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NATIVe A Journey into Indigenous Cinema
by Shelly Schoeneshoefer

This year a new category for films was launched at the Berlinale: NATIVe. It was curated by Maryanne Redpath, who is also in charge of organization for the Generation section. These films are from Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States and have a unique storytelling style using imagery and a weaving of narrative voices. The films often describe the cultural aspects and at the same time make either a political or an economic statement. They often show the collision between the traditional way of life and an ever-encroaching modern society.

Two older Canadian films, Circle of the Sun from 1960 and The Ballad of Crowfoot from 1968, were strange for me to watch since I had seen both of them in grade school. It reminded me how much attitudes have changed, but at the same time how much of that traditional life has disappeared. Circle of the Sun shows a community of people, who are trying to keep their traditions alive, but the youth, who have been more integrated in modern society, are no longer interested. The Ballad of Crowfoot is a collage of old black-and-white photos set to a melancholic song showing the destruction of the Indian Nations. In another Canadian film, A Mother’s Dream, we see a young Indian mother who has lost her rights to raise her children, but is allowed to see them once in a while.

The Canadian films lacked a sense of hopefulness and humor in contrast to the Australian Aboriginal films such as Nana and Payback by director Warwick Thornton. Both of these films really dove into the inter-relationships of the groups. Nana was seen through the eyes of a young girl who idolizes her grandmother who has respect in her community. Payback takes a look at a prisoner getting out of prison and shows that his biggest punishment was not from the jailhouse, but from the ghosts of his ancestors.  

The New Zealand films focused on the Maori’s ability not to fit in even if they would like to do so. In A Place to Stand, an old man carries grass and objects of religious value and other symbolic meaning while searching for the place where he belongs. He tries to reconcile the past and the present but only manages to do so when his family joins in. Both films Ebony Society, and Two Cars, One Night focus on young people. The films both conveyed a lot of humor while showing the isolation in which they live.

The feature film Samson & Delilah, also directed by Warwick Thornton, has won several awards and was made by an entirely indigenous crew; it tells the story of two teenagers who can’t handle living in the Outback and try to make it in the city. Life is even more unbearable there and the horrible treatment that they receive made me sick and sad at the same time. It is not an easy film to watch, but does make some very important points.

Since most of these films were not new, I am looking forward to what they come up with next year. I’m betting that the Greenland film Inuk will appear at next year’s festival.