Please note: this story contains references to and images of people who have died.

Sydney Film Festival (SFF) returns in 2020 for its 67th year to premier both domestic and international world-class films.

Running from June 10 to June 21, the festival will be a virtual event this year. Australians will have the opportunity to buy tickets and packages to experience the festival from the comfort of their couch.

The program features two deadly Aboriginal films, Our Law and The Skin of Others.

The Skin of Others tells the story of Douglas Grant, an Aboriginal World War I solider, and features the final performance of Murrungun actor, Balang Tom E. Lewis.

Born in North Queensland in 1885, Grant had a life which saw him in the roles of journalist, soldier, intellectual and musician. His journey connects with historical figures such as Franz Ferdinand, Adolf Hitler, and Henry Lawson.

The film is directed, screenwritten and produced by Tom Murray and features Australian actor Max Cullen and artist Archie Roach.

“This film has gone through peaks and troughs. Peaks where we have been in North Queensland and talked to amazing Elders out there, people like Ernie Grant and Ernie Raymont. They are marvellous sources of knowledge and wisdom” Murray said.

“To big troughs …. We had to put the film aside for around six months before we could move forward with it.”

Balang Tom E. Lewis. Photo supplied.

Through Grant’s story and input from Lewis and Roach, the story explores the role of ‘bridge builders’.

“[They are] people who were moving between cultures in order to try and explain certain things, about Aboriginal culture and our history,” Murray said.

“It is a very fraught place and a place that really … takes a lot out of people. It is a challenging place but I have incredible respect for those people who do that.”

Murray hopes The Skin of Others inspires people to move forward in empathy and Reconciliation.

“I think what Archie says at the end, when he says that we are trying to create a future that we are all authors of. The aspirations of the film are all in that statement of Archie’s,” he said.

“Stories have been denied, and [we must] now accept them as bits of our history.”

“The film is about empathy … it is about putting yourself in the skin of others; all others. What I would hope is that people in general, particularly in this time of COVID-19, have a greater sense of empathy for others through listening to this guy’s story.”

SSF’s second First Nations film, Our Law, is a documentary which follows the journey of Western Australia’s first Indigenous-run police station in Warakurna, 330km west of Uluru.

The film follows the journey of Noongar woman, Sergeant Wendy Kelly, and Noongar man, Senior Sergeant Revis Ryder, as the pair learn language and culture.

Directed by Cornel Ozies and supported by Screenwest and NITV, Our Law examines the fractured relationship between the WA Police force and Indigenous communities.

“There is a broken relationship between police, in general, and Aboriginal communities, and this is a case study of how to police properly in remote communities,” Ozies said.

Prior to filming, Ozies and his team travelled to Warakurna to establish relationships with the local community.

“When we first started to get into the process of filming, we went out a few months before filming just to meet the community, meet the Elders and all the stakeholders who would be invested in what we were trying to achieve. To get their involvement and their feel for what story they wanted to tell,” he said.

“With any of our mob, if you don’t invest, [don’t] connect, you aren’t going to get that full story. You are going to get the topsoil level story, and not what is underneath.”

The Warakurna community was also consulted heavily post-production, previous to the film’s release.

“We gave a community screening; we were never going to let to documentary go out into the wider world until the community was happy with it. They were always a part of the process,” Ozies said.

“Even though we only have a few members of the community on-screen, it had to get signed off by the community and also, by the police.”

During filming, Yamatji woman, Ms Clarke, was killed by a police officer in Geraldton, WA and 19-year-old Kumanjayi Walker was killed by police in Yuendumu, NT.

Ozies recalled the sadness within the team at the time, and the urgency they felt to have their message heard.

“We needed to get the story out because they are doing something right here in this community. If we can get people to see this, there might be some policy change, or something that prevents those situations from happening,” he said.

“At the heart of it, the story is about respect and understanding. What makes this police station different, is first of all the two officers are Indigenous and they are actually learning the language of the land.”

Our Law will also premier on NITV on June 22 at 8:30pm.

For more information on SSF and to purchase a ticket to the festival, visit: https://www.sff.org.au.

By Rachael Knowles