Mirrors on Aboriginality

Erik Roberts: Colourised Film Festival 2003

“The white man can’t tell our stories about our people, we’ve got to get out there and do it ourselves.” Bonita Mabo

“A gathering to celebrate Indigenous screen culture” was staged in Brisbane’s South Bank Piazza by Uniikup Productions/ Murriimage throughout NAIDOC Week. Unlike the current 12th Brisbane International Film Festival, which this year has no Aboriginal films, the relatively small-scale Colourised Film Festival actively engaged audiences through art, dance, song and filmmaking. Even more distinctively, public admission to the festival was free.

‘Murri-style’ screen culture has little to do with the Tinseltown image of Queensland’s film industry. Community-focused, family-oriented and above all personal, the Colourised Film Festival showcased Indigenous filmmaking in several genres while fostering non-indigenous people’s understanding of ‘Aboriginality’ in all its forms.

Providing about 30 hours of continuous screenings over 3 days, with a production seminar and screen forum; student video workshop; a special tribute to the late, respected journalist and activist, John Newfong and a closing night awards presentation, the autonomy, scale and quality of the free community event was impressive and instructive.

Loss and recovery of identity and relationship was a common theme in many of the short dramas and comedies screened in the circular, multi-purpose South Bank Piazza on the large daylight screen. Ivan Sen’s stylish, black and white noir piece, Warm Strangers, opened the festival. Its tense treatment of the last desperate minutes in a young Aboriginal man’s life set the tone. Sen’s other early films-Wind, Tears and Shifting Shelter 2 were also shown throughout the week. Sen’s achingly beautiful first feature, Beneath Clouds, was given the honour of closing the festival on Friday night. Black Man Down (Sam Watson) and Round Up (Rima Tamou) added to the range of perspectives in the non-documentary section. However, Wayne Blair took the honours in the 2003 Indigenous Film Awards for his hilarious Kathy, a clever spoof about a lovable but nutty middle-aged woman who thinks she’s Cathy Freeman. Also directed by Blair, Jubulj (which means fair-haired Aboriginal woman) effortlessly narrates a complex, psychological story of a young woman whose Aboriginality suddenly ‘wakes up’ inside her. Black Talk, by the same director, was also screened.

Selected mainstream documentaries included 2 films by Danielle MacLean, Bonita Mabo: For Who I Am, and Turning Tides of the Brisbane River, Leah Purcell’s Black Chicks Talking and the Human Rights Commission’s Bringing Them Home.

“Mirror, Mirror…How do images of Aboriginal people impact on society?” was the title of a forum facilitated by well-known local Murri academic and activist, Mary Graham Kombumerri. A panel consisting of Colleen Lavelle, Douglas Watkin and Jeannette Fabrila, discussed ‘the image’ as a process of both mystification and demystification of Aboriginality. Some key distinctions between Indigenous and non-indigenous production styles and audiovisual priorities emerged, demonstrating the potential and need for further public discussion.

The closing night ceremony included a multi-layered music-video of the recent Sorry Day March across the river from City Hall to Musgrave Park in South Brisbane, produced as part of 4AAA Murri Radio’s Video Workshop by young Indigenous media trainees. Founder and director of 4AAA, Tiga Bayles, underlined the need for “positive images of Aboriginal people” and confirmed that “we’re very much committed to next year’s festival, and the year after that, and the year after that.” Representing the Australian Film, Television and Radio School, whose Myer Family Indigenous Scholarship has assisted the careers of Sen, Blair, Perkins and other award-winning Indigenous film makers, Alex Daw was equally optimistic about the future of the event. Similarly, Zane Trow, Artistic Director of South Bank’s Public Art Program, was “happy to be working with Chris Peacock, having been involved since the early stages of the project.” He hopes the festival “will grow and mature over the next 3-5 years to become a significant national event.”

The cultural success of the Colourised Film Festival was primarily due the fact that it has established the basis of a working organisational formula and a positive, cross-cultural public presence on which to build.

Colourised Film Festival 2003, Screen Change, South Bank, Brisbane, July 8, 10, 11

RealTime issue #56 Aug-Sept 2003 pg. 18

© Eric Roberts; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 August 2003