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Ten Indigenous Films and Documentaries to Watch as We Approach January 26, 2022

For many people around the country, January 26 or Australia Day is an opportunity to have a day off of work, hit up the beach or a friend’s BBQ and drink to excess.

For our First Nations community, January 26th marks the beginning of a long and painful process of colonisation, genocide, and erasure of Indigenous peoples, languages, and culture. Since at least the 1930s, Indigenous Australians have held counter-events, and refer to the date as Survival Day, the Day of Mourning, or Invasion Day.

As we approach January 26, 2022 — and as we continue to reflect, as a nation, how we can better understand, respect and honour the ongoing struggle of our Indigenous population — here are ten films and documentaries you might consider watching in order to expand your knowledge of our traditional landowners.

Sweet Country

Directed by Warwick Thornton, Sweet Country is set in 1929 in the sparsely populated outback of the Northern Territory and based on a series of true events.

It tells a harsh story against the backdrop of a divided society (between the European settlers and First Nations Australians) in the interwar period in Australia. In particular, it focuses on the story of Sam Kelly (Hamilton Morris) — an Aboriginal man from the Northern Territory in the 1920s, who goes on the run after he kills the white man who raped his wife.

Goldstone

This critically acclaimed film from Ivan Sen centres on Indigenous detective Jay Swan (Aaron Pedersen) who arrives in the town of Goldstone to search for a missing person, but finds his job becomes complicated when he uncovers a web of crime and corruption.

The film explores the themes of Aboriginal relations, human trafficking, the human greed behind corporate corruption and cultural destruction through the lens of the Western genre.

The Tracker

Starring the late, great David Gulpilil, The Tracker follows the story of a First Nations man who is accused of murdering a white woman. This leads to three white men (The Fanatic, The Follower and The Veteran) embarking on a mission to capture him with the help of an experienced indigenous man (The Tracker).

The Drovers Wife The Legend Of Molly Johnson

The Drover’s Wife The Legend of Molly Johnson is the feature adaptation of Leah Purcell’s hugely successful stage play which was inspired by Henry Lawson’s famous poem.

Purcell is a proud Goa-Gunggari-Wakka Wakka Murri woman and in this film, she explores a vivid reckoning with Australia’s colonial history.  The film tells the story of a woman and her stubborn determination to protect her family from the harshness of life in 1893 in the Snowy Mountains.

Both a searing thriller and a stark revisionist Western, the film offers a powerful new interrogation of Australian history and culture through the determination of a woman to ensure her children are given a future filled with hope.

The Australian Dream

Directed by BAFTA-winning filmmaker Daniel Gordon, The Australian Dream centres around retired AFL star Adam Goodes who left the sport he loved and embarked on an advocacy journey after enduring racial abuse during a game. 

An activist for Indigenous causes, Goodes spoke out about his experience and was met with the heartbreaking fact that Australia is often incapable of and unwilling to confront its own problematic past.

First Australians, the Untold Story of Australia

This seven-part documentary, directed by Beck Cole, chronicles the birth of contemporary Australia from the perspective of its First People.

First Australians is an investigation of what happened when the oldest living culture in the world was overrun by the world’s greatest empire.

Araatika: Rise Up!

First Nations filmmaker Larissa Behrendt (After the Apology) follows a group of NRL stars as they create a pre-game performance to meet the famous haka.

Behrendt’s rousing documentary, also featuring the Bangarra Dance Company, Stan Grant, Adam Goodes, Michael O’Loughlin and many more, traces the game’s troubled relationship to its Indigenous stars, to its previous failed attempts at a pre-game ceremony and to a triumphant performance on-stage at Sydney Festival.

Toomelah

After he’s suspended from school, 10-year old Daniel decides he wants to be a part of the gang controlling the drug trade in his township and forms a friendship with a well known local drug dealer named Linden.

Meanwhile, Daniel faces problems at school and in his family, such as his mother’s addictions, the estrangement of his alcoholic father and the return of his aunt who was forcibly removed from the mission as a child during the Stolen Generations.

Incarceration Nation

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are amongst the most incarcerated people in the world, despite making up just 3.3% of the Australian population.

In Incarceration Nation, writer and director and Guugu Yimithirr man Dean Gibson explores the firsthand devastation by those affected, meets those who are trying to make a difference and discusses this systemic problem with some of our nation’s brightest minds.

Gibson’s objective is to uncover how this pervasive problem has reached crisis point and has been recognised internationally as a human rights issue, yet constantly seems to slip through the cracks of the national agenda.

Through archive footage and interviews with experts and academics, Incarceration Nation gives voice to those for whom this is lived experience — Keenan Mundine, Carly Stanley as well as the Dungay, Fisher, Day and Hickey families who each share the trauma of losing a family member whilst they were in custody.

Ten Canoes

Presenting a tale within a tale, this Australian film follows Dayindi (Jamie Gulpilil), a young aboriginal warrior, as he wanders the wilderness hunting for eggs.

Dayindi hears a story told by his brother Minygululu (Peter Minygululu), which echoes his own situation.

A man who lusts after his brother’s wife, the character in the tale kills a member of another tribe and faces dire consequences, with the story’s ending reverberating in Dayindi’s own life.

The film is narrated in English by David Gulpilil.

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