Film and Book Reviews

Another Country — the film about Aboriginal people you have to see

FilmThere is no more compelling voice on Aboriginal issues than David Gulpilil’s, writes Paul Mitchell.

By Paul Mitchell

October 16 2015Another Country is the last in a triptych of collaborations between iconic Australian actor David Gulpilil (Storm Boy, The Tracker) and producer Rolf de Heer. Where The Tracker (2002) and Charlie’s Country (2013) were fictional works, Another Country, directed by Molly Reynolds, is a documentary written by Gulpilil, Reynolds and de Heer. It takes us deep into the heart and history of Gulpilil’s home community Ramingining in the Northern Territory’s North East Arnhem Land.

There is no more compelling voice on Aboriginal issues than David Gulpilil’s. Combine it with narrative and visual storytelling that elucidates thousands of years of history in just over an hour and you have a must-see film. It strikes the perfect balance between information and emotional resonance as it takes us from settler days to the Federal Government’s Intervention and beyond. The net result is a deepened understanding of why it is Aboriginal people cannot take on Western society’s culture. As Gulpilil states simply, “If you don’t get to know us, how can you tell us what’s good for us?”

Take rubbish for example. Australians are used to seeing images of remote communities covered in it, from rusted cars to plastic bottles. Gulpilil explains, however, that for thousands of years of Aboriginal culture rubbish didn’t exist. Whatever they used on the land went back into it. Effectively, Aboriginal’s relationship to “stuff” hasn’t changed. It’s just that the accruements of Western culture that are literally shipped into Ramingining do not biodegrade. The image of rubbish in Aboriginal communities is a symbol of why attempts to enforce Western culture on Aborigines are doomed to failure.

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One of the film’s many highlights is when a friend of Gulpilil, who found God while in hospital, leads a passion play through Ramingining’s monsoonal streets. The narration stops as townsfolk perform in their language Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. Audiences might expect Gulpilil to malign this event as another example of Western cultural invasion. But he is circumspect as he explains some residents are Christians for Easter alone. His take on theology is deeply moving in the context of his people’s suffering:

“What most of my people believe is not what most white people believe. If we have a Jesus, he’s black. He’s not all-powerful from above. He’s not in charge of us. He’s one of us.”

If you see no other film in your life about Aboriginal people, see Another Country.