mentor, Mitch Torres, and the expressive camera work of David Tindale.

Two films deal with the Dreaming. Karla (writer-director Karrie Anne Keating, 7 mins), the story of how fire came to the Nyungars of the Pinjarra region, uses a mixture of traditional dance, story-telling around a camp fire and paintings, some of which are enlivened by simple animation. It’s Kelton Pell’s telling that is the film’s great strength: first we hear him, later we see him in close-up, then in the glow of the fire and finally engaging his young audience. Rob Bygott’s cinematography works the play of light and dark adroitly and Kimberley West’s editing maintains the film’s momentum as it shifts between formats. In Who Paintin’ Wandjina (8 mins), three senior Aboriginal women from the Kimberley region learn of a young graffiti artist who is covering Perth with images of Wnadjina, the spirit who came to earth in the Dreaming to give the people their law. Writer-director Taryne Laffer cleverly juxtaposes the voice of the artist (he remains anonymous) with the three onscreen women speaking in turn about the damage they feel the graffiti will do to their culture. It generates some sympathy for both sides of the argument even though the promise of resolution seems unlikely.

There’s no doubt that the graffiti artist’s work is inventive, often subtly placed and rich in colour. He originally thought he was doing the Aboriginal people a favour by spreading the image. But, as the women say, “Where is the spirit, where is the land, where is the story?” And the rich colourings offend because traditionally Wandjini are painted only in black, yellow, red and white. A “watering down” of the image’s power and meaning is feared, especially since, as one of the women explains, her people have no intellectual copyright in the image. Mark Parish’s cinematography alternates between the relative stillness of the women and rapid flow of graffiti images (editors Kimberly West, Rob Bygott), emphasising their viral spread.

Writer-director Mandy Corunna’s Wrong Way (7 mins) is straightforward documentary storytelling about teenagers who fall in love not knowing that they’re cousins (a result of the way families had been separated). Her mother forces the lovers apart but soon they elope, baby in arms, heading by bush track 87km to New Norcia but are deterred by pursuers. Eventually they find another town to live in and raise 12 children, but the girl’s mother always fears some kind of payback. The film is narrated onscreen by a descendant and reinforced with old photographs and simple re-enactments. Most affecting is the story of the journey told by the young wife, recorded in her old age in 1999.

Your’e Not Playing That! (4.30 mins) is as obvious as its title. A little boy in an AFL football-mad WA household would prefer to play rugby, much to his father’s horror, not least because he’s named his son Alex after his footballer hero Alex Jesaulenko. In a brief reverie, the boy imagines himself as a rugby superman knocking down an opponent (his father as another super hero) on his way to a touchdown. If the tone is comic, the father’s anger is nonetheless palpable. But the boy’s mother is sympathetic. Cut to a professional rugby player in a dressing room, snapping awake from this childhood recollection and about to play before his parents for the first time. The family await the start of the match, full of anticipation, except for dad watching football on the mobile. Mum sets him right. The end. Writer Kelli-Cross’ film is feelgood fun, given a little dark oomph by Trevor Jamieson as dad.

Bollywood Dreaming is clearly the best film in this edition of Deadly Yarns, not only because it’s subtly and expressively crafted, but because it focuses on a distinctive subject—a young Aboriginal woman indentifying with male sport and Indian film in her search for a place in the world. It’s about the options for making a life, a hybrid life, drawing on a distant culture, and no stranger than the Indigenous appropriation of country music and hip hop. Who Paintin’ this Wandjina is also a strong film, especially after several viewings. It uses the beauty of art—original, spiritual Indigenous art and its dextrous graffiti copies—and the deftness of its filming to explore the contentious and emotionally disturbing subject of cultural ownership. These films look like promising career beginnings. Collectively they confirm the ways in which Australian Aboriginal people live hybrid lives, and have hybrid dreams while their Dreaming dreams on.

Deadly Yarns 3, Indigenous Short Films for ABC TV’s Message Sticks; developed and produced with the assistance of Screen West, Lottery West, ABC TV and FTI [Film & Television Institute WA], 2007

RealTime issue #85 June-July 2008

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 June 2008