Australia's indigenous heroes dazzle screens in Paris film festival

By Ollia Horton - RFI
Australia  Festival du Cinma Aborigne Australien
NOV 28, 2021 LISTEN
© Festival du Cinéma Aborigène Australien

With cinema, art, dance and sport, the Australia Now cultural season in France is a year-long opportunity to display the wealth of talent and diversity coming out of contemporary Australia, with a particular focus on the contribution of indigenous communities. One of the events is the Australian Aboriginal Film Festival, hosted by four independent cinemas in Paris.

The festival celebrates Australian indigenous icons, in what is a predominantly white film industry, with the theme "Native super heros on the screen".

After a year's hiatus due to Covid restrictions, artistic director Greta Morton Elangué could hardly contain her excitement as she stepped on to the stage to officially open the 2021 edition.

She began by acknowledging the traditional land owners of Australia and stressed the goal of the festival was to shine a light on indigenous talent, often overlooked by the Hollywood studio machine.

Women take a front seat in this year's edition, with the première of the documentary Freeman: a portrait of athlete Cathy Freeman, gold medallist at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, co-directed by France's Laurence Billiet and Stephen Page.

The first aboriginal athlete to win a competition at this level, Freeman instantly became a national hero. Her victory marked a whole generation and became a symbol of hope for young indigenous people eager to throw off the weight of the country's colonial past.

Short film Kungka Kunpu – by the members of the Iwantja Young Women's Film Project – pays tribute to the life and arts of the Indulkana community. The screening is followed by a round table with artists and intellectuals from diverse backgrounds on how to re-appropriate the image of women of colour in the arts.

Top End Wedding, directed by Wayne Blair, is a romantic comedy starring Gwilym Lee and Miranda Tapsell as Ned and Lauren, a mixed couple on the verge of getting married. The film takes the audience to the vast and breathtaking landscape of the Northern Territory, home to a large number of first nation groups, each with their distinct language and traditions.

Promoting local languages

The use of the Tiwi language from the Tiwi islands off the coast of Darwin is an important feature in the film, with a final wedding ceremony scene conducted completely in the local tongue, something not often seen in mainstream Australian cinema.

The desire to promote local languages is an important goal for indigenous communities around the world, as Australia's ambassador to Unesco Megan Anderson told the audience before the screening. With literally hundreds of indigenous languages across the Australian continent, the international cultural body is working to preserve this heritage through a number of educational initiatives.

Also in the festival lineup, We don't need a Map by renowned director Warwick Thornton who won the Caméra d'Or in the Un Certain Regard category at the Cannes Film Festival in 2009 for Samson and Delilah. Here he takes a closer look at how the image of the star constellation, known as the Southern Cross, was used for thousands of years by indigenous communities as a kind of map and later appeared on the national flag.

The Festival du Cinéma Aborigène Australien (24 Nov - 9 Jan 2022) in Paris comes on the heels of the Festival des Antipodes, held in Saint Tropez in October and the Cinéma des Antipodes at the Cannes Festival in July.

Australia Now is a year-long cultural programme featuring more than 100 events across France until June 2022.

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