Message Sticks Indigenous Film Festival

September 1, 2010

It is rare to come across a film festival so honest in intent that it charges nothing in admission and wants nothing from its audience other than their attention. But Australians are lucky; Message Sticks Indigenous Film Festival, now in its 11th year, would rather focus on exhibiting and communicating the stories of a people than just making money. It is “the only festival in the country that is solely committed to presenting films made by and about Indigenous people and all screenings are free.”

Having visited most of its Australian city destinations already, Message Sticks concludes its 2010 tour at Carlton’s Melbourne Museum with screenings showing this Saturday 4 – Tuesday 7 September. Showcasing mostly shorts, the program are well framed by two feature documentary sessions that offer a contrasting real life and reel life context for the recurring themes within the festival program.

Lani's Story

Lani’s Story: Followed by a Q&A with Lani Brennan, Lani’s Story is a documentary about a woman who suffered an horrific spate of repression and self-loathing due to the persistent combination of substance abuse, small community, extreme domestic violence and a failed justice system. Experimenting with alcohol as early as eleven, Lani was a self-professed “daily drunk” at just thirteen. Having grown up with alcoholism and domestic violence as something that just occurred but wasn’t openly talked about, Lani quickly fell into a destructive pattern that continued to feed on her personal shame. It was only after sobering up and meeting someone else, a man who finally showed her the kindness and support she deserved, that Lani was able to throw off the shackles of her own fear and speak out against her perpetrator.

Nin's Brother

Shorts: From the nine shorts (ranging in duration from between 5 min to 52 min) at the heart of the festival, Message Sticks brings disparate filmmakers (from New Zealand, Canada, the USA and, of course, Australia) and diverse subject matter to create an overarching narrative of untold Indigenous tales. Nin’s Brother sees one young woman search for a connection to and the truth surrounding suspicious events in her family’s past; Big Fella documents one man’s struggle to overcome mental illness and its symptomatic morbid obesity; Nundhirribala’s Dream is a gentle rendering of subconscious spiritual connection; Shimasani is the beautifully shot story of a young woman who wants more from the world; The Cave quite literally shows the proximity between the living world and the spirit world; Barngngrnn Marrangu Story gives a heart wrenching view of the confines of the reserve; Redemption is a sad, prophetic tale about the bleak future for a young, apathetic generation; Daniel’s 21st reveals a desperation that spurs denial; and Boxing for Palm Island is a tale about fight and survival. Each of these shorts do, in the first instance, the same two essential things; 1) they tell an untold story 2) they communicate just how important it is that the untold story gets told.

Reel Injun: “Hollywood has made over 4000 films about Native people; over 100 years of movies defining how Indians are seen by the world.” Whilst a vast majority of film-goers will already know, Hollywood is, to some relative degree, responsible for the construction of what’s often known as “collective memory” or “social memory” and, moreover, that a considerable proportion of it is either undesirable or just plain untrue. Certainly their representations of Indigenous people have always been misrepresentative in their stereotyping as a result of their being driven by greater social/political agendas that in turn continue to perpetuate prejudice.

Reel Injun is the film that takes the time to sift through these representations and talk about them – openly and honestly. Holding nothing back; from the “great American plains” as backdrop, to altered historical accounts turning battle into myth to the ludicrous US summer camps that keep the Hollywood notion of a “noble savage” “alive and well”; this documentary tells it like it is – and how it’s always been. With commentary from the likes of Clint Eastwood and Jim Jarmusch, the taking to task of iconic westerns such as Stagecoach (1939), and with some pretty damn sarcastic comedy, “Chuck Conners as Geronimo – it’s like Adam Sandler as Malcolm X”, Reel Injun is the film of the festival – and if you do only have the time to go see one thing, make sure it’s this – because it’s absolutely brilliant.

Message Sticks Indigenous Film Festival takes place at Melbourne Museum in Carlton from Saturday September 4 – Tuesday September 7. Admission to all screenings is FREE.

Written by Tara Judah for Liminal Vision.

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