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Australian Ethnographic Film

National Reconciliation Week runs between 27 May and 3 June and is a time for Australians to 'learn about our shared histories, cultures and achievements’ (from the National Reconciliation Week website).

Filmmaking is an important part of that shared history and culture, and the achievements of a growing number of Indigenous filmmakers are now celebrated on the international stage (including Rachel Perkins, Wayne Blair, Catriona McKenzie and Warwick Thornton).

Film archivist Michael Leigh surveys the films made as part of Australian ethnographic studies, dating back to 1898. It was not until a series of collaborations between black and white filmmakers from the 1970s onwards that the representation of Indigenous Australians on our screens began to change:

'A breakthrough in the representation of Indigenous Australians came with films that gave Indigenous Australians control of the camera for the first time … Indigenous filmmakers began to use the earlier productions of white ethnographic filmmakers to reinterpret and re-incorporate the past into the present.’

Read Michael Leigh’s Australian Ethnographic Film collection essay.

Learn more about National Reconciliation Week.

Image: from Blood Brothers – Jardiwarnpa (1993)

Blood Brothers – Jardiwarnpa documentary – 1993

Aborigines of the Sea Coast documentary – 1948

Two Laws documentary – 1981

Torres Strait Islanders historical – 1898

A Big Country – Peninsula People television program – 1968

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Stephen Groenewegen

Prior to joining the Sydney-based ASO team as Editorial Coordinator in 2007, Stephen has worked as an editor and written for a range of film websites including eFilmcritic and M/C Reviews.