Founded by Greta Morton Elangué in 2016 the Festival of Indigenous Australian Cinema in Paris is the only film festival dedicated to Indigenous Australian cinema outside Australia.
In 1993 when Greta was completing her post-graduate year in Film & TV from the VCA School of Film and Television the Indigenous cinema industry did not exist. Tracy Moffatt (Bedevil, Nice Coloured Girls) was one of the only Indigenous directors working in the industry at that time.
Greta Morton Elangué has been lucky to grow up in a family where culture was given an important place. Her father promoted Aboriginal culture at the Department of Aboriginal Affairs in the eighties, her uncle, Noel Tovey AM is a renowned theatre director. Greta’s passion is promoting the cinema of Black Australia.
“There is a dynamic presence of Indigenous cinema across international festival circuits today,” said Greta. “A global decolonisation of minds has created a climate where Indigenous film makers’ storytelling is in high demand. Now is the time of Indigenous cinema.”
“The current Indigenous Australian film industry is essentially made up of a generation born to the activists of the 60’s and 70’s, the generation who fought hard to have a voice” she said.
For Greta Morton Elangué, Indigenous cinema exposes the real face of a population and this face was invisible for a long time. “We’re looking under the veil, so to speak”, she said. “Cinema is very effective at breaking down stereotypes and like Aboriginal art, it helps the general public to be aware of culture, of country and the vitality of cultural expression. It’s the storytellers telling us all how it is”.
Indigenous Cinema helps to reset the scales and inject a balance into the representation of Indigenous people. It helps break the rigid societal stereotypes, for example that all Aboriginal people are spear holding bearded men or ‘troublemakers’. “For more than 20 years now wonderful multi-dimensional characters are being created by Indigenous writers for the screen”. However even if things are evolving, a lot of negative representations and misunderstanding of culture still exist and Indigenous people still feel the brunt of this on a daily basis, she admitted. “It’s so important to have Indigenous people in key creative roles”.
“One thing is certain, the long battle for human rights by the Australian Indigenous population has always been inseparable from the artistic movements,” she explained.
Greta Morton Elangué feels that cinema is important for the transmission of culture. It’s also a reminder of the Aboriginal presence for those who would like to deny that presence, a counter force to what two centuries of colonisation attempted to destroy.
This year (2018) is the 25th birthday of the establishment of the Indigenous Department of Screen Australia. Prior to this no indigenous people were enrolled in the national film schools, said Greta. “The first important step was to train young Indigenous Australians and for this it was necessary to take on government bureaucracy. The battlefield was the administration,” she added.
“It has been a very slow process, a long history related to the political history of Aboriginal people. The history of activism is parallel to the history of cultural production.”
“Today there is government support for Aboriginal art, there is a lot of money available for artists,” said Greta Morton Elangué.
“… And in 2018 Indigenous Australian cinema has a prestigious place in the international market” she added.
In her opinion, short films are very important. They are the ground of experimentation, where ideas gestate, an opportunity for young filmmakers. It is a genre in itself, she argued.
The last few years have seen an effervescence of TV series created by Indigenous creatives such as Cleverman and Redfern Now. This medium has become an important ground for directors, seeing award-winning feature directors such as Rachel Perkins take on the TV genre such as the recent series Mystery Road demonstrates.
Titles like The Sapphires (2012) and the recent Warwick Thornton film, Sweet Country have been commercial successes in Australia and overseas. Historically speaking, however, it’s important to remember films such as Jedda in 1955, nominated at the Cannes Film Festival. Rosalie Kunoth-Monks was the first Aboriginal actress in a leading role and she was obliged to ‘black up’ for the part in order to look darker. The films racist narrative tells the ‘tragic’ tale of an ‘assimilated’ Aboriginal woman and an ‘pure blood’ Aboriginal man (Robert Tudawali) who cross the line between “savage” and “civilised” in their love for each other.
“ Cinema reflects what is going on in a country”, argued Greta Morton Elangué. “Why at that time was it important for the director, Charles Chauvel, to do this film? These conversations need to take place to understand ourselves better particularly because there are very fast changes occurring as we speak.”
“Film festivals rely on partnerships and government funding. So we are never really 100% sure of our future. The limited budget of the festival makes it hard to offer travel costs to the filmmakers but hopefully this will change soon. We have been very lucky to have had very loyal partners such as the City of Paris (Ville de Paris), the ‘Direction des affaires culturelles’ (DRAC) and the Australian Embassy”, she said.
For the first time this year, the Festival of Indigenous Australian Cinema in Paris included a film from Tahiti, Ma’ohi Nui, as a cinematographic response to Lynette Wallworth’s award winning VR film Collisions which recounts the extraordinary story of Nyarri Morgan, a Martu man, who witnessed at first hand the nuclear tests in Australia in the 1950’s. “The inclusion of films such as Ma’ohi Nui is important to the festival especially when there are shared themes of resistance”, said Greta. Adding new technologies such as Wallworth’s VR film, TV series or Web docs to the already rich slate of features, documentaries and shorts contributes to the ongoing dynamism of the festival whose aim is first and foremost to showcase “ a whole other vision of Australia”.