When Alec Doomadgee first began filming special moments in his son Zach’s childhood, like chasing goannas and going to the footy, he couldn’t have imagined the labour of love would one day receive a standing ovation in New York.
But that’s exactly what happened when Zach’s Ceremony, the coming-of-age documentary about Zachary Doomadgee, which had its beginnings in the footage shot by Alec, was screened at the Margaret Mead Film Festival in New York in October.
Now the documentary will open in Australian cinemas next week.
Doomadgee, an actor, Aboriginal activist and father of four, says he began shooting footage for the documentary in 2005.
“I always had this vision of doing a film about the world that I lived in, that I was working and living in,” he says. “At that stage I was living in Brisbane and working for 98.9FM as a program manager. I was a single dad raising my children and I’d go back home to do ceremonies and what not and be around my family and go hunting and fishing.
“It was a unique world that I was living in and I decided I wanted to make a film about that and I wanted to show that Indigenous fathers were capable of being good men and good dads and carrying our culture strong.
“It started because I really wanted to show the importance of culture and the unique beauty it has within it, how exotic it was and how it stands up against any other cultures around the world.”
In 2009 Doomadgee met film director Aaron Petersen while working on a production for NITV. They teamed up and Zach’s Ceremony quickly took on the feel of a cinema epic.
Since its debut late last year, the doco has been leaving film festival audiences around the world moved to tears.
Doomadgee says Zach, the eldest of his two sons, was a natural in front of the camera.
“I think the camera loves him,” he says. “Zach is a very big personality. As a kid he was always the loudest one in the mob. He was even the clown of the family, always making jokes and carrying on like that.
“When the camera switched on, he always wanted to be in front of the camera.”
The documentary captures important moments in Zach’s life, including his initiation into manhood.
It also captures his struggles with identity and racism and his relationship with his father.
Doomadgee, a descendent of the Waanyi, Garawa and Gangalidda tribes from the Aboriginal community of Doomadgee in the Gulf of Carpentaria, says the filmmakers had access to Indigenous ceremonies not previously captured for a movie project.
He says as well as showing Zach’s journey from child to man — Zach is now 18 and has his sights set on a career in music — it was also a journey for him as a father.
“I think I learnt to be a lot more patient and a little bit more flexible,” Doomadgee says. “As a dad , ’ve always known from a young age that there is no right or wrong in being a father — you just have to be there at times when they need you and you have to be there when something goes down.
“Be there when they have their first soccer game, their first rugby game. Be there when they fall over and skin their knees or they have their first Little Athletics race or something.
“You’ve just got to make sure that they know that you care enough to be around them for important events in their lives and that’s what being a parent is all about.”
- Zach’s Ceremony opens in cinemas across Australia from March 30.
By Wendy Caccetta