Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Molly Reynolds.
Another Country is a revealing and sometimes confronting documentary that looks at the impact that the white man’s culture has had on thousands of years of aboriginal culture. “Our culture doesn’t fit your culture,” says narrator David Gulpilil. This is a film about what happened when the aboriginals’ traditional culture was interrupted by the white man’s culture, and Gulpilil makes few bones about the issue. The film is the result of a collaboration between filmmaker Rolf de Heer, his partner Molly Reynolds and Gulpilil himself, who have previously collaborated on the features Ten Canoes and the semi-autobiographical Charlie’s Country. Like Ivan Sen’s fictional Toomelah, Another Country takes us inside an aboriginal community to witness their daily lives but gives us a first hand account of a lifestyle that is slowly being eradicated.
The film has been shaped by Gulpilil’s own observations of the clash between aboriginal and white culture and of the hardships of aboriginal life on the settlements and isolated communities established by the seemingly benevolent government. The sale of alcohol was banned, and all the residents were issued with food cards which could be used at the local supermarket. Gulpilil slowly elucidates some of the problems facing these communities that have been established by white politicians who have little understanding of the their traditions or culture. Essentially a nomadic people who would hunt for food they have little use for houses, cars or even supermarkets to buy their food from. He also elaborates on the concept of obligation, in which if someone asks to borrow a car they cannot be refused. More often than not the car is returned broken and virtually unusable.
The biggest worry is that the younger generation are losing touch with their history and centuries of tradition. There is one scene where a number of local youths perform a dance, but rather than the traditional music of their culture the background is hip hop music.
Gulpilil acts as the narrator and he gives the film its sense of authority and relevance. His dry, droll narration and rich, warm tones draw us into this deeply personal and reflective exploration of the consequences of the government’s well-meaning policy of self-determination. There are numerous visual examples of just how this enforced white culture doesn’t work when superimposed over the traditional aboriginal ways. His tone is informative rather than confronting and he tries to break down some cultural barriers between white culture and indigenous culture.
Another Country takes audiences on an eye-opening journey through the small and remote community of Ramingining in Arnhem Land, where he was raised. Ramingining is situated some 400 kms from the nearest town and is accessible only by a dirt road that gets flooded out during rainy season. We get a potted history of the town, and we observe the inhabitants going about their lives and get a sense of their disrupted lifestyle and the rhythms of life in this remote community. What emerges though is a portrait of a dysfunctional system that has been forced on the residents, a system that doesn’t quite work as it is largely reliant on the welfare system. Different clans have been forced to live in close proximity, and there is a sense that ancient resentments lie just beneath the surface.
Cinematographer Matt Nettheim has shot the depressing corrugated iron buildings, the abandoned wrecked cars and the landscapes from a distance, giving us a very real sense of place.
But the film raises more questions than it can answer. Gulpilil gives us a broad strokes picture of the problems facing Ramingining, and probably other similar aboriginal communities. Ultimately the film seems optimistic in its outlook, as Gulpilil hopes that Another Country will provoke further discussion on the problems facing aboriginal communities such as Ramingining and help people understand that divide between the two cultures. “Listen to our history, what we say, who we are,” Gulpilil pleads. There is even a hint that things may well change in the future, even though it may take a long time for these problems to be addressed and fixed.