Posted on February 20, 2013 - by Holly
Director: Sera Davies
‘Its truly extraordinary, this story’ is usually followed by ‘I had no idea…’, when you begin to discuss Albert Namatjira’s remarkable journey and the complex set of paradigms that his life presents to us now.
My entry into this story began with a typically Big hART-centric brief. I was contracted during the show’s first creative development to filmically explore Alice Springs and Ntaria for remnants of Albert’s legacy, in whatever form they took. My first stop was a visit to Elton Wirri, master watercolour painter and Albert’s grandson kin-way, at his home in a town camp on the Todd River.
Elton was away, and on this typically beautiful Alice Springs day I paused in the sunshine at the front gates, looked down and noticed a faded playing card, the King of Spades lying face up in the dirt. The King of Spades represents the most powerful of the Kings, David in his battle with Goliath, a King equipped with the enormous inner strength needed to counter the crushing responsibilities that are bestowed upon him. The King of Spades represents the demands we make of our greatest leaders, a commission too great for some to bear. I placed the card on the dashboard of the car and like a GPS it has guided me directly into some of the most challenging conversations of my career.
That week provided my induction into a world unexpectedly and shockingly similar to Albert’s – the continuing injustice and imposition that Australian citizenship presents the Namatjira family and their desire to revoke it, the meshing narrative of the arrival of the Queen and the arrival of the grog story in Central Australia, a family of master painters camping on a road siding on the edge of town being invited to give watercolour classes to Prince Charles.
As a filmmaker, the heart of our country has provided me with an invaluable and privileged education. It’s required me to fashion a craft in scrambling around the slippery circumference of our single east-coast story and pushing outward for another view. It is quiet and urgent work. It’s working in the shadows, always listening and observing, and then stepping out blushing but brave when the story demands. It’s thousands of dusty kilometres in rubbish cars with bomb proof equipment boxes and maybe a baby rattling around in the back. It’s shooting and editing and mentoring and trying to hold onto bits of languages and ways of understanding this country so foreign to me. It’s embracing not presuming to know anything of how it is to be another person and the freedom that brings to your work together. It’s being filled up. It’s this process that allows us to go to the heart of the film, as we traverse the intersections where our stories meet.
On one level, this film acknowledges all the stuff of grand whitefella narratives; exoticism and genius and art, cultures clashing and connecting, unthinkable malice and the quest for justice, all threaded into one life. Albert’s story plays right to the heart of our preoccupation with telling a particular type of narrative; our making of an unlikely hero, our impossible demands upon them, our destruction of them when they fail to meet our expectations, our saying sorry about it.
On another level though, Namatjira Project challenges this singular monocular representation of Albert’s legacy and examines the enduring impact that this type of representation has for current generations of the Namatjira family. It’s our gaze through the single story that ultimately killed Albert and continues to present dire implications for contemporary inter-cultural relations.
This documentary questions the permissions that we on the east coast have given ourselves to play out this singular tragedy story again and again, and does so by positioning the story in alternate and little explored spaces for us to sit together.
It’s this Aranda concept of ‘nama’, or sitting side by side in learning and observation, that was demonstrated in the unique friendship of Rex Battarbee and Albert Namatjira. Through the prism of their friendship, we are afforded an opportunity to witness the first learnings from a rich dialogue that has forged new pathways into contemporary inter-cultural collaboration. It does this by contrasting their friendship with the friendship of contemporary collaborators Scott Rankin and Trevor Jamieson in their execution of an ambitious new stage show of Albert’s life. A brave and generous invitation is made, as Trevor and Scott allow uninterrupted access to their story as this country’s most virtuosic and prolific artistic collaborators.
This documentary begins with rummaging through of the rubble of our mainstream east-coast catharsis surrounding Albert, as we search with Trevor and Scott for a different kind of story and new processes for cross-cultural collaboration.
The longitudinal and observational framework of the film allows multiple and sometimes conflicting truths to present themselves equally in intimate and honest moments of genuine exchange. This process comes right from the engine room of how this company Big hART operates, to a simple yet powerful ethos that ‘its harder to hurt someone when you know their story’.
Sera Davies (September 2013)