In a tiny cinema in the Latin Quarter of Paris, something very unusual for French filmgoers is on display. For five days, the programme at Cinema La Clef is devoted not to the latest Hollywood blockbusters, nor to the finest French cinema, but to the best examples of Australian Indigenous film-making.
The first Festival of Australian Aboriginal Cinema (La Festival du Cinéma Aborigène Australien) will showcase films that may have garnered awards at Cannes, but are nonetheless unfamiliar to audiences in one of the world’s capitals of cinematic culture. It is the first festival of its kind in Europe.
As the festival launches, The Conversation asked two experts on Indigenous storytelling, one from France and one from Australia, to put their questions to festival director, Greta Moreton Elangué.
Sandra Phillips, Queensland University of Technology
Why host an Indigenous film festival in Paris now? What influenced you to make this decision?
I’ve been aware of the growing success of film festivals such as FIFO (Festival International du Film Documentaire Océanien) in Tahiti and imagineNATIVE in Toronto, which both showcase Indigenous Australian Cinema every year.
Do you think French film-goers will extend their appreciation of art from First Nations Australia to appreciation and understanding of stories and characters these films offer?
The French have recognised Australian Indigenous cinematic talent for more than 25 years now.
Indigenous Australian cinema has been present at the Cannes Film Festival since 1989, when Tracy Moffat’s short film, Night Cries – A Rural Tragedy, was selected in the short film competition. This was followed in 1993 by her first feature Bedevil (Un Certain Regard, 1993), Warwick Thornton’s Samson and Delilah (Caméra D’Or, 2009), Ivan Sen’s Toomelah (Un Certain regard 2011) and Wayne Blair’s The Sapphires (Cannes 2012).
One of the omnipresent things in Indigenous culture is the tradition of storytelling, through creative practices such as painting, song, dance or cinema. Storytelling serves as an affirmation for the community, and it’s this unique aspect of culture that makes the new wave of Indigenous Australian cinema so distinctive.
We’ve also organised an exhibition of Indigenous art in parallel to the Festival so that people can discover work from artists who live in the communities where the films in our programme were shot.
There is a range of portrayals of First Nations Australia and range of film-making styles in your selection, what informed your particular film choices for this festival?
The films in our programme represent a distinct generation of film-makers, born in the politically charged 1960s and 1970s, following the referendum to include Aboriginal people in the Australian census.
The films being made are testament to the complexities communities in Australia are still faced with today. This generation of film-makers is the first to recognise the transformative power of cinema, and get behind a camera to show audiences a whole new vision of Australia.
Our festival is a panorama of that vision and includes innovative films from features to documentaries and short works. We’re also very excited to be able to include groundbreaking new Indigenous TV series, Cleverman.
Geraldine Le Roux, Université de Bretagne Occidentale
In France, the word “aboriginal” often evokes an ancient culture, the Australian wilderness and traditional “dot painters” of the central desert. What does your selection of films do to break down these stereotypes?
The selection of films in our festival cover multiple genres, from musicals to murder mystery, science fiction, super heroes and comedy. There is also a special selection of prize winning documentaries from the FIFO festival. It’s a thoroughly post-colonial programme.
Since the 1970s, Aboriginal art in all its forms – painting, sculpture, installation, basket weaving and film – has moved from the artists’ studios in Australia to the galleries of Europe and the United States. Often, the artists accompany their works, as a way for communities to control the representation of their art and culture, with all the political implications that comes with it. Do you imagine that the directors and actors will accompany their films for future editions of this festival?
Our first edition was made possible by the support of three key partners: the Australian Embassy in Paris, the Ville de Paris and Tourism Australia.
Having the film-makers and actors present at the festival is vital to strengthening a relationship between the audience and the films. Our key goal for the second edition is to be able to facilitate travel for of a delegation of film-makers to the festival, so that they can share their knowledge with Parisian audiences.
The First Festival of Australian Aboriginal Cinema runs from June 1 – June 5 at Cinéma La Clef, Paris.
Read this piece in French here.