Australia, 2015, 90 minutes, Colour.
Directed by Molly Reynolds.
Another Country is part of a series of films for cinema, television, on line, on aborigines in the Northern Territory, a collaboration between actor David Gulpilil, director and producer, Rolf de Heer, and director Molly Reynolds.
Over the years, Rolf de Heer has directed David Gulpilil in The Tracker, 10 Canoes and Charlie’s Country. They have built up an understanding together and have been able to communicate aboriginal stories in a spirit of collaboration.
This is a documentary about the North Australian town of Ramingining, several hundred kilometres south-west of Katherine, not really close to any major town, a community decided upon by government authorities without consultation with local people, not being able to communicate in any local language and not appreciating their customs.
To get to Ramingining, one has to travel over dirt roads – or travel by boat to a wharf where supplies are unloaded. There is no particular work except at the local store. There are men, women and children of all ages.
The screenplay, worked on by Rolf de Heer, is addressed to a white audience, spoken by David Gulpilil, offering people his credentials as an iconic character on screen, as a dancer, someone who has met celebrities including Queen Elizabeth, and who has also spent some time in jail.
What he does is to alert the white audience to the reality of Ramingining and the limits of its future. We are introduced to a number of characters, we see young men dancing to a kind of disco beat in aboriginal style, later seeing traditional dancing, two old painters who live in the community, and, surprisingly, a lengthy sequence on Good Friday where one of the men is dressed in vestments to become the figure of Jesus who has to carry his cross around the town, followed by the crowds, some of them enacting the jeering and Jesus’ condemnation by Pilate, and the crucifixion. David Gulpilil, who tells us that early settlers exploited and poisoned the aborigines while the missionaries did some service in building and teaching people to read and write. David Gulpilil explains that the Jesus for this community is not someone who came from out there but who is someone like them, sharing their lives.
One of the other things that is talked about is the concept of time, something that white people value and expect of others in terms of punctuality and accuracy but does not have that kind of meaning in the old traditions. Another concept is out of rubbish, again not part of the culture which was is able to survive for the thousands of years without accumulating waste as contemporary society does – for instance, in the buying of cars, running them, running them down and then discarding them anywhere in the bush.
Another instance of rubbish in many senses is the local store where the people of Ramingining have their cards, have government grants, go to the store to buy food, clothing, American DVDs, and lots of takeaway foods which are full of sugar, especially soft drinks and Coca- Cola – and then discarding the rubbish. One of the features of the film is a card-playing sequence which is used to reveal that money is to be shared, not hoarded, and one way of sharing it out is by playing cards.
David Gulpilil speaks quite benignly in his voice-over but is continually challenging his audience, whether they know much about aborigines, whether they know anything of the customs and what the last 200 years or more have done to those customs, whether they have an empathy for an aboriginal way of life which is not absolutely dependent on government handouts, lack of employment opportunities. What is the hope for the children growing up in places like Ramingining?
This is a very worthwhile 90 minutes for Australians whose ancestors came later to the land, who themselves have come more lately to the land, to get to know something about the aborigines and to reflect on what the indigenous people of Australia experience now and something of why.
1. The impact of this documentary? aboriginal life? Cultures? Culture clashes between black and white? The Intervention and its repercussions? The future?
2. David Gulpilil, cultural icon, his introduction, perspective throughout the film, his career, acting, dancing? Awards? Social contacts? Prison?
3. The photography: the town, Ramingining, the countryside, the dirt roads, the bush, river? The town itself, the buildings, the store, the houses, meeting places? The musical score?
4. The background of aboriginal life in Australia, in the Northern Territory, perspectives? From a white perspective? Expectations, knowledge, sympathy, history, politics?
5. The decision of the government to establish the town, just by decree, no officials knowing the languages of the place, little of the culture? The 19th century and the poisoning of the aborigines? The missionaries and their building up the aborigines, teaching, reading and writing?
6. The people of the town, the opening with the disco music to the traditional dancing, the corroboree dancing, the adults, the two old painters and their memories, the men and no jobs, working in the store, the women, the teenagers and nothing to do, the kids and their playing? The establishing of a community? The distances? The role of the store?
7. The money grants, the store, the cards, the poor food choices, Coca- Cola and sugar foods, clothes, the western DVDs, the technology, the cars – the use, discarding the rubbish?
8. The concept of money, sharing it, playing cards as a means of distribution? The different approach to money from the West?
9. The theme of rubbish, the rubbish tips, rubbish in the bush? The Western culture in goods and the increased rubbish?
10. Different perspectives on time? David Gulpilil and his sister, weaving the mat, taking the time, achievement?
11. The celebration of Easter, the Jesus character getting vested, the procession, participation, the kids and their following, the crowd and the insults to Jesus?
12. Jesus and the ritual of the passion, the trial of Jesus, his condemnation, imaging the crucifixion? The resurrection?
13. The comment that Jesus was not seen as all-powerful, not coming from on high – but one of us?
14. The portrait of the community, David Gulpilil in the community sharing this with the western audience? The questions raised? Who is to solve them?