Challenges in bringing short docos to the big screen



While the cooler change was praised around town this weekend, it threw a spanner in the works of the Northern Territory Travelling Film Festival.

What was supposed to be a night of culture under the starry night sky of Ooraminna Station, was instead held on the blue acrylic floor of the Centralian Middle School basketball court.

Still, there was a buzz to the crowd as they awaited the collection of short films, even if the vast expanse of the arid interior had been replaced by the unturnoffable green glow of emergency exit signs.

To judge the event too harshly is probably unfair, considering the loss of the atmosphere that they were hoping for.

However, ever since the rise and normalisation of high quality short documentaries in high definition on Youtube and Vimeo, something has been stolen from the medium. The big screen seems a little dramatic.

Even when you consider the jaw dropping footage that drones have made available to low budget projects, it has become ubiquitous, we are used to it. It is not the fault of the film makers for wanting to illustrate their stories with sweeping and swooping drone shots, but put them back-to-back-back and the specialness wanes.

Add in the fact that much of what is depicted by the footage can be seen around these parts with your own eyes, and it just doesn’t quite hit the same.

Perhaps the best example of this was Kwatja Ngkama – Talking Water, a film about the threat that raising cattle poses for country and people, particularly when people are forced to leave their remote communities for towns such as Alice.

Daniel Wilfred.

The drone shots of drying water sources paired with hot and dusty, slightly sepia toned shots of town worked, they were galling, but these are stories that people in these parts, especially, one suspects, those who would attend an event like this, already knew.

All of this said, the night was not without highlights, particularly in the work of child actors. BattleField Year 7 brought a sense of a highly professional school project. The humour was childish, but knew where to draw the line and came with some surprisingly insightful commentary on the flaws of a one size fits all curriculum structure.

As far as acting goes, the best performance of the night came from Lahni Williams in her role as a frustrated child at a youth centre who is confronted by an alien invasion in TJ Goes Home. The shiny and sparkling children who descend in a UFO should also be commended for their commitment.

There were two stand-out documentary films: Djuwalpada, the story of Yolgnu songman Daniel Wilfred’s experiences travelling the nation with his songs and bilma, and Ngumpin Kartiya: Untold stories of the gurindji people and the Wavehill walk-off.

Djuwalpada follows Wilfred, who wrote and directed the short film, to Tasmania, where he meets and sings with Korean p’ansori singer Bae Il Dong. In a special scene the high pitches of the Wilfred’s manikay song blend with the guttural p’ansori tones as the two walk and dance together in Tasmania.

That film, including its expansive shots of Tasmanian hinterland, so different to the red earth of Central Australia, brought a refreshing difference to the content and set a high mark in terms of direction.

In Ngumpin Kartiya, the history of the violence and inequality in the Territory’s not so distant past are told in depth and with gory detail. While the film was about sadness and loss, it is also about standing up, and the legacy of Vincent Lingiari.

One drone shot that hit the spot comes about in this film, where hundreds take part in the Freedom Walk event, proudly remembering what the actions of Lingiari and his contemporaries achieved.

Unfortunately, the night did drag on a little before ending abruptly, without so much as a thanks for coming. One can only wonder what could have been under the night sky at Ooraminna.



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