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Vanish (1998)


Vanish, a documentary written and directed by Ivan Sen, explores the history of the Gamilaroi (or Kamilaroi) people of the Macintyre River being rounded up into the Euraba Reserve on the northern border of NSW in 1912. In 1927, the Murri people were taken further east to old Toomelah Reserve. Sen interviews three generations of women to get an overview of the reserve experience, bringing us into the 1980s when the Murri people moved into Boggabilla.

Curator’s notes

Ivan Sen is a well-known filmmaker (he directed Beneath Clouds 2002) and a Gamilaroi person. Sen’s trademark directing style is very picturesque and photographic, placing objects in the foreground and gaining a depth of field through the camera lens. He probes his subjects with both political and personal questions, drawing out a field of experience. Sen’s off-camera questions are part of his documentary-making style, and his voice is fused as part of the piece. Placing subjects in the extreme foreground of the frame with the landscape or environment stretching behind them, Sen provides a context for the interview subject.

Aunty Flo recalls at the age of seven being moved onto the reserve, and witnessing a child being taken away in 1930. Sen specialises in giving innocuous, everyday existence a historical and personal context. Sen’s work essentially humanises experiences otherwise lost as personal histories. Sen uses time lapse photography, which stylistically fills the space with events where there would otherwise be nothing much happening.

Sen gently probes his interview subjects into revealing the depths of their experience. This is gentle filmmaking that talks about provocative politics of a bygone era without laying accusations, and without a sense of anger. It is this absence of anger that makes it more accessible to audiences.

Ivan Sen’s dramatic feature Toomelah (2011) was selected to screen as part of the Un Certain Regard section of the 2011 Cannes Film Festival.