Thursday, October 9, 2014

"The archive of the self and deconstructing the national archive," Ozdox Forum, August, 2014.

My talk, 'the archive of the self and deconstructing the national archive' – was part of  "Maestros of the Archive: The Art of Archival Documentary", Ozdox Forum, August, 2014: "Gathering, manipulating and presenting archival material is an art form, one that is sometimes overlooked. Through archival film making, a seasoned story teller can tap into our nostalgic tendencies, our memories and collective subconscious with precision and eloquence"In this Ozdox Forum I presented along with Paul Clarke, Shane McNeil and Nicole O’Donohue.  Curator was Brendan Palmer, with moderator Ruth Hessey.

The focus of my talk is: what image do you choose to represent or communicate an idea, or a feeling; how do you work with your own subjective memory…and how might your own personal archive link to public history - the historical record of a nation; and where does your intention and ethics play out in all of this?  

Also I want to note the difference between approaching the archive as a source of shots for a film, in contrast to thinking about the archive as metaphor: that is, reading the grain of the archive, AND reading against the grain of the archive – to hear the whispers in the archive, to see the problem of the archive and what’s not there; and to think about the nature of power in the production of the archive itself. For instance filmmaker Claude Lanzmann, with his 1985 10 hour documentary on the Holocaust, Shoah – refutes the archive. 

Lanzmann reads the grain of the Holocaust archive (which is vast) and he rejects it. No archival footage of the camps. Nothing. For him it is an ethical decision. Lanzmann knew his intention so well ...he honed it over the 11 years of production – to create Shoah as its own unique archive, with a completely different way of representing and understanding history and what happened on the killing fields.

So back to intention – that is, trying to understand your intention with each film, sequence or image; I want to unpack my intention in several films I have made since the 1970s till now. Some colleagues who worked on these films are here tonight and I would like to acknowledge them - Megan McMurchy: co director and co producer For Love or Money, Karen Pearlman, editor Island Home Country, Erika Addis cinematographer on For Love or Money and To the Other Shore and Jane Castle additional camera on To the Other Shore; and in absentia Martha Ansara for Film For Discussion and co-filmmakers on For Love or Money: Margot Nash and Margot Oliver.

I want to start with Sophia Turkiewicz’s recent film Once My Mother – 

surely a case study in the Art of the Archival Documentary. In it we see a lucid example of intention, and the relevance of duration to a filmmaker’s internal process and filmmaking method. I refer here to the b&w 16mm footage Sophia filmed of her mother while at film school in 1976 – the film she couldn’t make then – and the crucial, integrative moment of her return decades later for a 2nd look. Sophia says: “Looking back, I lacked the skill, the maturity and the perspective to do my mother’s story justice. The rushes lay in film cans in my hot attic cupboard for over thirty years… waiting until I was ready…”

I want to link Sophia’s ‘found footage’ to Film For Discussion, by the Sydney Women’s Film Group, a film we completed in 1974, with Ansara directing and me co-scripting and performing. It’s an improvisational drama documentary about a young woman in a crisis of identity around family, boyfriend and work – it shows the contradictions around the position of women at the time. I play the girl. Or am I playing myself? Martha composed several shots in mirrors. This clip is a 1 minute extract from the excruciatingly long 3minute mirror shot of the girl – just after a horrible family argument at dinner, with an aggressive drunken father and a submissive mother, and a boyfriend who just doesn't get it.

(BTW most of my clips tonight are from films made on 16mm 4;3 not HD – ripped from DVDs – and I am no maestro of ripping; and remember Film For Discussion was made over 43 years ago…almost half a century!)

 Like Sophia's footage of her mother, this mirror shot was emotionally too much for me to deal with at the time, yet it became foundational in my subsequent turn to a kind of poetic, found-footage, autobiographical film-making style – developing an ‘archive of the self’; Sophia buries her footage in an attic, but my family crisis plays out on the massive screen in the State Theatre during the documentary finals at the 1974 Sydney Film Festival. This moment is a site of instability – where, as the film’s subject, my intention is not yet realized. This is what I mean by duration – how long it takes to gain insight into one’s intention with a piece of archival footage – as an internal process of the psyche.

My next project began after Film For Discussion in 1975 as a drama script on illegal abortion – about a confused pregnant girl, her broken love affair and the police raids on the abortion clinics of the late 60s; I got a grant from the Experimental Film Fund for this project but was unable to make that film as a drama – instead I worked instinctively gathering sequences from films I had acted in, or worked on, weaving them together with my home movies and photographs – into a story of four generations of an Australian family. This became my documentary film Maidens, completed in 1978. Little did I realise the repercussions of using women’s naked bodies to represent the emancipatory, utopian impulse-of women’s liberation.

CLIP 2 MAIDENS a: 1:14 (this is not the clip I screened...)

In fact, my intention was not at all clear to me at the time – apart from the filmmaking method being some attempt to mend or reflect on the broken parts of my life. It was a time of intense personal crisis and huge social change: ‘free love’, the Vietnam war, conscription and my brother’s death in a head on car crash. Maidens was explosive – bearing family secrets in public…partly triggered by the psycho-drama of Film For Discussion, and the impact of feminism’s notion that the personal is political

Feminist historian Sheila Rowbotham writes of : “the contradiction …between private and public, personal and impersonal as the fissure in women’s consciousness through which revolt erupts”. My subsequent film-making method unfolded from inside the split-self of the Film For Discussion mirror shot – perhaps as a way of navigating self and society – unravelling hidden secrets and finding footage that viscerally expresses breakdown, revolt and transformation.

Also, being exposed to a range of international women’s films we screened at the Sydney Filmmakers Co-op Cinema and Women’s Film Festivals around the country…where we programmed the early films of great women filmmakers like Agnes Varda, Maya Deren, Su Freidrich, and Helma Sanders Brahms – many of them re-configuring their archives to make films with an intense female subjectivity.

Like Turkiewicz was drawn back to the footage she filmed of her mother, I was drawn back to that footage of the girl in Film For Discussion to take a 2nd look and re-use the footage in Maidens. From a film-making craft perspective I was developing a remix or inter-textual film practice – marking a dynamic shift from being passive subject to becoming the agent of transformation.
Here’s the mirror shot remix from Film For Discussion to Maidens offering what writer Frances Lionnet calls “a space of possibility”…where the filmmaker sees her own personal history implicated in larger social processes.

CLIP 3 MAIDENS b: 1.26
              For Love or Money, our feature documentary about the history of women and work in Australia, begun in 1979 and completed in 1983 – reflects an organic shift to link the personal to larger social processes – by doing extensive oral histories and research combing archives across the nation. In all the archives we researched, as in society at large, women were stereotyped in fixed roles – in the family and in the workforce; but how to represent the known documented stories of revolt, like the struggle for the vote and equal pay, or the hidden work of women’s unpaid work in the home as wives and mothers – in images – when so few existed in the archive? In For love or money’s closing sequence you might get a sense of the visual, poetic metaphors we developed to read against the grain of the national archive. Here we re-pose the film’s main thesis – still relevant to now – 3 decades later:  

CLIP 4 FOR LOVE OR MONEY: 2:49 (this is not the clip I screened; it's coming!)

My next documentary To the Other Shore began as a diary film about motherhood, filming on super 8 starting in 1986 – and taking 10 years – collecting images from a range of archives, local and international, and editing them with my home movies and dramatized sequences. The method and structure of the film was drawn from Freud’s ideas around the ‘work of mourning – remembering, repeating and working through’. I wanted to suggest the dark side of motherhood, with its irruptions from the unconscious and the way the external world of war and violence, could penetrate the fragile membrane of a mother’s mind – especially a breast-feeding mother.  

Anne Tenney in To The Other Shore 1996 (pic: Sandy Edwards)

A key question about intention when working with intimate family footage like this is ethics  – who might this footage harm? When you film a baby, a toddler…they can’t give permission. But what about when they become adults…do they feel violated by the footage? How do they relate to their image being appropriated for the filmmaker’s tale?  Consider the beautiful footage of my baby daughter, filmed in the golden light of afternoon while I prepare the evening meal…with its voice over about suicide and maternal ambivalence.  How does this affect her, or others in the family – then, and now?

And finally to my film Island Home Country, completed in 2008, where the ethical question on the use of the archive and working with the Tasmanian Aboriginal community and their protocols becomes the very foundation of that film’s process. This film is about my memories, growing up in Tasmania, and knowing no Aboriginal history or culture. Here is an island where the violent race war, (some call it attempted genocide, others ethnic cleansing) has been so repressed that approaching this terrain is a mine-field – whichever way you turn; the existing archive of documents, photos and film has been produced by the victors of that war. The present day Tasmanian Aboriginal community do not welcome ‘outsiders’ using that material about them.  How to proceed? The film takes 5 years of negotiation, of edits and re-filming. The Aboriginal community are crystal clear: don’t make a film about us, make a film about you, your mob. It’s here I became “the other” and experienced “instability’ around being white. For this internal feeling I created a visual metaphor – "the white ghost of Australian history"  with a remix sequence from another film I had acted in earlier.


 So gaining insight into intention, timing and the ethical frame is a process and I think it’s fundamental to the art of the archival documentary.

Finally a few closing words by Sophia Turkiewicz. She is truly a maestro of the ‘archive of the self’ and its intricate linkages to international archives of memory and history.

Thinking back, it was fortunate that “Once My Mother” took so long to make. If I’d told this story when I was younger, I wouldn’t have been able to do it justice…. As I say in the film, I had ‘plundered’ my mother’s life to make various fictional films in my career as a drama director. Now that I was making my first documentary about the ‘truth’ of my mother’s life, I realized I had to be as honest with myself…. through tracking my own journey towards ‘forgiveness’.


Thursday, April 24, 2014

Militarism, Projection and Anzac Day - a few reflections.

Freud wrote his essay 'Remembering, 'Repeating and Working Through' (1914) on the eve of World War 1. Although not addressing the specific politics of war and Europe, in the essay he suggests that what is repressed will repeat endlessly and project itself onto other places, people and things, unless one undertakes 'the work of mourning'.

During World War 2 in 1938 Freud and family members escaped the Nazis by re-settling in London; four of his sisters died in Nazi Germany's concentration camps (see The Nazi Who Saved Sigmund Freud).

German psychoanalysts Alexander and Margarethe Mitschterlich subsequently applied Freud's insights to Germany in their book The Inability to Mourn: Principles of Collective Behaviour (1967). Here they discuss why the Holocaust, the war crimes, and national guilt was not dealt with adequately in post-war German society: 'The Mitscherlichs confronted Germany with a bitter testimonial that many found difficult to bear: Germans, they wrote, are indifferent and lethargic; they lack empathy for the victims of the Nazi genocide and are caught up in "nationalist self-centeredness.' 

 'Unhappy the land that is in need of heroes'
 (Brecht, Life of Galileo, 1943)
As the Centenary of Gallipoli approaches in 2015, and on this Anzac Day today, I sense the need for caution; we need careful analytic thinking around war and violence (in all its forms) at this time; our mainstream media and government offer little deep analytic thinking. Lest we forget all who suffer in war – the victims and the perpetrators on all sides. Let us not go down the path of an uncritical patriotism. Let us not forget that the military take-over of Aboriginal lands by the British, from 1788 on - and the war waged by Aboriginal warriors - is not acknowledged officially by Australia or the Australian War Memorial.

To our dear Pa
I honour and remember our Pa (Mum's dad) who was a Digger in World War 1. He wrote many letters home with details of the war and how it affected him and others - fellow soldiers, nurses, civilians. Perhaps his story has contributed to me becoming a pacifist.

Our Pa, (Tom William Butcher) and his postcard sent to our Nan
in Tasmania (Wynne Ila Lette), from France 10th Dec.,1917 

I have never marched formally on Anzac Day (one day I will before I die to honour Pa). But I do feel strange about it. I don't relate to nationalism, patriotism or war; and the fact that the military take-over of Aboriginal lands by the British from 1788 on-and the war waged by Aboriginal warriors - is not acknowledged on this day. Why? Some of these difficult issues have been addressed by journalist Michael Green in an essay 'Lest We Remember: the Australian War Memorial and the Frontier Wars'. 'It follows an ongoing argument concerning Aboriginal Warriors who lost their lives in the wars against colonial forces'.

'no we don’t want to be stuck alongside you mob,
we had to fight you'. 
Jim Everett, pura-lia meenamatta
'Near the end of his latest book, Forgotten War Henry Reynolds makes a demand: the Australian War Memorial must commemorate the frontier wars. The book examines Australia’s violent colonial history, and reaches into some of our most challenging public debates – about land rights, sovereignty, and reconciliation...I also spoke to playwright Jim Everett, a Plangerrmairreenner man, of the Ben Lomond people in northern Tasmania. ‘If they asked me, I’d say “no we don’t want to be stuck alongside you mob – we had to fight you”. If we want to remember our heroes, then we should be doing it ourselves,’ he says. ‘We should be dedicating a part of country to our fallen heroes – perhaps we could mark it with a rock. I don’t like the idea of statues.’
Jim Everett (arrested) while protecting the kutalayna site, April 2011

"In memory of all women of all countries, 
raped in all wars" 
The only time I ever went to an Anzac Day March was when women marched under a banner: "In memory of all women of all countries, raped in all wars" c1981. I filmed it on super 8: the women's faces with gravitas and dignity marching straight into the waiting police paddy wagons, as the Anzac Day organisors wouldn't give permission for us to march with that banner. The great unspoken of war.

 Canberra 1981 (?) (re the red circled person in the pic- I have no idea who it is!). 
For further discussion see Catriona Elder's essay, ' "I Spit on Your Stone": National Identity, Women Against Rape and the Cult of Anzac' ;  it is also in Maja Mikula's book (ed), Women, Activism and Social Change, Routledge, London, 2005, pp. 71-81.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Patterns of attachment to the land

Hetti Perkins' article, Patterns of attachment to the land (The Australian May 30, 2013)  is worth reading. It is an edited extract  from the publication accompanying My Country, I Still Call Australia Home: Contemporary Art from Black Australia at the Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane.
Mirdidingkingathi Juwarnda Sally Gabori's Dibirdibi Country (2008)
The sentient power of country and the spirits who reside within it is not to be underestimated. Still today, trespassing on another's country is a reckless and dangerous act. It is customary in many parts of Australia to be formally "introduced" to country by traditional custodians, which can take the form of an exchange of sweat or a baptismal dousing so the land will accept or sense one as a countryman or woman and not make the newcomer sick. Almost invariably, senior community members will walk ahead at a special site, calling to their ancestral spirits so they will recognise and not harm the visitors.

It is in this context that the "welcome to country" has evolved; and it is a culturally appropriate means of brokering a social engagement with another community by formally recognising their ties to their homelands in the contemporary world.

It is a matter of no small concern that there has been the inevitable invasion of anti-political correctness creeping into this profoundly symbolic gesture of respect, particularly in areas where the Western legal criteria used to determine native title rights dispossess the traditional custodians from any other form of public recognition. The criticism of federal Opposition Leader Tony Abbott that the protocol is merely a "genuflection to political correctness" could be applied equally to singing the national anthem. How many Australians know all the words of the anthem, and how many really believe that we are a nation "young and free"? 
The welcome is an appropriate way of reiterating the message that Australia is home to the oldest continuous cultural tradition in the world, as a counterpoint to the endless parade of men on horses immortalised in bronze that line our city streets.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Remembering Pa on Anzac Day.

Here is our, Pa Tom,  mum's dad. He was a gunner in World War 1. Here he is, so young. I am remembering him this Anzac Day- and all he went through. His asthma was really bad when he came back from the Front. Some said it was the mustard gas. He died of an asthma attack early one morning in Invermay, Launceston Tasmania, in 1956. When we were little kids he used to whisper , "run up to the shops and buy a packet of fags for your poor old Pa, but don't tell Nan". He would press the coins into my hand, and off we would trot; how  strange I felt - on  this secret mission.

Our Pa

I never march on Anzac Day. I feel so strange about it all. I just can't relate to nationalism, patriotism or war. The only time I ever went to an Anzac Day March was when we women marched under a banner: "In memory of all women of all countries, raped in all wars."   I think it was around 1981. I filmed it on super 8 – the women's faces – such gravitas and dignity. They-we marched straight into the waiting police paddy wagons;  the organisors wouldn't give permission to the women to march under that banner. The great unspoken of war. 

Ps This photo is not the Sydney 1981 Anzac Day March....and I have no idea who the red circled person is!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

remembering mumirimina

Today someone called ("unknown") commented on a 2011 post I wrote: "save the mumirimina-kutalayna heritage" along the Jordan River, Tasmania. I find it very moving and would like to share it. We can also "remember them" and acknowledge that their descendants "walk where they once walked" and it is their country.

ya pulingina milaythina mana mapalitu
mumirimina laykara milaythina mulaka tara
raytji mulaka mumirimina
mumirimina mapali krakapaka laykara
krakapaka milaythina nika ta
waranta takara milaythina nara takara
waranta putiya nayri
nara laymi krakapaka waranta tu manta waranta tunapri nara.

Greetings to all of you here on our land
It was here that the Mumirimina people hunted kangaroo all over their lands
It was that the white men hunted the Mumirimina
Many Mumirimina died as they ran
Died here on their lands
We walk where they once walked
And their absence saddens us
But they will never be dead for us as long as we remember them.

This is the eulogy of the Risdon Cove Massacre of 1804 where Tasmanian Aborigines were killed in an encounter with British soldiers. Greg Lehman says, "Regardless of the debate over how many were killed, it certainly constitutes Tasmania’s first massacre. But was it simply a regrettable over-reaction to the accidental appearance of a hunting party? Or was it something much more tragic?" His (2006) article is entitled,  Two Thousand Generations of Place-making.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Putuparri Tom Lawford by Nicole Ma

Putuparri Tom Lawford by Nicole Ma

This film Putuparri  is in process and raising money via crowd source funding site  Pozible.
Support this film now; you can  make a donation and receive a DVD of the finished film.
 But hurry....52 hours only left on pozible!

"Ten years in the making, Putuparri is a compelling feature length documentary about an extraordinary 42 year old Wangakjunga man living in Fitzroy Crossing. Located in the remote Kimberley region of north western Australia, Putuparri Tom Lawford lives a two way life - traditional and contemporary".

Friday, March 8, 2013

Introducing "For Love or Money" at the IWD screening Avoca Cinema 7th March 2013

"Thank you it is a real pleasure to be here and introduce For Love or Money. 

I would like to show my respect and acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the Land, the Darkinjung, their Elders past and present on which this special Avoca Cinema IWD event is taking place.

Lyndall Ryan  asked if I could say a few words about the making of the film, its purpose as a feminist film and how it stands today... and I hope Lyndall will also say a few words to on how the film fares today!

So firstly I would like to acknowledge my collaborators – Megan McMurchy, Margot Nash, Margot Oliver and Lyndall (who was the historical consultant on the Penguin tie in book); and also Lyndall’s mother Edna Ryan – feminist activist and labour historian who is interviewed in the film, and whose analysis contributes much to the film’s economic analysis of women’s position.

Really, the purpose of the film was to create a visual, moving story about Australian women’s campaigns for wage justice and gender equality – campaigns for a just society, a civil society.

And we also wanted to make a film that interrogated and subverted the representation of women in Australian cinema; in the 70s there were few female film directors. The depiction of women tended to place women in passive, subservient roles. The daily experiences of ‘real women’ in the work place or at home were ignored.

Making the film
Ours was a spirited and long collaborative 7 year process- beginning with the 1978 Women and Labour Conference; the groundbreaking work of feminist historians was tumbling out in print form: books, articles – but there was no film that documented Australian women and work with any historical perspective or economic analysis, or that documented women’s radical activism to achieve, the vote, equal pay, property rights, legal abortion and child care.

We began our work in the archives - National Film and Sound Archive,  and Megan and I saw almost every Australian documentary and feature film produced - and we analysed every film from the perspective of how it represented women- selecting sequences to create the film. Meanwhile Margot Oliver joined us, and with a socialist feminist labour history perspective, starting recording interviews with women across Australia. The impulse was to seek out activist women – like Zelda D’Aprano, Edna Ryan; and many others, like the great Aboriginal activist Pearl Gibbs.

Margot Nash joined us as the film's editor and Elizabeth Drake came on board as composer.

We recorded over 35 interviews, printed off footage from our selected archival film and photographic collections, did extensive manuscript research and wrote many versions of the script! Through all this was raising the budget to make the film. See the end credits and you will get a sense of scale.

How is the film relevant to today?
Well, firstly let’s consider local IWD’s 2013 demands.
stop violence against women
end breastfeeding discrimination
affordable childcare
ratify the migrant workers' convention

And from one spectrum to the other:  In the board room: 5% of CEO’s are women – and in many Aboriginal communities the position of women is totally vulnerable due to both endemic historical racism – white privilege creating exclusionary work place practices; add to that the complexities of domestic violence, poverty – these are basic human rights issues needing urgent attention.

For Love or Money, provides a broad historical and economic analysis, still relevant today – especially our analysis of ‘the double day’ and women’s unpaid work in the home – which we name "the work of loving" in the film.

We analyse step by step – the way gender inequality is almost structured into the economic system: psychologically laid down in the family…where violence against women  is born…and we are witnessing this today on an horrific global scale.

I think the film is important, too, because it reminds us that advances we make as women can be fragile. Currently we have a female PM and some terrific women cabinet members.

But a change of government will unfold a different map. Quite a worrying map, in fact- if it happens!

In my view For Love or Money could have a new chapter:  Chapter 5 – to bring it up to the present; I see it as an online collaborative documentary that is open for all women to contribute to – for all of us to tell stories that are relevant today – and to be able to network with each other around our concerns. I see our For Love or Money  facebook page as a stepping stone to this kind of  interactive website; we can all make it relevant to now!"

 For Love or Money is available online (pay per view) at Beamafilm and DVD's can be purchased via Ronin Films. Ronin also has a few copies of the For Love or Money Penguin  tie-in book for sale- but hurry!

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Manu Tutura by Barry Barclay

I am only beginning to get to know something of Barry Barclay's significant contribution to documentary film in New Zealand and his notion of 'Fourth Cinema', described by Stuart Murray in his book: Images of Dignity: Barry Barclay and Fourth Cinema as:
"An umbrella term referring to the multiple forms of Indigenous cinemas that operate at local, national and international levels, Fourth Cinema is primarily guided by the desire to provide the conditions for the expression of Indigenous voices and ways of seeing... Barclay's mode of practice insists upon the importance of linking cultural production to the community from which it emerges.

I am currently reading Barclay's book Mana Tuturu: Maori Treasures and Intellectual Property Rights (Auckland University Press, 2005). Part One, 'Before the Beginning' takes an extraordinary perspective –  Barclay imagines 'what if' Lieutenant James Cook and his Endeavour crew arrived with a film camera and started 'shooting' documentary footage on the west side of the Turanga River that October day in 1769 on Rongowhakata lands. Barclay's way of thinking about The British Crown's assumption that all land belonged to the Crown (for its taking), turns the whole story of colonial possession around and makes us think deeply about the way any of us might use 'camera' - in any situation. It accords with my view that the the kind of deep philosophical thinking by Indigenous filmmakers around 'filming people' has something very profound to teach all of us.

The ethnography of compassion

Recently I went to Vietnam to  the inaugural International Anthropological Film Festival in Ho Chi Minh City. Realtime (Issue 13, 2013) has just published my review of that Festival: The Ethnography of Compassion

The drawing is from We Want (U) to Know (2011) by Ella Pugliese (Italy) and Nou Va (Cambodia). This participatory documentary was created with survivors of the Khmer Rouge period. The intended audience is Cambodian, and the film has been used over the last couple of years by NGO's and outreach programs to teach villagers about the Khmer Rouge regime and about the country's ongoing Khmer Rouge tribunal. 

Produced around the time of the Tribunal, amidst the painful process of remembering, the film reveals its own methods of storytelling and re-enactment, along with the potency of the children filming their elders. These participatory methods become part of a restorative justice process. The film develops as a work of mourning—a catalyst to transformative emotional change. Drawing, painting and working through trauma with re-enactments were part of the filmmakers process with the villagers.

The energy of cultural exchange and shared consciousness is a significant quality that visual ethnography offers the documentary tradition. It is also a mode of filmmaking with a strong foundation in Vietnam and in its tertiary education. Vietnamese visual ethnographers are making films from perspectives within their own culture, not as observers representing ‘the other’ —perhaps as a consequence of having achieved liberation from French and American colonisation. Also, it is not surprising that many of the films are working through complex issues around tradition and modernity given the largely agrarian population and its multi-ethnicity—with over 50 distinct groups, each with its own language and cultural heritage. I appreciated many of the films and the engaged discussions that took place around them. 

Filmmaker Tu Thi Thu Hang participated in many of the discussions and she often shared deeply about Vietnamese history and events that had affected her family in the immediate post war period. Tu Thi Thu Hang  structures her recent film, The Old Man Who Sells Bananas (2012), so that the audience starts out with ‘her’ mis-perception of the Old Man. 

We see him as a victim too—he seems poor, elderly and abandoned. Skillfully filming with him over one and a half years Hang draws us closer into this man’s life, step by step—from lone individual to family man, to respected wise elder of the village with his Confucian ethics and responsibilities. In discussion the filmmaker describes her process: “Now I have a completely different way of looking at him.” (And so do we). “He is the ‘last man’ who lived in a previous epoch. In his 84 years he has lived through the French and American occupation, and liberation. He has passed through the main eras of Vietnamese history. He has applied traditional wisdom to develop what is an ethical way to live.” 

Michael Renov, documentary film scholar, refers to the '5th tendency' of documentary as 'the ethical', in "What’s at stake for the documentary enterprise? 
I think that the ethical in itself. . . has a sort of functioning dimension, and it is also glued to this notion of a common desire or impulse: an ethical impulse, that one can see as an underlying and consistent theme that cross the history of documentary. How do I. . . what is my relationship with this other? What do I mean to that person, what does that person mean to me, what’s at stake in representing others?
So I think Renov's finely tuned insight that 'the ethical' is fundamental to documentary is so relevant - not only to today- but to the whole history of documentary. The 'ethical'  is the frame by which we both make and study documentary.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

My Survival as an Aboriginal

Dear Martha

How great to see Essie Coffey's  film  My Survival as an Aboriginal  (1978) last night on NITV (and all the other great films screening on NITV on Survival Day yesterday! 

And good on you Martha (Ansara...and others) for making this film with Essie back then! Thirty- five years ago! I think I appreciate the film much more now, in 2013,  than when I first saw it in 1978.  I love the pace of the film and Essie's narration. I love the fridge sequence. I always did! And I love the sequence where Essie introduces all her family to us....and the way you film them as they come out the front door of the house and each person says hello. Essie's love of country and family is strong- as is her sadness....
The ongoing issues of colonialism and dispossession raised by Coffey continue to affect Indigenous peoples today. 'My Survival as an Aboriginal', though a call to justice, is also tempered with beauty, and the audience is allowed to glimpse the private world of Essie Coffey and the people of Brewarrina. Coffey is very strong in her fight for justice, and equally committed to ensuring that the next generation are taught cultural knowledge as a means of ensuring an identity invested in the ongoing relationship to land Romaine Moreton, Curator's Notes, Australian Screen

So I am encouraging any reader of this blog to watch this film. It is as relevant to day as when it was made. Purchase a DVD of My Survival at Ballad Films and visit Australian Screen, which, along with Moreton's curator's notes on My Survival  also has a good essay called :  A Short History of Indigenous Filmmaking.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

my recent thinking on documentary @conferences; film reviews

 Visible Evidence Conference,  ANU (December 2012) –  my presentation: Documentary, the database and the global archive of the internet: implications for teaching documentary film history.

This paper is exploratory – a map to something I am working on in more depth. The converging digital and online media era provokes questions on how to approach the study and teaching of documentary history. How do we contextualize such rapidly evolving media–within or alongside the field of documentary?  Perhaps the case for a digitally based – experimental practice of documentary making, writing and critical thinking – exemplified by Chris Marker, indicates a way through this era; so acknowledging Marker’s passing: ‘Cat – wherever you are – peace be with you'.

My paper at the Film and History ConferenceThe politics and poetics of subversion: documentary film-making and the decolonization of Tasmanian historyIn this paper I discuss several films (and images) that have been produced amidst the turbulent site of Tasmania’s past and present: The Last Tasmanian (1978) Blackman’s Houses (1993), First Australians, Portrait of a Distant Land, and my own documentary Island Home Country – all produced in 2008. These films work intertextually and with social and political consequences. I look at the textual strategies the filmmakers and artists have used – their politics and poetics, and my own – to explore how filmmaking and art practice can make potent contributions to processes of decolonization.

Here is my review of the recent book on Hungarian filmmaker Peter Forgacs; its in the latest issue of 'Screening the Past': Cinema’s Alchemist: The Films of Péter ForgácsIn this rich and detailed book various contributors call him by different names: artist-archivist, scribe, witness, poet, cinema alchemist. His body of work is so extensive, innovating across a diversity of mediums and forms, that the term filmmaker only partly suits him. Given the unstable and rapidly changing landscape of digital-documentary filmmaking, this latest Visible Evidence Series (#25) on Forgács and his work is very timely.

Another recent review  I have done is this book Australian Documentary: History, Practices and Genres by Trish FitzSimons, Pat Laughren and Dugald Williamson Cambridge UP, 2011). It's in Metro Magazine, Issue 173,  2012  (PDF at this link).

Australian Documentary is an insightful and generous book. It offers back to the community of practitioners and broader audiences a text rich with scholarship, reflecting on ‘more than a century of practice’.  Readers can engage with an Australian documentary tradition in local, national and international contexts. We can connect with the lineage of films and the negotiated labour of producing them, and gain a strong sense of the capacity of documentary to be transformed and renewed. There is much pleasure in sensing this regenerative process.