The first full day of screenings at the 2013 imagineNATIVE film and media arts festival got off to a fanciful start, deftly pairing of a short tale with a telling point of view and a magical feature for the ages. Those were followed up by an encouraging début production that also had much to say about the intergenerational trials and tribulations for those intent on honouring their ancestors.
Qué Tal James (What’s up James?)
Fabricio Linares Santilian
If you can’t beat ‘em…
An urban Pinocchio comes to inventive, animated life in Santilian’s brief, right-to-the-point adventures of wooden man. While his young master sleeps, the inquisitive puppet/action figure slips out of confinement to a city filled with the ever-present danger of trash. From the classic upending due to a discarded banana peel through denser and denser piles of refuse, it’s little wonder that—viewed from the perspective of carved eyeballs barely higher than the selfishly tossed mounds of waste—the saddened explorer opts to join the heap. JWR
The Old Man and the Boy
For the legions amongst us who disdain our elders rather than mine their experience and wisdom, McKenzie’s cross-generational, cautionary fairy tale ought to be required viewing. For everyone else, it’s a beautifully crafted celebration of traditions, life and courage.
Jagamarra (David Gulpilil in a superb performance) is a grizzled bushman who has reached his advanced years thanks to his understanding of and protection by his lovingly handed down turf: “The country take care of us,” he sagely reminds his semi-enthusiastic grandson, Pete (first-timer Cameron Wallaby delights the camera and carries much of the film like a seasoned pro) as they return from the wild to their otherwise empty home cum defunct outdoor cinema.
Mom (Rohanna Angus) has long since fled the family coup for the far-more-to-her-liking excitement and shops of the city. No one except her anguished son believes she will ever return; Dad is never mentioned.
Employing the oft-used plot point of imminent expropriation by a powerful corporation (mining, in this case), 10-year-old Pete decides to visit its head office and demand his rights: after all if the property is demolished, where will he and Mom finally fulfill their dream of turning the abandoned cinematic art emporium into the finest restaurant in the region?
As the road-movie portion of the film begins, Pete is joined by best friend and accomplished truant, Kalmain (newcomer Joseph Pedley sails engagingly through the role of felon-in-the-making being nurtured and cared for by his surprisingly at-one-with-the-land buddy).
From there, the typical hurdles (transportation breakdown, brutal climate, brushes with the authorities, lack of food and water) make their statutory appearances and—of course—are successfully leapt one challenge at a time.
Nonetheless, the film soars due to spectacular terrain (largely Purnululu National Park—magnificently captured by cinematographer Geoffrey Simpson), David Bridie’s zesty, astutely orchestrated score (how grand to hear the likes of harmonium and pump organ fuelling the soundscape) and the overarching “glue” of the Milky Way as it transmits not only radiant light, but also indigenous voices/spirits bringing calm and comfort to those wise enough to look up.
That the two chums survived their ordeal is gently laid at the well-travelled feet of Jagamarra: what better testimony to the power of unflinching lead-by-example in order to pass down unwritten truths about life and survival to succeeding generations.
As the world continues to “progress” and “modernize,” more’s the pity that the notion of vanishing breeds will, necessarily, become the stuff of legends. JWR
The Crying Bamboo Forest
Desperately clinging to the old ways
Boya’s first feature also focuses on grandfather-grandson relationships but goes a step further by having its principal character, Fa’aye, shown as both the wide-eyed young boy who makes the arduous trek with Dad to the ever-verdant, slightly haunting bamboo forest and the decades-later patriarch to a civil servant son and his action figure devoted grandchild.
When Fa’aye was a wee lad, the bamboo forest was under the care of the Atayals (one of 14 aboriginal tribes in Taiwan). Urged on (or not, depending on how the calls are interpreted) by the cries of divination birds, Fa’aye and his stoic dad go about their duty even as present-day elder Fa’aye and grandson Isaw (who stubbornly prefers to be called Zhiqi) make the same journey—frequently, magically in the same frame.
The film’s narrative centres around the clash between tradition (Atayals using the forest and its contents—notably driftwood—as they have since time began) and modern life where the same lands are now owned by the state: removing so much as a twig is stealing and punishable according to the imposed laws of non-aboriginal masters.
The weakest part of this production comes from the uneven dialogue and forced scenes; Boya makes his points but without balance and subtlety that will certainly come in time. The real star of the show is the truly wonderful terrain and the struggle by all indigenous generations to travel within it and maintain its power, use and glory. JWR