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Indigenous Voices - We Are Still Here

Indigenous Voices - We Are Still Here

Few major movies were made in response to the 250th anniversary of Captain Cook’s arrival in the Pacific, perhaps reflecting some uncertainty about how best to represent a voyage that had such a devastating impact on indigenous people. The opening night feature at last year’s Sydney Film Festival was one of the few to reflect on the effects of colonisation, addressing this momentous clash of cultures with an anthology production divided into eight segments that vary widely in tone and genre, from a mystical and mythical animation to a futuristic dystopia set in underground tunnels in Auckland.

A co-production between Australian First Nations and Māori directors, We Are Still Here draws together ten film-makers from Australia, New Zealand, and the South Pacific. It both opens and concludes with ‘Lured,’ written and directed by Danielle MacLean, which integrates images of actors through a combination of digital painting techniques and rotoscoping. In this introductory segment a mother and a daughter on a fishing expedition are interrupted by the emergence of HMS Endeavour. A somewhat unnecessary inter-title announces that “in the late 18th century, the British empire invaded and claimed many territories in the Pacific,” which was “a catastrophic event for the Indigenous people.” No kidding …

We Are Still Here is a melange of varied, but thematically linked experiences that include a dramatic debate among Māori about whether to fight in the Battle of Ōrakā in 1864 (‘Te Puuru,’ written and directed by Tim Worrall and Richard Curtis) to the trenches of Gallipoli where a Samoan soldier briefly embraces his Turkish enemy (‘The Uniform,’ written and directed by Miki Magasiva and Mario Gao).

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‘Rebel Art,’ written and directed by Tracey Rigney, is set during Invasion Day protests in Naarm (Melbourne) and follows a homeless young female graffiti artist, the walls of whose home pad are emblazoned with words that double as a description of the entire film’s intent: “DECOLONISE YOUR MIND.”

By returning unpredictably to these narratives and intercutting between their various threads, it manages to overcome the stop-start nature of the anthology genre, such as the Coen brothers’ The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, where movement between clearly delineated chapters tends to reduce momentum.

Although some segments lack resolution (including the post-apocalyptic world of ‘Blankets,’ written by Tiraroa Reweti and directed by Chantelle Burgoyne), We Are Still Here combines meditative qualities with various tones and scales into a coherent whole elegantly constructed by montage director Beck Cole and editor Roland Gallois.

The clearly limited budget means some sets and decor are noticeably constrained and the non-professional acting is occasionally jarring, but the film is always captivating, especially its final half hour when an ironically humorous contemporary aboriginal set-piece turns the tables on audience expectations. As Luke Buckmaster astutely observed, it remains an admirable achievement with a cohesive sense of organic growth and evolution and is well worth viewing.

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