– by David Morgan-Brown
Acclaimed Aboriginal actor/artist David Gulpilil has collaborated with filmmaker Rolf de Heer on a number of projects and films together (including last year’s terrific Charlie’s Country) and now we have what is to Gulpilil his most revealing work yet. Another Country with David Gulpilil is a documentary about the modern state of his home-town, Ramingining, located above Darwin near the peak top of Australia.
Gulpilil narrates his thoughts and opinions about the state of his home-town over footage of the folks in the community involved in their everyday lives, fiercely (though sometimes amusingly) commenting on the failure of the white culture integration in this Indigenous community.
The documentary was directed by Molly Reynolds, who I interviewed about her collaborations with these filmmakers and her experiences with the community of Ramingining. Reynolds first collaborated with de Heer and Gulpilil in 2006 when they were making the Aboriginal period drama Ten Canoes, where she directed its multi-media project/documentary Twelve Canoes. “It was a three-way collaboration,” says Reynolds about Another Country. “I’ve had a relationship with David for 10 years, and with Rolf for 15 years, over that period of time we’ve talked and debated and discussed the difference between cultures, so thematically for the documentary we decided to run with three issues of time, rubbish, and money.”
Gulpilil had had de Heer and Reynolds work on other projects in this region before, which had been leading up to doing a revealing documentary about the community. “I don’t think we could’ve made the documentary if we didn’t have that long relationship. Rolf went first, went up there to David’s country many years ago and then he kind of had this notion of making a film that in the end became Ten Canoes”. It was at this time that Reynolds began working on Twelve Canoes, and was observing the cultural differences. “We worked with the community there and we did in a really consulting collaborative fashion … ten years later when we came back and say “we’d like to work with you again”, and they’re like “this is good.” And they had also changed in that smartphones meant that they were more familiar with filming and what it meant. There’s no way we could’ve gone in cold. And even to know how to tell stories with the mob because we’ve got the cinematic literacy and yet it’s their stories, their experiences.”
The ceremonies and celebrations depicted in the documentary are given integral screen-time, especially the Aboriginal ones. Reynolds says these Indigenous rituals are “incredibly important. I say that because, to quote Peter Djigirr, one of our producers on the documentary, he says “we have to stand up for our culture and show the world who we are”. And they kind of know that culturally, things are slipping through their fingers, that the next generation are somewhat lost, and so it’s important to make some sort of document and just hang on to their lore, even though they know they can’t go back into the past or back in time”.
As for the more Christian ceremonies shown in the doco, like the Easter celebration showing an Aboriginal playing Jesus carrying a cross through Ramingining in the rain and thunder, Reynolds claims “I didn’t know the mob were that way inclined. I remember asking Joseph, who’s in his mid-20s and he’s lived in the community since he was eight years old, and I said “Joseph, what is this?” And he said “it’s something to do.” So the crowd came out for the spectacle, for the entertainment more than anything else, rather than a sort of religious fervour.”
I ask Reynolds about how she personally thought the issues in a community like Ramingining could be solved, having seen and documented them herself. “My half-joke is that it’s hard enough to make the documentary highlighting the problems, I can’t even begin to think about the solution. In seriousness, I suppose I would say the notion of community engagement and understanding is the first step in the right direction. They’re lost as a people, how do they find their way in the future that’s not destitute, that’s not marginalised. And I think that is the real risk.”
Another Country is a quaint, yet very revealing documentary about this remote Aboriginal community that simply and effectively illuminates its problems. Gulpilil’s narration informs us of the history of how white Australia has tried (rather unsuccessfully) to force their ways and laws upon these people. Like a lot of other work associated with Gulpilil, this is an important document on the troubles and issues that have been externally instigated in the town of Ramingining, and Reynold’s comments on fixing these issues are a fitting epilogue to this essential Australian documentary.