Timed to coincide with the start of the Royal Academy’s major exhibition Australia (21 September – 8 December), the British Film Institute on London’s Southbank is staging Australia: Shifting Sands, a film season exploring ‘the most significant shift in Australian cinema in the last two decades: the emergence of Indigenous filmmaking’.
Complementing the Royal Academy exhibition’s focus on landscape, this season aims to emphasise a similar thematic preoccupation in Australian cinema, with the BFI’s Australian Head of Exhibition Clare Stewart describing an idea of ‘landscape as character’, with an identity torn between European settler notions of the land as something to be owned or overcome, and the Indigenous Australian belief in ‘country’, in which law, language, storytelling and spirituality are entwined with the land.
As well as providing another chance to revisit the big screen experience of recent releases such as Baz Luhrmann’s sweeping epic Australia (2008), soul-sister musical comedy The Sapphires (Wayne Blair, 2012), and Warwick Thornton’s achingly beautiful outback love story Samson & Delilah (2009), audiences also have a chance to sample past classics such as Phillip Noyce’s heart-wrenching Stolen Generations drama Rabbit-Proof Fence (2002), and Rolf de Heer and Peter Djigirr’s sublimely magical entanglement of storytelling and ‘country’ in Ten Canoes (2006).
Joining those films are a handful of lesser-known, but equally brilliant examples of Indigenous Australian filmmaking, including a double bill of filmmaker and visual artist Tracey Moffatt’s beDevil (1993) and Night Cries: A Rural Tragedy (1990); an extraordinary musical collaboration between Rachel Perkins (Bran Nue Day) and legendary singer-songwriter Paul Kelly, One Night the Moon (2002); as well as teen runaway road movie Beneath Clouds (2002), the directorial debut of Ivan Sen (Toomelah, Mystery Road). Following its UK premiere at the East End Film Festival earlier this summer, audiences will also have another chance to catch Catriona McKenzie’s feature debut, Satellite Boy (2012), a warm-hearted family drama about a young boy living in an abandoned drive-in cinema.
Alongside indigenous-led features, the BFI season also includes a trio of landmark films dealing with indigenous characters, but made by white filmmakers during the Australian film renaissance of the 1970s. British director Nicolas Roeg’s Walkabout (1970) follows a British teen and her young brother stranded in the desert, where they are aided by an Aboriginal youth. In applying his usual metaphysical bent to the Australian landscape, Roeg is matched by Peter Weir in The Last Wave (1977), a spooky thriller about a lawyer whose ominous dreams intersect with the ancient lore of a group of indigenous men he is defending. Fred Schepisi’s The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith (1978), meanwhile, is a brooding, violent tale of a young indigenous male torn between two cultures, adapted from Thomas Keneally’s book and based on actual events.
As well as screenings, the season includes a talk at the BFI Reuben Library by Dr. Ian Henderson (Menzies Centre for Australian Studies – King’s College, London) who will explore the history of indigenous filmmaking in Aboriginal Australian Cinema: Storytelling, Silence, and Modernity. Dr. Henderson will also be introducing one of the screenings of Ten Canoes, whilst Clare Stewart will give an extended introduction to the first screening of The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith.
Australia: Shifting Sands begins on 10 September at the BFI Southbank with a Passport to Cinema preview of Walkabout, with the season-proper running 19 September – 8 October, 2013. Tickets are on sale to BFI Champions on 5 August, to BFI Members on 6 August and go on general sale on 13 August. Full details are available on the BFI website.