Indigenous film festival opens in Sydney

By Kate Arneman 7 November 2013
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A major indigenous film festival opens in Sydney this week before it sets off for a national tour.

IN 2000, ALICE SPRINGS-based filmmaker Beck Cole set foot in the Sydney Opera House for the first time, working behind the scenes on a new indigenous film festival.

Now in 2011 she returns to tread the red carpet for the opening night screening of her debut feature film Here I Am at the Message Sticks Indigenous Film Festival.

“It sort of feels like graduating,” says 35-year-old Beck, who started in the film and television industry as a 16-year-old cadet journalist at Imparja Television in Alice Springs.

Rachel Perkins, the festival’s long-standing co-curator, says that “Message Sticks reaches out to audiences everywhere”.

Following the festival launch in Sydney on Thursday, Message Sticks will tour nationally from May to August. It will air to an anticipated total audience of 10,000 in capital cities as well as more remote locations such as Yirrkala in Arnhem Land. All screenings are free of charge, except for the gala opening night.

“From traditional Dreamtime tales to the challenges of contemporary indigenous life, our film-makers give an insider’s view of what it means to be a black Australian in the 21st century,” says Rachel. The ability to connect audiences of all cultures with indigenous stories lies at the heart of the festival’s 12-year history, she says.

Voice that resonates

“To witness a film that gives voice to stories of my own people can resonate inside me for days, weeks, months and years”, says Pauline Whyman, a theatre and film actress who appears in Here I Am. “The films at Message Sticks have replaced the lifetime of images that I grew up with that had previously dominated and shaped the nation’s opinion of our people.”

For non-indigenous Australians, the festival is an opportunity to discover the breadth and diversity of indigenous arts and culture. This year, for the first time, a specially curated program for secondary school students will involve younger Australians in that experience. As well as showcasing the work of indigenous filmmakers from Australia and overseas, the 2011 program includes Q&A sessions with the directors, panel discussions and live dance, music and theatre performances.

Headlining film Here I Am tells the story of a young indigenous woman who, following her release from prison, is intent on making peace with her past and re-establishing relationships with her mother and daughter. The film was shot by Warwick Thornton, whose directorial debut, Samson and Delilah, opened the 2009 Message Sticks Festival and took out the prize for the best first feature at the Cannes Film Festival in the same year.

According to Beck, the indigenous film industry in Australia is “definitely in a strong position. It’s in a place that we’ve all worked very hard to get to. A lot of the success we’re enjoying now has come about through some really fantastic training opportunities.”

Find the full program here on the Message Sticks site, and also at the Sydney Opera House. See the Festival video promotion below.


Sydney Opera House
May 12-15

Blacktown Arts Centre
May 13 – 14

Powerhouse Museum
May 14

The Arc Cinema – NSFA
May 15 – 21

Capitol Theatre and ACMI
May 20 – 22

Sun Pictures
May 27 – 28

Cinema Paradiso
May 29 – 30

Dance North
June 3 – 4

Alice Springs
Araluen Arts Centre
July 7 – 10

Garma Festival
August 8

Centre of Contemporary Arts for Cairns Indigenous Art Fair
August 20 – 21

Deckchair Cinema, for Darwin Festival
August 23 – 24