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A Film and Video Showcase: Shooting Gallery: A Group Show Featuring Film and Video Projects (1986)

10 Jul

Shooting Gallery: a group show featuring film and video projects, funded by the Australian Film Commission (AFC) and exhibited in association with the Australian Film Institute. It screened at the Chauvel Cinema Sydney and  the  Brisbane Centre Cinema. It also screened in Hobart, Melbourne, Perth and Adelaide. Review first Published in Tribune (Issue 2417), April 2 1986.

The late Lance Curtis in ‘The man You Know’ by Steven Jacobs. The film deals with a complex range of social and political questions and satirises the peculiar combination in Australian politics of “conservatism, apathy, the profit motive and rampant pragmatism.

The demise of the Sydney Filmmakers Co-operative has left a large gap in the distribution of independent films and video in Australia. But while, in the long term, there are still many obstacles to the establishment of an effective independent distribution service, for the present the Australian Film Institute (AFI) has come to the rescue with Shooting Gallery.

Shooting Gallery brings together a wide range of films and videos which have been produced with the assistance of the Creative Development, No Frills, and Women’s Film Funds of the AFC. The films are organised into nine programs which will be screened across Australia over the next few months. The films range from professional, mainstream oriented documentaries to open-ended dreamlike reminders of Super 8 film festivals.

Some, such as Red Matildas, Kemira — Diary of a Strike, Song of Ceylon and Munda Nyuringu. have been screened before. But, as independent films generally receive such brief commercial seasons, another opportunity to catch up on those you may have missed the first time round is always welcomed.

For other films, particularly those in the “Best of No-Frills Fund”, Shooting Gallery may provide the general public with one of the few opportunities to see what is happening at the grassroots level of Australian filmmaking.

Program 1 of Shooting Gallery opened with Flotsam Jetsam, an energetic and colorful song clip by Lucinda Clutterbuck. Based on dancers who had been animated to bounce and flow across the screen, the two-dimensional stick figures moved with such energy you could almost see the dancers fully formed beneath. Red Matildas, by Sharon Connolly and Trevor Graham, concluded the first program. Lots of historical footage cut with modern-day interviews created an enthusiastic and informative picture of three Australian women’s involvement with socialism and anti-fascism, beginning in the depression days of the early ’30s.

Punching Keys, by Sally Ingleton, is a highlight of Program 2. It is a dramatised documentary, questioning the application and side effects of modern office technologies on women VDU operators. The image was manipulated by the wonders of video technology to describe the depersonalisation and stresses of computer technology.

Among films to look forward to in later programs are Kay Self’s Portrait of Psyche, Steven Jacobs’  The Man You Know, Patricia L’Huede’s and Mark Mcleod’s Rapunzel in Suburbia, about the life and work of writer Dorothy Hewett.

At a period when the future of independent film-making is still under a cloud. Shooting Gallery is an opportunity not to be missed.

Confronting Racism on Film – Dennis O’Rourke’s ‘Couldn’t Be Fairer’ (1985)

6 Feb

Published in Tribune – Summer Reading Issue (no 2406), 11 December 1985.

Mick Miller (right) and Dennis O'Rourke during the filming of 'Couldn't be Fairer'.

The Northern Territory’s recent campaign against the return of Ayers Rock to its traditional owners underlined the racism inherent in large sections of the white community in Australia. The “Ayers Rock for all Australians” (sic) campaign was not an isolated incident. Attacks on the basic human rights which Aboriginal people have gained through years of struggle are under attack across Australia, from both governments and corporate interests. But nowhere is it as vicious, or as overtly racist, as it is in Queensland and the Northern Territory.

Couldn’t Be Fairer, a new film by Australian filmmaker Dennis O’Rourke confronts the racism of the Queensland government and the white community of Northern Queensland. What emerges is a powerful statement, graphically illustrating the hypocrisy which seems to be the cornerstone of race relations in Queensland. O’Rourke has been internation­ally recognised as one of the most perceptive filmmakers on tensions between western and traditional culture. His films include Yumi Yet (1976) and Ileksen (1978) about the granting of independence and the first election held in Papua New Guinea. Yap … How Did You Know We’d Like It (1980) examined the effect of American television on the small Micronesian island of Yap. His most recent film, Half Life, which will be commercially released early in 1986, is a devastating account of the US nuclear weapons test program on the Marshall Islands. It concentrates on the effects exposure to highly radioactive fallout from the tests has had upon the inhabitants of the island.

O’Rourke was originally commissioned to make Couldn’t Be Fairer for the BBC program Third Eye, which is a series of programs designed to allow people from the third world to describe their conflicts with western culture. As O’Rourke told Tribune, “North Queensland, for Aboriginal people, could be regarded as the third world. What exists there is basically a colonial situation, both on and off the reserves”.

A major strength of the film is the power and commitment of its narrator, Aboriginal activist and chairperson of the North Queensland Lands Council, Mick Miller. The film follows Mick through Northern Queensland as he talks to his own people and discusses the effect that commercial development, such as mining and tourism, has had upon Aboriginal communities. We see how white Queenslanders effectively marginalise Aboriginal people, pushing them to the outskirts of white society. The alcoholism, sexual exploitation of Aboriginal women, and the degradation which is the result of two centuries of white oppression is in sharp contrast to the glimpses we are allowed of white Queenslanders in the film.

Joh Bjelke-Petersen, and members of the Queensland government, feature prominently in the film. In fact, the title comes from a statement from the Queensland premier regarding his government’s treatment of Aboriginal people. “Treat them the same as everyone else — couldn’t be fairer.” Mick Miller, time and time again, emphasises the hypocrisy and racism which underlies such a statement. Unfortunately, Couldn’t Be Fairer shows that Bjelke-Petersen’s racism is shared by many whites in Northern Queensland. Hotel workers, white drinkers, police, mining companies, even workers in the tourist industry show, by their statements and actions, that Aborigines are not treated the same as everyone else in the Sunshine State.

As Mick Miller says in the film, “We are living on the fringes of a white affluent society, treated as fourth and fifth class citizens …. We are truly strangers in our own land.” For Mick, Couldn’t be Fairer is an important and timely film, Speaking recently to Tribune, he said, “A film had to be made to show that in the little outback towns, nothing has really changed. Blacks are still being bashed and arrested for minor offences and it’s very difficult to lay charges against those responsible. “We wanted to show that, in Queensland, Blacks are still being treated the way they were 30 years ago, and that in some of the pubs in the little towns there are still separate bars for Blacks and whites. We Blacks still aren’t allowed to drink with the local ringers and land owners.”

It was an important film for Dennis O’Rourke as well. Although he had built up a reputation as a leading documentary filmmaker, until Couldn’t be Fairer he hadn’t actually made a major film in Australia. He had, however, been interested in making a film about racism in Queensland for some time. As he told Tribune, “growing up in a number of Queensland country towns, I was exposed to various forms of racism from an early age. “I didn’t understand it then, but there was obviously something different about the relationship between the Aboriginal kids and the white kids at my school. I remember feeling that it didn’t seem quite right. “Later, I decided that I wanted to make a film that was not so much about the ‘Aboriginal situation’, but rather one which attempted to pin down the nature of this sort of racism.”

Couldn’t be Fairer was filmed over a period of three months in late 1984. Dennis travelled around northern Queensland with Mick and members of the North Queensland Land Council, filming and interviewing people both on reserves and in towns. Later, when the film was being edited, Mick was often in Canberra in his various official capacities, so he was able to take an active part in the cutting of the film.

Problems arose, however, when the final version of the film was delivered to the BBC. It was decided that sections of the film were “too shocking” for English TV audiences. As a result, scenes dealing with drunkenness, the sexual oppression of Aboriginal women, and the degradation which many Aborigines had been forced into, were cut from the version which went to air in England. In all about half the film was edited out without the permission of Dennis or Mick.

Although Dennis told Tribune that there wasn’t anything which he actually found objectionable in the BBC version, he believes that the film lost some of its impact and many of the major issues had been subtly avoided. Mick believes that the BBC decision to cut the film reflects the naivety of the British. ‘They simply couldn’t believe that a state in Australia could have laws, or could subject its Black people the way Queensland does.” Mick saw the BBC decision as symptomatic of the attitude of many whites when confronted with the facts about racism — they simply don’t believe it exists or that it is as bad is you make out. “They say ‘We’re not all racist’, but lots of them still scream and oppose the little bit of help the Aboriginal people do get.”

Couldn’t be Fairer illustrates powerfully that the gains made by Aboriginal people in Australia are the result of years of struggle against deeply ingrained racist attitudes. As Mick told Tribune, ‘The system is designed to pull us down and keep us in the muck, but we fought it. That’s how we got to where we are today. Nothing would have changed through the goodwill of the government.”