This year’s Sydney Film Festival is shining a light on Indigenous storytelling by showcasing First Nations filmmakers and storytellers from around the world.
A range of films are being shown, most of which are documentaries.
“We really want to encourage First Nations filmmaking and filmmakers,” said Festival Programmer Jenny Neighbour.
“We think there are some extraordinary stories and cultural perspectives to show and to be heard.”
Sydney Film Festival has been featuring Indigenous films for nearly a decade and Ms Neighbour said this year they have branched out into other countries’ Indigenous filmmakers too.
“It’s a really strong year [for First Nations films] this year. We have Dark Place which is Australia’s first ever Indigenous horror anthology,” Ms Neighbour said.
“This is an area that can only grow.”
Seven documentaries are being shown, covering topics such as sport, the environment, women and Indigenous people around the globe.
The Final Quarter follows Adam Goodes’ last years as a footballer and examines the discrimination he faced, particularly toward the end of his career.
Made entirely from archival footage, Director Ian Darling AO said he felt he didn’t need to shoot any additional footage as everyone had already revealed themselves.
“I saw over that period [in Adam Goodes’ career] that everyone had an opinion, and no one was really listening,” Mr Darling said.
“Adam spoke at length during this period and the biggest problem was that we as a nation didn’t listen to him.”
Mr Darling said Mr Goodes was often misquoted and misunderstood during this time despite how profoundly and graciously he acted.
“Rather than getting him to say it all again I’m trying to use a mechanism where we actually go back and listen to what he said,” Mr Darling said.
After meeting Mr Goodes and discussing plans for the film in late 2017, Mr Goodes gave his complete blessing to Mr Darling.
In November 2018, Mr Goodes came to see the film in its finishing stages.
“It was incredibly difficult for him to watch, and it was incredibly difficult to share with him as well because I knew that it was going to bring up a lot of pain,” Mr Darling said.
“The film pretty clearly highlights this is what racism looks like, this is what racism sounds like, and this is what racism feels like from an Indigenous perspective.”
Mr Darling has partnered with Reconciliation Australia and others to distribute the film to every school and sporting club in Australia along with information packages to tackle the film’s content.
“The real challenge going forward will be ensuring we have a whole new conversation and that we don’t go back to the old conversation,” Mr Darling said.
From an environmental standpoint, there are two documentaries that explore the Indigenous response to climate change: Warburdar Bununu: Water Shield and Saving Seagrass.
Warburdar Bununu: Water Shield follows the journey of a young Garrwa song man who wants to protect his homeland from mining through ancient song and dance.
Saving Seagrass questions whether Traditional Owners can look after country by adopting modern renewable energy solutions. The documentary also investigates the potential of seagrass as part of the climate solution, as it can capture carbon dioxide 35 times more efficiently than an entire rainforest.
There will be two Australian Indigenous-focused documentaries being screened, both following the journeys of two extraordinary First Nations individuals.
She Who Must Be Obeyed Loved follows the life Indigenous media legend Alfreda Glynn, the woman who founded Imparja TV and the Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association (CAAMA).
Directed by her daughter, Erica Glynn, this film showcases the significant contribution Alfreda Glynn has made to the Australian media landscape.
“[At CAAMA] they were broadcasting in languages well before it became a fashionable thing,” Ms Glynn said.
The filmmaker said CAAMA’s ground-breaking work helped to bring Indigenous issues to the frontline of Australian media.
“[Indigenous media is] important because our voices have been silenced for so long,” Ms Glynn said.
“It’s a yarn worth telling.”
Another documentary, In My Blood It Runs, highlights the division between Indigenous education and Western education as it follows 10-year-old Dujuan. Dujuan can speak two Indigenous languages and is a child-healer, but he is failing in the Western school system.
Other Indigenous cultures will also be showcased at this year’s Film Festival as one documentary tells the story of Merata Mita; the first and only Maori woman to both write and direct a dramatic feature film. Merata: How Mum Decolonised the Screen is directed by Mita’s son Heperi Mita.
Another feature explores what it is like to navigate the world as a First Nations Canadian woman and is inspired by the lived experience of co-director Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers. The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open is a story about motherhood and self-care and is also co-directed by Kathleen Hepburn.
A collection of feature shorts is also being shown at the festival to showcase upcoming Indigenous horror film writers and directors. The collection is called Dark Place and pinpoints the unsettling reality of Indigenous lives in post-colonial Australia through the horror lens.
One of the directors of the horror anthology, Kodie Bedford, said her short, Scout, is a tale of black female revenge.
“Or as I like to say, Kill Bill with blackfellas,” Ms Bedford said.
The filmmaker said she wanted to base her film around how black women are treated in the media and society, and to empower Indigenous women as it’s not something she sees very often on the mainstream screen.
Ms Bedford also said Indigenous filmmakers bring a unique perspective to filmmaking.
“We really bring a great lens to cinema…we’re really good at telling a yarn,” Ms Bedford said.
The director said she is very fortunate that past Indigenous filmmakers have paved the way for the next generations to explore other genres and paths to storytelling.
“All the people before me have laid this groundwork of telling the truth about this country,” Ms Bedford said.
The filmmaker said she often feels a good kind of pressure at having the privilege to tell Indigenous stories in a new way by experimenting with form and genre.
“Art can change the world. I’m very aware of the privilege I have because I get to make these films,” Ms Bedford said.
“It’s a really exciting time for black stories.”
Europe also gets some screen time in the Festival’s Indigenous space as one documentary, Honeyland, is an Indigenous narrative about Europe’s last female bee hunter in a remote Macedonian community.
Documentary The Miracle of the Little Prince, about popular children’s book The Little Prince, explores how the book is assisting in the preservation of Indigenous culture and languages. To date, the children’s book has been translated to over 300 languages including an Indigenous Aztec language (Pipil) and the language of South Africa’s Indigenous Berber people (Tamazight).
The Sydney Film Festival 2019 is on June 6-15. Head to https://www.sff.org.au/for more information.
By Hannah Cross