Larissa Behrendt, “Under Skin, In Blood” (2015)
Ryan Griffen, “You Turn” (2015)
Kelrick Martin, “Karroyul” (2015)
Tracey Rigney, “Man Real” (2015)
Dylan River, “Nulla Nulla” (2015)
Ben Southwell, “On Stage” (2015)
Dot West, “Maap Mordak” (2015)
I had the good fortune of a free ticket to see these seven short films written, directed and/or produced by Aboriginal Australian film-makers and writers. All these shorts cover a range of issues faced by indigenous Australian characters in various urban, suburban and rural contexts in short dramatic narratives. In the order that the films are listed from Behrendt’s film to Dot West’s, the dramas are as follows: a woman living alone holds desperately to memories of happier times with her husband and son at home before asbestos dust in their mining community robbed both men of their health and lives; a man on the run from police over a bungled robbery discovers two unexpected passengers in his getaway car who force him into a life-or-death situation when his car crashes; a young woman mourning the loss of her mother reconnects with her people’s past through the unlikely medium of an abandoned farmhouse; an ex-con tattooing his friend’s leg taunts the naïve pal about his supposed lack of cojones; a rookie white police officer must negotiate the delicate unspoken mores of a rural Aboriginal community in order to break up a fight between two women; a transsexual cabaret singer, lucky in love, fame and fortune, still yearns for her father’s acceptance and love; and a young school-girl teased about her fair skin by Aboriginal kids at school draws hope and strength from her grandmother’s stories and fount of wisdom.
Technically the films are very well made and the acting is very good. “Karroyul” could probably stretch for another 10 – 15 minutes for a deeper and more satisfying treatment of the young woman’s dilemma and alienation, how she comes to terms with her mother’s passing and perhaps how she is entrusted with carrying a legacy to future generations, so that the film becomes open-ended rather than closed off in a tight loop. The cinematography is very beautiful and is epic in ambition, and it seems a shame that the film is so short and its plot and characters sketchily developed almost to the point of being stereotypes. The two police officers in “Nulla Nulla” need another one or two little episodes that bring out aspects of their unique mismatched pairing as older wise Aboriginal man and younger rookie whitefella naïf that riffs on the good-cop / bad-cop routine. Behrendt’s film is the saddest piece with its suggestion that the asbestos mine that blighted the woman’s family was kept open mainly to keep the local Aboriginal community firmly under the thumb of both government and the mine operator and not be allowed to determine its own economic destiny.
“You Turn” is unexpectedly powerful for the choice the robber is forced to make when his car crashes and one of his passengers is thrown out onto the road. “Man Real” is dark and serious for its questioning of macho sexuality and the role that violence plays in shoring up men’s fragile identities as men, all under an apparently light-hearted and jokey veneer. Indeed, quite a few films in this collection have a common theme of a crisis of masculinity and what being a man means for Aboriginal men living mostly Westernised lives in unfulfilling urban, suburban and even rural environments. “You Turn” and “Man Real” address this particular problem head-on but even other films like “Karroyul”, “On Stage” and “Under Skin, In Blood” allude to the issue obliquely: the young woman’s uncle in “Karroyul” is a bit ineffectual in encouraging his niece to reconnect with country; the father of the cabaret singer finds his offspring’s changed sexuality an affront to his identity; and the men in the mining community are denied self-determination and are forced to find identity and fulfilment through mining work at the cost of their health.
Other common themes include continuity through the generations, and the threat that losing a parent or a child can make to breaking this continuity, as expressed in the sorrow and despair of the lonely widow staring at the blurry TV screen in “Under Skin, In Blood”. On the other hand, the characters in “Maap Mordak” seem rather stereotyped: Granny is always available to offer wisdom and comfort to her unhappy granddaughter but doesn’t actually offer the girl any tips to resist the local kids who might turn into nasty bullies the next time she meets them.
Altogether these seven films are fine examples of Aboriginal Australian film-making and writing talent, and I hope the people who made them have even greater ambitions to write major film and TV series screenplays about modern indigenous Australian dramas and issues, and turn them into reality.