Indigenous Cinema and Visual Language(s): Why Should We Be Teaching These Films?

Curator's Note

I’ll admit it. I have multiple personalities. My early training in anthropology has constantly pulled me into cultural and ethnographic exploration; my graduate training in critical and cultural studies keeps me always already in analytical mode with a focus on cultural politics, while my right-brained persona is deeply drawn to the visual stylings of photography and film as well as the shapes of narratives.  The place where I’m best able to integrate my many selves is in consuming—and studying—indigenous media.  For years, I’ve kept this interest ghettoized outside of my everyday teaching of classes in mass media, film studies, and intercultural communication.
 


 

But this year, after publishing Global Indigenous Media with Michelle Stewart, I came to realize that keeping my passion for indigenous media a secret from my students was not only depriving me of the pleasure of sharing but was also short-changing them from being able to see the world through the eyes and distinctive cultural perspectives of native filmmakers. I had been perpetuating, in practice, the very disappearing and denying and closeting of indigeneity that I have critiqued in theory.
 

 

So that has begun to change—and with wonderful responses by my undergraduate students. I’m realizing the importance of “opening up the canon” to effect a better understanding of the diversity of visual and narrative cinematic styles on a global cultural scale coupled with an understanding of the distinctive issues faced by indigenous cultures.


 

(1) I’ll open with a recent short film, Conversion by Nanobah Becker (Navajo, 2005), which integrates archival and dramatized footage to beautifully tell a story about the impact of Christian missionaries on a Navajo family in 1950. 

 

Since so many excellent contemporary examples of indigenous media have already been highlighted this week, I decided to select several classics of indigenous media available online that might be great additions to your media studies, film/television history, intercultural communication, or visual anthropology course:
 

 

(2) A segment of the classic footage of the late 1960’s from anthropologist Sol Worth’s Navajo film project, later written up with John Adair in Through Navajo Eyes (the full text of which is available online), which set out to discover: what kind of visual and temporal style and aesthetics might Navajo use if they were trained to use the camera?  What would they choose to record, how might they frame and compose their images, and how might they lead our eyes to “see” their world from a Navajo perspective?

(3) A brief clip (there is also a second one on YouTube) from Basically Black (1973), an adaptation for Australian national commercial TV (the first all-Aboriginal television series, on ABC) of National Black Theatre’s stage show that set out to use “humour to subvert the arrogance of the dominant ideology.” BB was the creative work of a team of Koori Black Power activists including Gary Foley, who was also a leader in the 1972 Tent Assembly in Canberra.
 


(4) A clip from the esteemed 1985 poetic documentary Itam Hakim Hopiit by Hopi photographer and filmmaker Victor Masayesva, Jr., which presents a narrative about a Hopi elder using a distinctly Hopi cultural and visual language. As Michael Renov writes, " …The film offers a cultural bridge of a very different kind, evoking a culture and an environment through the look and sound of it and the fluidly majestic pace of its unfolding…to impart the drama of distant rainstorms across desert landscapes or cause one to gasp in astonishment at the rainbow that enters the frame during a revelatory pan, for indeed the lyricism of Masayesva, Jr.’s imagery and the tone of reverence for the earth, whose caretakers the Hopi consider themselves to be, has the power to transport the viewer."
 

(5) The short experimental film, Night Cries: A Rural Tragedy (1989) that helped launch Australian aboriginal artist and filmmaker Tracey Moffatt into international acclaim. The stylized and non-naturalistic mise-en-scene and cinematography address race relations in Australia. Quoting Lynne Cook, “Stylization and artifice are the hallmarks of Tracey Moffatt’s art, irrespective of medium. For whether working in film, video, or photography, she is never engaged primarily with producing reality, with taking pictures, but with making pictures. The worlds that Moffatt constructs, usually via a form of nonlinear narrative, typically fuse personal memories within a larger historical compass.”
 

 

(6) A trailer for Alanis Obomsawin’s remarkable documentary Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance (1993) [the full film is available online here], an evocative narrative of the two-and-a-half month 1990 armed Oka crisis between the Mohawk Community and the Canadian forces in Quebec. While most journalists were evacuated, Obomsawin stayed and covered the crisis alone with a video camera and tape recorder, bringing a powerful immediacy to her perspective.
 


There are many other classics, though quite a few are only available from distributors and are not yet available online, even in excerpts.  There are also many recent short films and television programs online (explore IsumaTV) as well as a growing body of superb indigenous features (keep an eye out for Shane Belcourt’s Tkaronto and Sterlin Harjo’s Barking Water), as well as countless documentaries ranging from the cultural to the political to the artistic to the personal—and often integrating all four.  And then, of course, there is the new wave of indigenous animation, which is visually stunning….
 


 

Add some indigenous films to your curriculum, and your students will never see the world the same way again.  I’d love for us to use this forum to share ways that indigenous media pieces are being used pedagogically. 
 

 

Comments

Faye Ginsburg's picture

What a wonderful set of works!

Wow Pam - this is great. Thanks for bringing up the awkward relationship that exists between those that study and advocate for this work, and the work of the filmmakers’ themselves, and for letting these clips offer a rich sense of what’s out there — and reaching back to some of the earliest work, like the fantastic clip from Basically Black that rarely gets screened, to Nanobah Becker’s very moving new work as one of the emerging voices to pay attention to.

There are so many great Maori films as well — a terrific one to incorporate for classes is Taika Waititi’s beautiful short, nominated for an Academy Award in 2005,  Two Cars One Night

Faye Ginsburg Director, Center for Media, Culture & History, NYU

Jennifer Gauthier's picture

A Question of Distribution

Pam – 

Thank you for helping to bring all of these wonderful Indigenous films to a wider audience, both on the web and in the classroom. Perhaps without meaning to, you opened up an important topic of discussion – the political economy of Indigenous cinema and in particular the distribution problem.   I taught a 14-week course on Global Indigenous Media to undergraduates this semester and perhaps the most frustrating part for me was acquiring all the amazing work that I had read about. I was thrilled to stumble across Moffatt’s Night Cries on You Tube. I found that students really respond to her work (given a little bit of preparation) – her images are beautifully composed and her use of sound is so provocative. My students also loved Rachel Perkins’s film One Night the Moon (2001) and Ivan Sen’s Beneath Clouds (2001) – these films shown in succession after Moffatt’s work really gave them an interesting perspective on Aboriginal filmmaking in Australia. It was quite a challenge to locate the Perkins and Sen films – I ended up buying them on ebay and then having my school transfer them to Region 1. They are not available in other formats. The same goes for the wonderful Saami film, The Pathfinder (Gaup, 1987) and the work of Maori filmmaker Barry Barclay. His film, Ngati (1987) is important for laying the foundation of Indigenous filmmaking. In my opinion it is a travesty that his work has not been made available on DVD around the world [maybe this will change since his recent untimely death].   I also want to put in a plug for Loretta Todd’s work – her film, The People Go On (2003) screened after Obomsawin’s Kanehsatake was a great experience for my students. Todd’s work offers another First Nations woman’s perspective on the struggle to reclaim/maintain native identity in Canada. Her experimental documentary style seen in the context of the National Film Board’s history is quite provocative.   Organizations like Women Make Movies and the National Film Board do distribute some Indigenous films, but they are often cost-prohibitive for small colleges (especially in the current climate). Others like the New Zealand Film Commission and Screen Australia seem intent on marginalizing their Indigenous filmmakers (despite a new fund devoted to Maori filmmaking in New Zealand).  This is one way in which Indigenous films are being kept out of the canon.   I have been eager to show my students Two Cars, One Night, but have been stumped as to where to find it. Distribution is a crucial link in the film industry chain and even more so in the Indigenous film industry chain – distributors need to give the viewing public more credit – Indigenous filmmakers are making some of the most innovative, insightful and entertaining works these days and people WILL watch them. Perhaps we need to take up the charge in a more vocal way …

 

Kristin Dowell's picture

Distribution and Access

Pam, thank you for posting such a wonderful collection of works! Many thanks to Faye, Pam, Amalia, Michelle, and all the commentators for such a enriching and stimulating discussion about issues in the production and circulation of indigenous media!   I am thankful to have such an opportunity to participate in this dialogue.

 

I wanted to make a few comments in regard to distribution and audience.  Jennifer, thank you for highlighting the difficulties regarding distribution and gaining access to these works. It can be very tough to track down distributor information and of course, the expense of purchasing institutional copies for use in the classroom can present an obstacle to obtaining this work. I teach a course in Visual Anthropology and spend several weeks on indigenous media and have also found that compelling films such as Kanehsatake, Stolen Generations, The People Go On, Beneath Clouds and Two Cars, One Night, are all films that my students respond to most enthusiastically.  Students are consistently moved and engaged with the images and stories they see on screen in these indigenous works.

 

In linking this discussion to previous posts in regard to Faye’s curation of the clip from Before Tomorrow, and her discussion of Isuma TV, I just wanted to point out that what I find so exciting about Isuma TV is the way in which it opens up new possibilities for distribution, and I’ve seen an increasing number of indigenous filmmakers from around the globe uploading their content to the website.  This is a tremendous resource for teaching, it is also a tremendous resource for indigenous filmmakers wanting access to their colleagues’s work and indigenous communities wanting to screen this work. There are of course, some limitations given lack of access to the internet in remote and rural areas (as Faye has analyzed in much of her work on the “digital divide” and as many others commented upon in their posts), but I am very hopeful and encouraged by the greater level of access to indigenous work that Isuma TV and NITV represent.

 

Thanks Jennifer, also for highlighting the work of Loretta Todd, she is a filmmaker with whom I worked closely while doing research with the Aboriginal media world in Vancouver and her film The People Go On as well as her earlier works The Learning Path and Hands of History have played a seminal role in Aboriginal media, particularly in articulating the voices and experiences of Aboriginal women, in Canada.

 

I wanted to point out another online resource that is helpful, the National Film Board of Canada’s “Aboriginal Perspectives” webpage which contains many useful clips from a range of Aboriginal videos addressing sovereignty, nationhood, and Aboriginal rights in Canada.

 

http://www3.nfb.ca/enclasse/doclens/visau/index.php?language=english

 

Thanks Pam, for pointing out the features Tkaronto and Barking Water.  The rise in feature films, short narratives, as well as animation in indigenous media represents a rich array of genres in which increasing numbers of indigenous media makers are participating.  I have been struck by the a rise in the number of experimental videos lately, such as the work of Kevin Burton (Swampy Cree), Nikawomin (Song) and Writing the Land, Dustinn Craig (White Mountain Apache), 4-Wheel War Pony, and Helen Haig-Brown (Tsilh’qotin), Su Naa (My Big Brother).   It seems that for some Aboriginal filmmakers, the experimental genre is appealing as an alternative that expresses the individual artistic visions of the media maker, while also re-imagining this technology to create culturally specific indigenous media aesthetics deeply rooted in ties to Aboriginal nations. 

 

Again, thank you all for such a wonderfully rich dialogue on these topics!

 

 

Joanna Hearne's picture

Teaching Native films and problems of distribution

Thank you so much, Pam, for this selection of clips and for reminding us how important it is to share these works with students at every opportunity.   My students have been passionately responsive to films like Obomsawin’s Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance, Harjo’s Four Sheets to the Wind, and Waititi’s Two Cars, One Night.

A few years ago the problem of distribution was even more acute— IsumaTV (and YouTube) and independent distribution by artists through their individual websites has made a huge difference.  Still, distribution and access are the primary challenges for me when planning courses on Native media.  Distribution is also—crucially—a major problem for the media practitioners who need to make a living and support their families but who often have trouble financing and selling their films.  

How can we facilitate and support better distribution for indigenous films? I would love to see features on DVD, boxed sets, collections of shorts, etc.  

Two Cars, One Night is available from Film Movement: http://www.filmmovement.com/filmcatalog/index.asp?MerchandiseID=91

I’ve recently purchased amazing animated films from the following sites:

Blackgum Mountain Productions, for Joseph Erb’s (and his students’) clay animation films:

http://www.blackgummountain.com/Blackgum_Mountain.html

Raven Tales: http://www.raventales.ca/

Green Planet films (for Greg Coyes’ Stories from the Seventh Fire): http://greenplanetfilms.org/index.php?cPath=142

Film West (for Carol Geddes’ Two Winters, Tales from Above the Earth): http://www.filmwest.com/Catalogue/itemdetail/2895/

and of course the NFB (here’s the link for the Wapos Bay animation series): http://www.nfb.ca/film/wapos_bay_alls_fair/

I want to second Kristin’s thanks to Faye, Amalia, Michelle and Pam for this wonderful and suggestive discussion thread.

 

Jennifer Deger's picture

ABOUT ACCESSIBILITY

What a wonderful set of examples, showing such a strong diversity of styles, approaches and stories.  Many thanks to Pam - and also to Faye, Michelle, Amalia and all involved in the highly stimulating discussions that have unfolded over the week.

 

As I watch these clips and read the comments I am struck by the ways that certain Yolngu media projects I have been involved with raise issues of accessibility—both in terms of the limited circulation of the material, but also in terms of the challenges these works pose for viewers outside of Arnhem Land. 

 

Over the past 15 years I have collaborated with the community of Gapuwiyak in Northern Australia on video projects that explore Yolngu relationships with their ancestral homelands. (and yes, the term collaboration opens up big questions about the multiple levels at which ‘indigenous media’ mediates intercultural relations, but that’s an issue for another day).  These videos have always been aimed at a broad audience—both local and international—but have been made “in a Yolngu way”.  Our current project about the source of the Marrawungu shooting star combines traditional performances, family histories, archival footage and special effects with an aesthetic and political sensibility honed in ritual. 

Put simply, these projects do not simply record or re-enact traditional knowledge—they use video to revitalize ancestral connections to country and kin.  In the process rights to certain knowledge and tracts of land are claimed and affirmed.

Like so many examples posted this week, this is ambitious, innovative and politically-charged work.  Part of what makes this project distinctively Yolngu is the ways that culturally specific notions about the power of images—their capacity to draw people into embodied relations and to transmit something of the potency of a place or person into new contexts—make the stakes very high for all involved.  Concerns about what is included and what is left out, and how others might respond to the videos—particularly within the regional context—means that much of the video work will never be released for public viewing, instead being held for safekeeping by the ritual managers associated with these sites. 

Even when cleared for public viewing, the visual style and narrative structure of these explicitly Yolngu videos can prove extremely difficult - even alienating -  for non-local audiences, as I know from my own teaching of (and research on) the film Gularri: That Brings Unity (CAAMA Productions and Warrkwarrkpuyngu Yolngu Media, 1997). (Scheduled for release on DVD later this year).

I raise these points here because I think its important to bear in mind  the ways that certain cultural dynamics, including what Faye has so usefully elsewhere called “embedded aesthetics”, can permeate  indigenous media productions in ways that most viewers immediately can’t access via the screen.  For me, part of the joy and challenges of teaching in this area lies in the work of exploring the new and sometimes unexpected conceptual terrain that these films can lead us towards.   (This sounds like where all of Pam’s multiple personalites get to come out and play together!).  In my experience, it can be exactly at the point when students realise they can’t necessarily make sense of what they are seeing that a film like Gularri opens up an entirely new level of engagement by revealing the extent of the imaginative work involved in trying to appreciate the work on something like its own terms…

 

Which is by no means to undo the pleasures of being caught up - and swept away - by other ‘more accessible’ productions!

 

For those interested there are quite a few (seemingly less fraught) Yolngu media projects available on the web which demonstrate the tremendous vitality and experimental capacities of Yolngu across the region.

I highly recommend the Zorba the Greek Yolngu style clip that attracted a huge audience on youtube a couple of years back. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O-MucVWo-Pw

Check out also the Mulka Center in Yirrkala. http://www.yirrkala.com/mulka/index.html

And the 12 Canoes website from Raminging. http://www.12canoes.com.au/  

Jennifer Deger's picture

ps

I just realised that my comments above on community based video projects are a little off track in terms of today’s topic of teaching indigenous cinema.  Even so, it seems to me that Pam’s fabulously diverse clips raise questions abouth aesthetics,  experimentation, and intercultural appreciation that resonate across the spectrum of indigenous media production.

 

J.

 

Sabra Thorner's picture

Let's include still photography in this conversation

I am struck, in the context of this conversation, how little we’ve talked about still photography, and the work being done to Indigenize engagements with this multifaceted technology. For example, Jennifer herself writes of the changing protocols of Yolngu relationships to images after a loved one has passed away: for her informants, the potency of a photograph hasn’t changed, but what has changed over time is the ways in which mourners handle and view them. Elizabeth Edwards writes of the infinite recodability of images, and in my own fieldwork with Indigenous people—Kooris—in Melbourne, Australia, the photographic archive is indeed an intensely dynamic space. 

  The Koori Heritage Trust (KHT) is a Melbourne cultural center that’s been around since 1985 and has amassed a photographic collection of +47,000 images. One curator is responsible for “looking after” these, as well as the Trust’s artifacts, artworks, and oral histories. About five years ago, a pilot program was developed at the Trust, in which about 300 photographs were scanned and included in a text-and-images database called the Koori Heritage Archive. The database was a template purchased from Ara Irititja, another digital archiving project based in Adelaide. Ara Irititja has been developed over more than 15 years of collaboration with Pitjantjatjara-Yankunyjatjara communities; its directors have packaged a sort of digital scaffolding that they have made available for sale for other Indigenous communities/organizations to customize. KHT’s oral historians used a grant to purchase and launch a copy of the archive; when the original grant monies ran out, one staff-member spent several months searching and applying for additional funding to no avail. The pilot archive is still in use—on one computer in KHT’s library space—but there are no funding or staffing resources to expand or update it with more images (or their associated stories).    As a result, the lone collections curator has shifted her strategy, and in 2008, launched a new initiative through E-hive, a program developed by New Zealand based company Vernon. Vernon does not provide a pre-fab database for organizations to populate; instead, it offers online space on its server and charges community-based organizations based on the amount of storage they use. While I was at KHT, we began anew in digitizing their photographic archive: scanning photographs and storing their digital files in a very easy-to-use, customized Excel spreadsheet. We opened albums, boxes, and packets of photos whenever elders were around, asked them questions about images, and then went back to our computer work-stations and populated specific fields with data about the image (photographer, country, people pictured, date, story, copyright information, etc). The data was then “dumped” from our Excel spreadsheet into Vernon’s online database.  KHT staff now have password-protected access to it via the web, and when they need to add/edit/update records, they work with an interface that looks just like the original Excel template.   The lessons I’ve learned while collaborating on this project are many. While much is happening in digitization of photographic archives, and excitement mounts over online spaces and their potential to provide increased access to cultural heritage, solutions must be community-specific: what works for Pitjantjatjara communities, in this instance, didn’t work for Koori folks in Melbourne. Also, the funding and human resource constraints of community organizations are real: KHT didn’t have funding to maintain the Koori Heritage Archive, nor did they have someone on site who was trained to keep it updated; they had to find a solution in which KHT could digitally archive knowledge embedded in/associated with photographs but outsource the database management, while keeping costs as low as possible. Perhaps most surprising was that the best solution (for now) was a turn away from Ara Irititja’s model in favor of a Microsoft-based program: the curator decided that Excel is more likely to be in future staffmembers’ arsenal of computer literacy and thus the archiving more likely to be maintained in the years to come, ensuring that the future of the archive itself is not reliant on a single person’s expertise.     

Amidst the fraughtness of cultural clearance and copyright issues associated with any handling of images of/by/for Indigenous peoples—as well as the very real fragility of a community organization’s cultural work—emerges KHT’s commitment to the potential for photographic archives to be re-signified and photographs to be made newly or differently meaningful in the present and for the future. Digital technologies arrive already encoded with cultural paradigms; KHT is re-working a very ordinary data management tool to facilitate increased Koori community access to archival photographs. Through ongoing collaborative processes, photographs are being put to work to affirm the strength of kinship relations, pride in past political mobilizations, and the endurance of connections to country.

Lisa Stefanoff's picture

Accessing Central Australian Indigenous Media

Many thanks to everyone who has contributed to this strand of the conversation - catalyzed by Pam’s invigorating showcase, a great performance in itself of the ways that we can use this kind of social networking to develop our teaching and learning processes.  

A couple of responses to some of the topics that have been raised here today…

Jennifer Deger draws our attention here (as she does in her excellent book ‘Shimmering Screens’) to the work of Indigenous media production as social practice within Australian cultural worlds concerned with the powers in play and at stake acts of revelation and the guarding, stewardship, and non-revelation of knowledge, Law, places, names, songs, and stories (all elements of what Yolngu call ‘rom’) that must be negotiated in the production of local video. This challenge is faced by all ‘cultural’ filmmakers working in Aboriginal Australia and is most definitely one of the defining tensions in much of CAAMA’s almost 30 year old signature ‘language and culture’ television series Nganampa Anwernekenhe (‘Ours’/’From Us’ in the Pitjantjatjara and Arrernte languages of Central Australia, made for Imparja Television) which enabled the production of the film ‘Gularri’ to which Jennifer refers. As I discuss in my dissertation, CAAMA’s ‘second generation’ of Central Australian Aboriginal filmmakers, who are largely English-only speakers, work with an extremely high quotient of respect for the Aboriginal language-speakers whose stories they are responsible for bringing to screen; this respect translates into an audio-visualized ethic of listening - ie listening to speakers’ verbal performances, listening to country, and listening also to the intercultural context of their engagement through the filmmaking process. Aesthetic transformations in modes of listening are evident in the move by some of the newer filmmakers in recent years.

Many of CAAMA’s early films are no longer available for public viewing because people in them have passed away and families have either decided to take the works out of circulation, or haven’t advised CAAMA if this taboo has finished. In ways that resonate with Sabra’s comments about the KHT’s struggle to manage it’s photography collection, CAAMA has never had the resources to keep tabs on possible changes over time in families’ decisions to keep work containing images of the dead in or out of public view. Information around these matters moves in all manner of informal ways, but it is not systematized. Many of the Nganampa Anwernekenhe films made in the last 6-10 years, especially those that have moved beyond the Imparja broadcast zone into national and international festival circuits are now available for purchase as DVDs available though the CAAMA Shop (www.caama.com.au) for private use. If you’d like to acquire anything for your institution there is another price scale. You can find out more by contacting CAAMA Productions via productions@caama.com.au . The CAAMA Productions pages on the CAAMA website provide short clips, summaries and production information. 

I didn’t quite understand what Jennifer Gauthier meant when she wrote that "the New Zealand Film Commission and Screen Australia seem intent on marginalizing their Indigenous filmmakers". Screen Australia, formerly the Australian Film Commission, has been one of the primary drivers of the Indigenous film industry in Australia for well over a decade. The Indigenous Unit, managed by Wiradjuri filmmaker Sally Riley has steadily and strategically developed the skills, work and careers of scores of Indigenous filmmakers, and has assisted them to travel with their acclaimed work to major international festivals. Indigenous cinema is one of Australia’s most significant cultural exports, and continues to grow as a site of important cultural capital for its makers. Central Australian filmmaker Warwick Thornton’s brilliant new feature drama (his first as writer/director/cinematographer) ‘Samson and Delilah (True Love)’ (www.samsonanddelilah.com.au) opened theatrically across Australia yesterday, in the same week that it was officially selected for the Un Certain Regard showcase at the Cannes Film Festival. If the reviews and blogs that are amassing around the globe are any indication, this work is destined for major international success (set yourselves a few hours of time to explore these through Google! I recommend Sandy Edwards’ and the Screen Hub pieces in lieu of some of the issues raised in this conversation). In the clever hands of John Maynard, and with the support of the Screen Australia Indigenous Unit, this film has enjoyed a very well-managed promotional campaign in the lead up to its public openings. Despite this, and despite the film being reviewed as ‘the finest Australian film ever’ by one of our most esteemed critics, it will remain a small film that will struggle at the box office this week against the openings of Wolverine, Defiance and other such mega-productions.

Screen Australia is not a direct point of sale for any of the work in which it invests -producers and distributors are. In the context of weak national cultural policy to protect the local industry from the global political economy of Hollywood, distribution remains a tremendous challenge for all Australian screen craft. This said, the Australian Screen Online site (http://australianscreen.com.au) is an invaluable place to find many Indigenous productions, including CAAMA’s, accompanied by informative and interpretive curatorial notes. Most of these are well written by Indigenous scholar, poet, filmmaker, and peformance artist Romaine Moreton with sensitivity, insight and affection for the works on show. 

I really look forward to the progression of many dimensions of this discussion in other contexts, in particular the many very complex issues surrounding Indigenous audio-visual aesthetics, their affective powers and their other communications to their very diverse audiences. 

Thanks to everyone for contributing this week. It’s late out here, goodnight!

Cheers, 

Lisa

Pam Wilson's picture

Some Metacommentary on Discursive Space

Wow! I’m thinking that we need a central communal place for these comments since our thriving and synergistic discussion is interwoven across and threads through all four of the individual posts (Faye’s, Michelle’s, Amalia’s, and soon to be Ernesto’s, as well as this one). So—for anyone who hasn’t done so, be sure to read all the comments for all of the Indigenous Media Week posts; it’s all one big discussion. Many, many thanks to Avi Santos for creating and managing this exciting and outstanding space within which we’ve been able to share across disciplines and continents and cultures. This is absolutely terrific. There are a couple of listservs out there upon which some of us talk about indigenous media (see below), but the ability to post clips here and have the visual element adds a new dimension that is really stimulating.

 

In the midst of all this, however, I just thought I’d share a couple of meta-observations. I had conceptualized that the participatory "audience" for these posts would be the same groups of mostly media scholars who seem to have dominated In Media Res in earlier weeks and months. In fact, that is who I imagined as I created a post on incorporating indigenous media into the "mainstream" media studies and film studies curriculum. However, most of those who are participating in the discussion are those of us already involved in the indigenous media/visual anthropology circle (and so I know that the clips I posted are "preaching to the choir" for those of you already knowledgeable about indigenous media). I absolutely love for us to get to talk with each other, yet I wish there were more voices from media studies and from colleagues who are not already engaged in indigenous media work.

 

My hope is to open up this interdisciplinary area so that "mainstream" scholars and media producers engage, consume, and consider these very important works of cultural production alongside the oeuvres of global popular culture both commercial and/or artistic. Somehow, I think, works of indigenous media not only fall outside the radar of most media scholars, but the inherently cultural political nature of most indigenous media may color this body of work as more polemic and so it becomes prematurely relegated to some Other category of "earnest" work (along with much documentary as well as other media forms that don’t come out of the entertainment industries). Perhaps these are viewed as media to study but not to have fun with. A decade ago, Curran and Park published their "De-Westernizing Media Studies" collection. Has media studies since become any more de-Westernized?

 

One of the reasons I chose to feature such a diversity of styles and so many clips, rather than just one, is to demonstrate the range of stylistic and aesthetic approaches that indigenous artists are using and to emphasize what Jennifer has so nicely called the "aesthetics,  experimentation, and intercultural appreciation that resonate across the spectrum of indigenous media production."

 

For example, just as film scholars and teachers might use Antonioni’s "The Passenger" or Akerman’s feminist experimental film "Jeanne Dielman" to illustrate an alternate aesthetic of pacing and sense of timing in cinematic conventions, they might well consider also studying and teaching "Gularri: That Brings Unity" (CAAMA/Warrkwarrkpuyngu Yolngu Media, 1997), which Jennifer Deger indicates above will soon be released on DVD and about the making of which Jennifer discusses in detail in her masterful ethnography of a Yolngu community—in particular its processes of cultural negotiation surrounding media (including photography, as Sabra so importantly points out).

 

Jennifer’s book "Shimmering Screens" is extremely readable and  theoretically enlightening; I highly recommend it as a staple of any course on indigenous media. It was the centerpiece of a special topics undergraduate course I taught this spring, and their screening of "Gularri" (thanks so much, Jennifer) was really eye-opening, yet challenging, and became the basis for some wonderful discussions about basic intercultural concepts like different ways of seeing and conceptualizing reality. I think that reading your book and watching this film stimulated my students’ critical thinking and broadened them intellectually more than any other single reading or film.

 

We also watched a number of the VNA videos that were on Isuma TV, Ernesto, and these are marvelous, especially for introductory students. Much like the reaction to Terry Turner’s The Kayapo, the images and interviews with Amazonian Indians with and about video cameras and televisions served as a great introduction to the very issues you raise in today’s post. For my students, especially, it opened up a fascinating discussion about their perceptions of indigenous cultures as being frozen in time in a lifestyle that my students romanticized but yet perceived as more rudimentary (I hesitate to say "primitive"), and so the savvy about media that they saw here (and also read about in articles like Alex Halkin’s about the Chiapas Media Project) astounded them and really caused them to rethink their preconceived categories and understandings. As a teacher, I just treasure being a part of these awakenings.

 

Thanks so very much to Lisa, Jennifer, Joanna, Kristen, Sabra, Lorna, Nancy, Kim, Kathy, Ramesh, Ziggy, Ellie, April, Alex, Lucas, Amahl, Nick, Daniel, Naomi, as well as, of course!, Faye, Michelle, Amalia and Ernesto for your contributions to this lively and most enlightening discussion, which has also been chock-ful of great links and references for further exploration.

 

Other forums? We have a listserv at indigenousmedia@yahoogroups.com (go to http://groups.yahoo.com/group/indigenousmedia) and also the medianthro list that Ziggy manages at http://lists.easaonline.org/listinfo.cgi/medianthro-easaonline.org.

 

I hope this will continue even after our Indigenous Media Week is over. Can we keep on talking, Avi, even after this goes to archive?

 

Pam Wilson

Associate Professor and Coordinator

Department of Communication

Reinhardt College

7300 Reinhardt College Parkway

Waleska, GA 30183

PSW@reinhardt.edu

Michelle Raheja's picture

indigenous media pedagogy

Thanks, Pam, for posting these compelling and important films here and for your generous, thought-provoking and informative discussions this week.  I appreciate how your guest curator commentary begins with a personal anecdote about the disconnections we sometimes experience between our academic training and our later intellectual interests.  Thanks, too, to everyone who has participated in this thread.  The information about the broader context of transnational Indigenous film and video production here provides access to films that may not otherwise circulate beyond festivals.  I’m really excited, in particular, to look at the Blackgum Mountain claymation films Joanna cited!  In my own teaching, I’ve tended to focus solely on media production on "Turtle Island" (North America) because students know little to nothing about these films and their contexts.  But in the next few years I’d like to start incorporating some of the films that have been suggested here, as well as films by Saami directors and/or starring Saami actors.  Two of my favorite films produced in Saami country are Bazo (2003), by Lars Goran Petterson, and Cuckoo (2002) by Aleksandr Rogozhkin.  The work of Nils Gaup is also incredibly important.

Jennifer Gauthier's picture

to clarify . . .

Hi all -

Just wanted to clarify my comment about Screen Australia and the NZFC - I did not mean to imply that these organizations are not supporting Indigenous media production. Aboriginal media in Australia is phenomenal and seems to have a lot of state support. The situation in NZ has improved only recently it seems, with new programs for Maori media production (for example, Te Paepae Ataata, signed in November 2007).

My comment was specifically directed at the distribution situation; when I was trying to track down the films of Rachel Perkins and Ivan Sen, a representative of Screen Australia could only suggest ebay … I wanted to raise the issue that we need to be paying attention to the other sites in the development-production-distribution-exhibition circuit.

Thanks to everyone for their stimulating posts. This kind of networking helps immensely in making scholars (unfortunately mostly those of us already doing this work, as Pam points out) aware of not only Indigenous media makers and their work, but also of means to acquire the work (which often has to be accomplished in "creative" ways).

JG

Charles Bicalho's picture

IV Mostra Pajé de Filmes Indígenas in Brazil

Nice article! We are an indigenous movie producer in southeast Brazil, called Pajé Filmes (http://paje-filmes.blogspot.com.br/) and we are about to have the fourth edition of Mostra Pajé (Shaman Festival of Indigenous Movies) in April. We’ll be exhibiting indigenous movies from Mexico, Venezuela, US and Canada, and Brazil as well. This is our program: http://paje-filmes.blogspot.com.br/2015/02/programacao-iv-mostra-paje-de...!

Feedback

2 people reported using this


You need to login to submit feedback or edit your feedback of this post!