Thursday, March 18, 2010

Film Premier - Our Generation

Word was passed around last Sunday that there'd be a screening of a locally made film on Tuesday night... Two days time! Some people probably knew about it the previous week but I bet most didn't. The film was to be screened at the Nightcliff Uniting Church, a reasonably small building with room for maybe 100 people... That's in the dry season when it's reasonably comfortable to be huddled close together...(It's not the dry season!) On Tuesday 16th March people were lined up past the reach of the lights and into the dark of the carpark wanting to get in and see this film. The building was packed to the rafters! In a crowded hall on a balmy evening with fans whirling and people sweating we gathered to watch the documentary of Yolŋu testimony about how the Federal intervention has affected their lives. Every chair was taken and the audience filled every bit of floor space and spilled out into the yard where they watched through the doorways and slanted louver windows! It was a sellout crowd!

The Film (From the Our Generation Website)
"This project started out in June 2007, in response to the Howard Government’s controversial “Emergency Intervention” into Aboriginal communities in Australia’s remote Northern Territory. All in the name of “protecting children”, the Intervention took away all existing Aboriginal land rights, suspended the Racial Discrimination Act and placed over 70 communities under compulsory government control. Subsequent government measures have had little to do with directly improving the wellbeing of children, but instead have disempowered traditional owners, opened up access to valuable Aboriginal land, and sought to forcibly assimilate Aboriginal culture."

It was a truly special night! Shelly Morris came along and entertained the crowd while people were still trying to find a place to sit. There was a real sense of ease and camaraderie between the film makers, organizers, special guests, and the audience... This was not yet another occasion for Balanda to sympathize with Indigenous people from a distance. The audience consisted of a fairly broad range of people; there were those actively involved in Aboriginal issues , members of the local community, several Theological Students from Nungalinya College and Yolŋu folk currently living in Darwin.

The night was a hot, we were all squeezed in together, but the atmosphere was extremely friendly but intense. The story after all is about the outrageous offenses committed against Indigenous people in the Northern Territory by way of the Federal Government's Emergency Intervention! I think it was a validation of the sense of betrayal many of us have felt as a result of our Government's deliberate attack on the rights and dignity of Indigenous Australians.

The story was told primarily from the perspective of Yolŋu people from North East Arnhem Land. People who have endured colonization and to a large degree have managed to maintain much of their traditional culture. Due to their strong connection to their own law, (in many cases there has also been the influence of mission culture and Christian values) coupled with tools such as the Permit System Yolŋu had managed to avoid the full brunt of many of the social problems associated with exposure to Western Culture. The Federal Intervention seemed to have been based on a supposition that all Aboriginal Communities are suffering from the same degree of dysfunction that can be found in those most affected by the influences and corruption brought by Western Culture. This documentary tells of the bewilderment and dismay suffered by Yolŋu at the way the Intervention was forced upon them. The degrading ways in which many people had been treated as a result of the Intervention and their determination for justice.

The film contains excellent interviews with people who have been affected by racially discriminatory Government Policy. Each person presents a compelling argument against the validity of the Intervention but more disturbingly their testimonies indicate the obvious harm caused by a Government that is unable to recognize the cultural diversity within it's own country.

There is plenty of catchy music, some great footage from past and present, and including replays of the announcements made by our previous Prime Minister when the Intervention was announced. It still turns my stomach to see him speaking with so little respect.
The film also rightfully challenges the actions of our current Prime Minister Mr Rudd who delivered a very moving Sorry Speech but has proceeded to implement the same racist agenda of the previous government. With all his lovely words Rudd has only added sweetener to the poison! It looks like just the same discrimination against Indigenous people that our Governments have perpetrated ever since the British claimed this land for themselves.

After the film we had a panel of about 6 people including Yolngu, Balanda, and Larakia people. The prominent question and conclusions drawn from discussion was that we are currently living in a country that has actively and deliberately diminished the rights of it's indigenous people. The current situation is unacceptable to those who believe in justice and equality. It is the responsibility of each of us to stand up and fight for the rights of our fellow citizens.

If you ever get the chance to see this film I would highly recommend it. I hope the film makers continue to tour with the film and hopefully are able to include a panel similar to the one we had to engage the audience and get to the Heart of the matter.

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