ten canoes themes

This is anathema for my sort of filmmaking. Moreover, by demystifying the Aborigines’ hunter-gatherer existence, Ten Canoes educates its audiences and provides a much-needed corrective to the historical falsification and racist lies that have long polluted Australia’s cultural atmosphere—which seek to blame the Aboriginal people themselves for the horrendous oppression and poverty they continue to suffer.

This is the second part of a series of articles on the 2006 Sydney Film Festival, held June 9-25.

Richard Phillips: Could you tell me about anthropologist Donald Thomson and how his photos helped inspire Ten Canoes? Ten Canoes is an extraordinarily unique film about the Indigenous Australian Yolngu people, who live in Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory. The original individuals in that picture have all been identified and there are many people up there related to them. The film couldn’t be made if they didn’t feel that they had ownership of the process. He is a revered figure and rightly so. Ten Canoes begins with a playful acknowledgement of the type of stories that non-Indigenous Australian audiences are used to seeing.

When the war came he went back up there and organised native patrols. It meant that if there was to be any conflict, it had to occur in a much earlier period, so the main part of the film is set in mythical times. Over the past two years the number of features made in Australia has dropped to record lows.

As the unseen Storyteller (David Gulpilil) tells us, ‘It’s not a story like your story, but it’s a good story’. RH: There was a lot—about the photographs and many other things. In fact, the canoe making and hunting sequences are mainly of anthropological interest. The Storyteller then laughs and says, ‘Nah not like that, I’m only joking’. No previous local movie about Aborigines—Jedda (1955), Walkabout (1971), The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith (1978), Women of the Sun television miniseries (1981), Radiance (1998), Yolngu Boys (2001), One Night the Moon (2001) or The Tracker (2002)—has ever tried to recreate pre-European Aboriginal life. I had the expertise, but they had the power of veto, the power of inclusion and the creative expertise. He was sent to Arnhem Land in 1937 because there were moves to send a punitive expedition against local Aborigines—in other words a killing party.

The next major issue was they didn’t want the “old times” portrayed as a period of conflict.

He has made 11 features since 1984 including, Incident at Raven’s Gate, The Quiet Room, The Old Man Who Loved to Read Stories, Dance to Me My Song, Bad Boy Bubby, The Tracker and Alexandra’s Project. Ten Canoes es una película dirigida por Rolf de Heer, Peter Djigirr con Jamie Gulpilil, Crusoe Kurddal. I don’t want people to think that it is part of this discussion and not go and see it, which would be a real pity.

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