Doesn’t a new awareness about Indigenous people also call for new terminology?
Since the UNESCO declaration, “Indigenous” is the only word that is more or less acceptable to all Indigenous people. I also believe that the terminology is especially important for us, whose culture is dominated by western values - to make these other cultures more comprehensible. When the director of Skins, Chris Eyre, was once asked whether he would like to be addressed as “Indigenous”, “Native American” or “Cheyenne” or as something else he replied: “Chris. My name is Chris.” Every definition has its limitations. This project also addresses how to talk about that.
Notably, most of the series’ older films are documentaries. Feature films shot by Indigenous directors seemed to be rare in the earlier years.
Yes, indeed. At first, filmmaking was seen as an opportunity to preserve one’s own culture and tradition and to visually capture the centuries old oral tradition in a new way.
Older films by non-Indigenous filmmakers use a mostly ethnographic, observational methodology. Even with integrity and the fabulous stories they tell, the result is always an outside view. The National Film Board of Canada has another approach. They started years ago with the explicit permission of Indigenous communities to film sun ceremonies on traditional land to preserve traditions. This is exactly what matters to us as well: asking permission. We’ve been working with ten international advisors who make up the real backbone of the project.
Another good example from our programme is the 30-minute documentary Ngangkari by Erica Glynn, about spiritual healers in Australia. Erica, who is also an advisor for the project, filmed three Ngangkari at work a few years ago, two of whom have sadly since passed away. The Aboriginal people see their dead as spirits or as ghosts, who shouldn’t really be shown to others, let alone appear in cinema. Before we added the film to our series, Erica asked for permission to screen it. There is a notice at the beginning of all Australian Aboriginal films warning Aboriginal peoples and Torres Straits Islanders that what follows may contain images of those who have since passed away .