Stories from Australia screening now in India

On a project in Australia's western desert, the "reasonably well informed" film director Martin Butler was first introduced to the largely unknown history of his country's people, the aboriginals.

New Delhi: On a project in Australia's western desert, the "reasonably well informed" film director Martin Butler was first introduced to the largely unknown history of his country's people, the aboriginals.

Butler, who claims to have known "virtually nothing" of this part of Australian history until then, collaborated with director Bentley Dean to capture the community in a series of four TV episodes, the first two of which are screening at the Australian Film Festival, which begins here today.

The Aboriginal society in Australia refers to that category of people who inhabited the nation before it was colonised by the British in 1788.

"'First Footprints' tells a comprehensive history of the aboriginal settlement in Australia before the Europeans came in and settled there. We tell a story about everything about life in Australia 60,000 years before Captain Cook landed.

"In the last 10 to 20 years, there has been an explosion of knowledge about that period. Archeology has opened up fantastically rich stories of aboriginal life in Australia and that's what we told," says Butler.

The film, he says, is a product of immense research and establishing archaeological contacts and reaching out to the aboriginal community.

"I consider myself reasonably well informed, but before I made this film I knew virtually nothing about the ancient history. That's true of every Australian. They just don't know," says Butler.

"One of the major challenges was to organise the contact and access to the aboriginal communities because some of them are extremely remote, such that they don't have emails or telephones. It was a huge challenge because it was very ambitious. No one had ever told this history," he says.

The three-day-long film festival "Stories from Australia", will screen eight documentaries from Australia, all Walkley winners or nominees, challenging different issues such as love, prostitution, disability, health among others.

Walkley awards are conferred to recognise excellence in Australian journalism.
"Scarlet Road" by Pat Fiske and Catherine Scott follows the work of Australian sex worker, Rachel Wotton. Impassioned about freedom of sexual expression and the rights of sex workers, she specialises in a long over-looked clientele of people with disability.
"We wanted to show sex workers in a positive light and that sex work is a business like any other business and that they should be respected," says Fiske. 

Wotton, the protagonist in the film, he says, was initially reluctant to be filmed, for the derogatory representation of sex workers by the media. "Although Rachel trusted us but she was nervous. She did not want anything shot in the bedroom at first. As we went on filming and meeting her clients, we talked her through. The clients we have in the film were really pleased and proud to be involved in the film," she says.

One of the two clients who is a part of the documentary suffers from Multiple Sclerosis and the other is a patient of cerebral palsy. "Rachel has also worked with veterans who have lost limbs or are paralysed," says Fiske.

Another film, "Love Marriage in Kabul" also by Fiske deals with an Australian-Afghani woman and her struggle to bring together two people in love.

"We wanted to show that there are lovely things happening in Afghanistan. We have put the politics in the background but it is very subtle. So you aware that there are helicopters and soldiers but the main story is the love story and the battle to get two people together," says the director.

Among the other films that are being screened at the festival are "Mary Meets Mohammad" by Heather Kirkpatrick and Kristy Dowsing, "Code of Silence" by Dan Goldberg and Danny Ben Moshe, "Jabbed- Love, Fear and Vaccines" by Sonya Pemberton, "Sons and Mothers" by Louise Pascale and Christopher Houghton and "The Sunnyboy" by Kaye Harrison. 

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