Friday, December 31, 2010

‘the shock of the feminist’

The omission of women from the cultural record meant the search for a women’s tradition

I came across this article a few months back: "Wonders Taken for Signs: The Cultural Activism of the Australian Women’s Movement as Avant-Garde Reformation" by Margaret Henderson ( Lilith 17: 2008). It's a very thoughtful discussion of feminism and cultural production and what we can learn from that intense period of the "1970s and 1980s, in Australia and throughout the West, (when) relations of cultural production, reception, and texts (and films) all worked together to create the ‘shock of the feminist’". In her essay Henderson also discusses the "collective, as (the) defining structure of the women’s movement, signifier par excellence of its cultural politics"; here she also refers to various women's collectives including the Sydney Women's Film Group - which I became a member of in 1969:
Collectivism, as a strategy to demystify artistic production, to challenge the bourgeois artist figure and ideology of individualism, and to overcome women’s isolation, is the creative ethos powering feminist culture, whether in textual production or distribution. In the case of film, the auteur theory was rejected in favour of a non-hierarchical collective structure of film making, ‘one in which all the creative and technical roles were shared among the group’.

There's a longer essay to be written which explores the rise and fall (and rise) of 'the collective' in women's film-making; food for thought as a group of younger feminists contacted the For Love or Money (A history of women and work in Australia, feature documentary and Penguin Book 1983) team recently as they produce a short film on the history of International Women's Day. Younger women are discovering that the 'post-feminist' era is not necessarily a place of liberation! We did, after all call our movement Women's Liberation! Another group of young feminists saw For Love or Money at an IWD screening at their uni last year: "Last night, I watched the feminist documentary ‘For Love or Money’ at my university...As I sat there, waiting for the sense of relief and liberation to wash over me, I suddenly realized that every injustice suffered by our foremothers still exists today – it’s just dressed differently." ( Zoya Patel, 'Get Outraged!' in lip magazine, March 2010).

It's worth thinking and acting on this too: that our early film works of the 1970s and 1980s were all produced prior to Web 2.0. We have much to do to give these historically significant films presence in the 21st century.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Oprah’s generosity is a smoke screen

Oprah’s generosity is a smoke screen. Given her audiences are predominately women I am concerned by my gender’s complicity in this government PR campaign. Worth examining is Oprah’s gift of 6000 Kimberley Coast pearl necklaces to Australian audiences. Several family-work visits to the Kimberley this year have revealed to me the huge social and environmental issues facing people here. Most stark are housing, health and educational issues for Aboriginal people. Many struggling ‘settler’ Australians also face a housing crisis and rapidly rising rents. As well, myriad issues around energy company Woodside’s gas project, north of Broome, needs an informed local and national polity to cut through the ‘environmental’ versus ‘development’ split.

Sadly Oprah’s circus, in tandem with a misguided Federal government, is ‘pulling the wool’ over the eyes of the woman in the street. Australian women, try not to be bought off by these ‘pearls’! Investigate the gas hub debate; research the history of the pearling industry in Broome; examine Indigenous infant mortality across northern Australia. Perhaps then you may consider donating your pearls to Aboriginal medical centres and schools in the Kimberley where your gift will be more than decorative.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

documentary modes

It is documentary film theorist Bill Nichols who writes about the chief characteristics and deficiencies of each documentary mode (Introduction to Documentary (2001:139). It was interesting, then, this morning to read Cynthia Lucia's interview with the filmmaker of Dogora, Patrice Leconte in Cineaste: "Personal Politics and Vision in Dogora: An Interview with Patrice Leconte". Now, Leconte is not really a documentary filmmaker, nor has he read any documentary film studies (most documentary filmmakers haven't). In the interview I can sense how he is struggling over the shortcomings of the mode(s) he chose for this film:

Lucia writes: Yet, as is true of certain moments in Wiseman’s work, at points in Dogora the absence of information not only impedes viewer comprehension, but it also potentially inhibits active or, at best, activist viewer response. The footage centered on the Steung Mean Chey garbage dump—the largest open landfill in Asia, located a half hour outside Phnom Penh City—is a case in point. We see impoverished adults and children collecting waste (and sometimes consuming something edible they may find) through day and night. We also see images of children studying and sleeping in a schoolroom. It’s difficult to make sense of these images—what they mean or how they are connected. In the French DVD release of the film, Leconte, on the commentary track, explains that the school is run by PSE (Pour un Sourire d’Enfant [For a Child’s Smile]), a French organization devoted to helping the children, many of whom are orphans, obtain an education and the basic necessities of life. At the time of filming, Christian des Pallieres oversaw the school and the charitable work involving landfill residents. While the images evoke a powerful emotional response, one wonders if a bit more information might elicit something more substantial—whether through further research, donations, or other support of landfill workers. At the same time, of course, that could easily tip the film’s balance away from the lyrical to a more didactic, public-service mode—and that, too, would present a problem.. Lucia writes of a 'fissure—between the personal, lyrical project of the film and those disquieting images that seem to press for something more'.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Martha of the North

Tracy, I haven't seen Martha’s film yet, only the trailer. I have ordered the film for UTS library. But have a look at this clip here: Mary May Simon, a dynamic activist for her people, former Canadian diplomat, Fellow of the Arctic Institute of North America, introduces Martha Flaherty's film Martha of the North at its launch in this year in Ottawa. In this intro I think she acknowledges that Martha’s father Josephie Flaherty, (Flaherty’s Inuit son), is in the audience. I am not sure: watch this clip! Also today I learned of a 1990 documentary, Nanook Revisted which revisits the site of Flaherty’s filming. Here too is a wiki on Nanook Revisted that furthers discussions around these complex issues in documentary

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Robert Flaherty's Secret

It seemed ironic that the global popularity of “Nanook”, had served to freeze the Arctic and the people who live in it, including Robert’s (Flaherty) own son and granddaughter, in a version of a past that never was, in a land that could never be.’ (The Long Exile by Melanie McGrath, 2006).

After reading The Long Exile - a tale of the betrayal of the Inuit people – in their 1950s relocation to barren islands far away from their homelands, I found Martha Flaherty's email address and wrote to her. In my mind the relocations and subsequent struggles for justice by the Inuit people cry out for a broad contextualising of Flaherty's 1922 documentary Nanook of the North, from its time of production right up to the present. Martha Flaherty wrote back and told me about a new film about her life, Martha of the North and how she is planning a book about the true story of what happened during the relocations. I have been very touched by this correspondence and how it contributes depth of understanding around the complex site of documentary film-making process and ethics.

One of the exiles was Robert Flaherty's son- Josephie Flaherty - a child he had (and abandoned?) with Inuit woman, Maggie Nujarlutuk (who plays Nyla in Nanook of the North). The story of Flaherty's relationship with Maggie (and his son) is never told in the documentary film scholarship (or rhetoric) of Flaherty's film-making - so obsessed is it with textual analysis and 'the past' and whether the dramatizations are ‘documentary’ or 'ethnographic'. Such debates may be functioning as smoke screen to developing a contextual analysis that really changes the way we think about Flaherty and his film. Martha Flaherty's documentary (and for me also McGrath's book) opens up present day realities of the Inuit people and the role Nanook of the North played in forming a certain idealized and heroic narrative of the Inuit people that fed into racist stereotypes - which contributed to the disastrous relocations of the Inuit people in the 1950s.

Monday, July 26, 2010

on the road

On the road, staying in Halls Creek. I have just finished reading Alexis Wright's Grog War. She describes it as:

The book that I wrote for the people, the Aboriginal people in Tennant Creek, the Warramunga people. 'Grog War', it is a book that they asked me to do to document 10 years of an enormous struggle that they had to introduce some pretty, I don't think they were major restrictions, simple restrictions to the availability of alcohol in Tennant Creek and they took 10 years just to bring in some restrictions in that town and they had to fight every inch of the way.

KERRY O'BRIEN: You wrote in 'Grog War' Aboriginal people are still being forced to hold much of their contact with white people locked away inside of themselves. The best parallel which describes that hidden history is describe that it's trapped like angry hornets inside Pandora's box. Those words must still resonate with you?

ALEXIS WRIGHT: Well, they do. If we expose our anger, sometimes if we express our anger we're criticised for being too emotional or too angry.

KERRY O'BRIEN: After 'Carpentaria' and with Aboriginal, Chinese and Irish blood in your veins you reflected on what might constitute a lasting form of reconciliation.

You wrote, "I've often thought about how the spirits of other countries have followed their people to Australia, and how those spirits might be reconciled with the ancestral spirits that belong here. I wonder if it is at this level of thinking that lasting form of reconciliation between people might begin, and if not, how our spirits will react."

It is very soft and very hard out here....both at the same time.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

There is a ticking time bomb in the remote economic heart of the nation

On a recent visit to Broome (and south of Broome) I witnessed first hand the kinds of inequities that Marcia Langton discusses in her recent Griffith review essay The Resource Curse (Edition 28, Still the Lucky Country). I was shocked to see the rapacious 'resort tourist' development in Broome, the fast escalating rents and house prices and the seeming marginalisation of many Aboriginal people from access to any social or economic benefits from the 'boom'. The issues are systemic and huge. I don't always agree with what I perceive as Langton's sometimes 'pro-mining' stance, but in this essay she gets to the heart of the many contradictions in the continuing colonisation of Aboriginal lands.

"The effects of the current resource curse in the Pilbara are reminiscent of the mining boom in the 1960s. Aborigines were the intended losers then; now all locals, regardless of background, are losers if they do not work in the industry. My question is this: are there any policies to counter the growing disparities in income, living conditions and opportunity in the mining provinces?....The mining regions are the source of enormous revenue, yet their residents are disadvantaged and deprived of services...the traditional owners of the land are the most disadvantaged living upon it....many Aboriginal groups were not opposed to mining but concerned about racist and inequitable practices being replicated in new ventures. What the groups wanted was guaranteed recognition of their inherent rights and interests, and acceptable terms for cultural, social and economic futures".

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

ABC Northern Radio (Tasmania): 'Island Home Country' Interview

'we grew up behind a hedge, keeping history out'
The Midlands Tasmania 1952
in the country of the Big River People

Jeni Thornley joined Siobhan Maiden on ABC Northern Radio to discuss the making of the film.