Zanzibar brings Aboriginal films to Uganda

POLLY KAMUKAMA

Ugandan audiences have had the chance to watch some of the best Aboriginal films ever made courtesy of a co-joint project between Zanzibar International Film Festival (Ziff) and Australia’s Murdoch University.

The AICC-Aboriginal Film Tour project has seen Ziff – the biggest cultural event in East Africa – traverse the region showcasing films relating to Australia’s indigenous people, the Aborigines.

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Aborigines are well-known for their colourful festivals, in which they pay homage to their ancestors through dance and traditional rituals.

The project came to Uganda last week having already made impressive stops in rural Zanzibar and mainland Tanzania, where most audiences went through their first cinematic experience.

So far, four screenings have been held across Kampala including at National Theatre, Gayaza High School, Kakungulu Memorial School and Wordsworth Secondary School; where a combined total of about 2,000 moviegoers turned up.

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Indigenous Australian men performing a traditional dance.

At Gayaza High, where the most recent of the screenings took place this Monday, over 900 students and teachers flocked the school gardens to watch The Sapphires, one of the ten films participating in the $18,000 (about Shs45m) project.

The musical comedy-drama film tells a true story of three Aboriginal sisters and their cousin as they try to overcome prejudice and personal differences to achieve their dream of becoming music stars.

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A scene from ‘The Sapphires’, a musical comedy set in 1968 about a group of Aboriginal sisters traveling to Vietnam to entertain war-battered troops.

The audience at Gayaza gave the film a ringing endorsement, praising its humorous-but-critical approach in tackling issues of racism, addictions and other social ills affecting the Aboriginal community in Australia.

“The film has inspired me never to give up on my dreams no matter the challenges, and that the spirit of teamwork is very important in everything we do,” the school’s head girl, Robinah Nakato Yawe, said of the film.

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Filming of Mabo, one of Australia’s most iconic films exploring unfair land policies that discriminated against the Aborigines.

Fifteen-year-old Veronica Nekesa on the other hand said the film’s artistic style combining music, dance and humor re-inspired her dream of becoming a film director some day.

The project, which comes ahead of Ziff’s 17th edition due to be held June 14-22 under the theme ‘A Common Destiny‘, is seen by many as a form of growing cultural diplomacy between East Africa and Australia.

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Close to 900 Gayaza High School students turned up to watch ‘The Sapphires’ at their school campus on Monday.

But Austrian authorities have often come under fire for what is now popularly known as the ‘Aboriginal Problem’ – a situation where native Australians continue to languish in poverty and under development while the rest of the country flourishes in wealth.

As the richest country in the world, Australia has grappled with minimal success to find ways to bring the lot of Aboriginals to share the bounty of the nation. But the indigenous tribe’s problems seem far too many due to the historical social exclusion and racism they suffered under the country’s earlier governments.

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A section of the audience at the Wordsworth School screening.

In what the world perceived as the first sincere step towards solving the aboriginal problem, the Australian government in 2008 offered a public apology for the past wrongs caused by successive governments on the indigenous tribe, which makes up about three percent of the country’s total population and is believed to have roots in Africa.

Then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd singled out the “Stolen Generations” of thousands of young Aboriginal children who were forcibly removed from their parents in a policy of assimilation which lasted from the 19th Century to the late 1960s. He promised massive changes some of which have since been forthcoming.

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A scene from ‘Mad Bastards’, a film that captures the stark realities of life facing Aboriginal youngsters including violence, crime and drug abuse.

The AICC-Aboriginal Film Tour Project, which is also endorsed by the Australian government and is being done in partnership with Native Travel Festival in Uganda, is thus seen as a means of promoting aboriginal customs and way of life to the world.

According to the project’s coordinator, Farida Nyamachumbe, the ten films were carefully selected basing on their ability to entertainment audiences as well as put relay important social messages.

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Most Aborigine children grow up in squalid conditions not fit for human life.

“We believe these are films that Ugandan audiences will easily relate with given their real life themes,” Nyamachumbe said of the one year project, explaining that she chose to screen most of the films in schools because students have power to cause social change.

The other films in the project include: Mabo, Mad Bastards and Redfern Now – a TV movie comprising of seven short stories. While The Sapphires comes off as a feel-good film primarily made to entertain, the other films offer a more critical look at the plight of the Aborigines.

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Adam Goodes, a star Australian rules football player and the 2014 Australian of the Year award winner, is the pride of the indigenous Australian community where he has heritage.

Mabo, the most historical of the package, for instance tells the story of Eddie Koiki Mabo whose perseverance and belief in the historical legacy of land ownership systems in indigenous cultures led to the most definitive historical moment of Australia – the abolition of the concept of Terra Nulius. The concept, which was used to colonize Australia, is also seminal in the indigenous Australian’s quest for land rights and sovereignty.

Mad Bastards on the other hand offers stark depictions of the crime, violence and drug-fueled lifestyles of young Aborigines, while the seven short stories in Redfern Now explore themes of self-reflection and redemption.

The project’s Ugandan chapter continues up to next week, with a marathon of screenings scheduled to take place at the National Theatre tomorrow starting 2pm.

Tomorrow’s show will also feature a filmmakers’ congress where Ziff director and Murdoch University professor, Martin Mhando, is expected to deliver the keynote presentation. All activities are open to the public, free of charge.

kamukamapolly@gmail.com

 

 

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