There are few films I would term absolutely essential viewing. That statement is somewhat hyperbolic, implying that watching a certain film is essential to one’s life or understanding of a topic. It’s commonly touted on films that push big issues in a dramatic fashion, the types of films you see heading up onto the stage at the Oscars to collect an award for telling an important story well. They’re all stories that need to be told, no doubt, but are they really essential viewing for a person?
Another Country is not a dramatised version of events. It’s not about a topic that has earned an ongoing series of coverage in newspapers, probing every detail about it, following up on developments. It gets systemically forgotten in the shuffle, Australia’s attention shifting to nonetheless worthy, but similar situations overseas to help; forgetting that our own people have, because of our ancestors, forever been living in silenced turmoil. It won’t win prizes that bring more attention to it, it won’t be mentioned at the Oscars next year, hell, it’ll be lucky if even a handful of the Australian public see it. And that, that’s what should make this essential viewing. Because in 2015, this is still happening on our doorstep.
The topic of course in question is of course Australian Indigenous communities, which, even with former Prime Minister Tony Abbott declaring them a “lifestyle choice the government will no longer support”, are still seldom discussed in the media. These communities are nearly entirely controlled by the government, which has imposed economic and social systems like a store, welfare payments, and magistrate-led legal proceedings with little regard to already existing, long-standing frameworks. The film finds intimacy and focus on a topic that spans literally from the time of settlement over 200 years ago to the present day by focusing on one community – Ramingining, situated about 560km east of Darwin.
Despite my comments earlier, it’s not to be mistaken as a piece of cinema that seeks to overdramatise or pull manipulative tricks in order to provoke outrage. Director Molly Reynolds presents one of the most naturalistic, even-handed things I’ve seen this year, focusing on nothing but simple facts presented in a totally no-nonsense manner. Acclaimed actor, artist, dancer, activist, and Ramingining resident David Gulpilil narrates the film, a calm and reasoned yet emotional voice of one resident’s experiences in a functioning that was simply, unwillingly invaded by a completely alien way of life. Gulpilil’s voiceover is set to nothing more than unintrusive footage of everyday town life, proving that sometimes plain, cold reality is all one needs to be utterly shocked by a situation. There’s images of a police station and houses as Gulpilil explains that the government believes that they know more about the land than the residents of Ramingining; and of a store that holds all the food in the town, and is where the majority of the money (which comes from Centrelink payments) is spent. There’s no jobs, nothing to do all day. The younger people are turning to crime out of lack of belonging to their roots. A barge holds everything that the community has become dependent on – if it’s late, the community goes without food.
If you’re like me, and have spent the majority of your life in an Australian city, Ramingining will look like its on a foreign planet, definitely not one that springs to mind when asked to describe ‘modern Australia’. But that is the very point that Another Country is trying to make – modern Australia should not conjure a single image of Westernised, single-minded concepts of industrial and technological ‘progress’, but one of simple equality, where our indigenous people, who founded this land, are able to live how they please, just like those who make the laws and live in cities are able to do. It’s a vision and a plight that should be witnessed by every Australian.