For those who don’t know, the London Australian Film Society and Festival is an absolute labour of love for myself and Laila Dickson (and a handful of wonderful pals who help out in various ways, including Lucy Fen, who designed our flyer and social media campaign!), but that is especially true for me this year, as we pay particular tribute to David Gulpilil. I’ve spent a lot of time over the last few years, academically and otherwise, thinking about Gulpilil, his legacy, and his immeasurable impact on Australian cinema, and this is my tribute to him.
One of the great presences in Australian film, David Gulpilil blazed a trail for Aboriginal representation on screen – from breakout hits Walkabout and Crocodile Dundee to more recent films that blasted away the stereotypes.
The recent death of Yolŋu actor and dancer David Gulpilil was an immeasurable loss for Australian and international cinema. From the revival of feature production in the 1970s, right up to the recent rise of Indigenous cinema, his was a constant yet mercurial presence, a man whose storytelling was unparalleled and whose face could light up any screen.
John Hillcoat’s scabrous frontier western The Proposition (2005) is among the best Australian films of the 21st century, and it was recently given the much deserved Blu-ray/UHD treatment from the wonderful folks at the British Film Institute. The release includes a wonderful 80-page book, to which I was delighted to contribute a short essay, alongside contributions from the film’s director, John Hillcoat, composer Warren Ellis, producer Cat Villiers, star Leah Purcell, and Professor Catriona Elder.
The recent death of Yolŋu actor, dancer, and icon David Gulpilil Ridjimiraril Dalaithngu brought great sadness, as well as a flurry of celebration, as the world paid tribute to one of Australia’s finest talents. Early in 2021, I made a video essay for the BAFTSS Conference highlighting his centrality to the ‘body politic’ of post-1970s Australian cinema, which also doubled as a tribute of sorts.
Following this, I was invited to review Molly Reynolds’ bold, moving documentary collaboration with the great man, My Name is Gulpilil, for the ‘Off the Page’ section of the History Australia journal. The review has been available as a pre-print for a little while, but I’m pleased to say it has now got a place in Volume 18, Issue 4 of the journal, and is freely available via Open Access.
I have been invited to deliver an online research seminar as part of the Film Studies Departmental Speaker Series at the University of St Andrews next Wednesday, November 10. I’m particularly excited to be sharing some new work on the intersections of cinematic, geological, and colonial timescales in Nic Roeg’s Walkabout, which will eventually feature in the edited collection Screening Australia: Culture and Media in Context, a long overdue book project that I’ve been working on with Dr Peter Kilroy (to be published by Peter Lang next year).
The first of the 2021/22 Menzies Screenings is already under our belt – a timely, pre-COP26 screening of Nic Wrathall’s vital documentary Undermined: Tales from the Kimberley (2018) in October – and we have two more brilliant films coming up to round out 2021.
The 2021/22 Menzies Screening series comprises three screenings that once again speak to the Menzies Australia Institute’s ongoing theme of ‘Bearing Witness’. From films focusing on issues of vital importance to 21st century Australia, to explorations of its history, and personal journeys of discovery, this series offers a unique range of perspectives on the contemporary nation.
In ‘Bearing Witness’ to the contemporary moment, this screening series – and the accompanying Q&A sessions – offer a chance to re-evaluate our approaches to narratives of historical and contemporary importance to Australia and its place in the world.
Having finally bitten the bullet and gotten a proposal together earlier this year, I’m pleased to say that my first monograph, Ealing Abroad: Post-War British Cinema, Settler Colonialism and Ealing Studios in Australia, will be published in 2023 by BFI/Bloomsbury.
This will be the first book-length study dedicated to the five features that Ealing made in Australia between 1945 and 1960, and seeks to position them as part of a broader trend in post-war British cinema that both embraced, and complicated, Britain’s imperial links in the 1940s and 50s, particularly as it relates to Britain’s former Dominions.
Way back in September 2019, I was invited to participate in a symposium, organised by Prof. Charles Barr and Dr Stéphane Duckett, celebrating the 70th anniversary of Alfred Hitchcock’s much maligned, Australian-set melodrama, Under Capricorn (1949).
Tasked with offering a perspective on the film’s Australian connections, I presented a paper entitled ‘An international production but ‘not much Australian’: authenticity and Australianness in Under Capricorn’, and I’m pleased to say that an extended and revised version of that paper has now been published as part of a special dossier on the film, Under Capricorn: 70 Years On, published by Movie: A Journal of Film Criticism (open access).
Coronavirus has somehow allowed me to avoid conference presentations for over a year now, whilst also opening up the opportunity to attend online versions of conferences I’ve never been able to attend in person (such as the SSAAANZ conference back in December).
The theme of this year’s online BAFTSS conference – ‘time and the body’ – got me pondering ‘bodies’ in Australian cinema, and how the body politic of national cinema has shifted since the film revival of the 1970s. The result is a ten minute video essay entitled David Gulpilil, settler cinema, and the Indigenous body, below, which is really just a sketch towards some recent thinking about Australia’s settler cinema/s, and the potential problems of absorbing Indigenous cinema (and Indigenous bodies) within a national-cultural framework that still actively excludes (or harms) First Nations communities and individuals.
At this year’s conference – hosted by the University of Southampton – I’ll be discussing the video essay, and some of these ideas, in Session F, Panel 1 – ‘Postcoloniality and Indigeneity’ – on Thursday April 8, alongside my fellow panellists Patrick Adamson and Paul Janman.
Further information on this year’s BAFTSS conference (April 7-9), including registration details, can be found on the association’s website.