Blak Nite Cinema
Australia's cinema, much like the nation itself, has a long and troubled history regarding Indigenous relations. It is only in very recent years that the lives of Indigenous people have finally begun to be placed centre screen in mainstream movies. And if the box office success and critical acclaim of films like Samson and Delilah and Brand Nue Day are any indication, these are stories that we've all been waiting a long time to hear.
Now in its third year, the annual Blak Nite Cinema celebrates the contributions of Indigenous Australians to our national filmic history. This month the event will return to Melbourne's Treasury Gardens on Friday February 11 and Saturday February 12, showcasing two successive generations of Indigenous storytellers with the work of Bob Maza and Ivan Sen.
According to host Aaron Pederson, Blak Nite plays not only an educational and commemorative role in Indigenous arts culture, but in the event's communal spirit gets to the heart of what cinema itself is all about - telling stories, sharing experiences, and, at its core, bringing people together.
"It really is like a campfire, sitting there and laughing together," says Pederson.
"A lot of people have said it's the first time they've been able to sit down and see those Indigenous stories told at one time… When they do take it away, they find that the stories are no different. They're about humans. They're about existing and co-existing and finding out little bits about each other.
"It brings an element of sharing, which is one of those things that's getting lost in the world. We don't share enough".
The first night will pay tribute to the late Bob Maza - an actor and playwright, who in the 1970s started Australia's first Indigenous theatre, Nindethana. Veteran actor Jack Charles (the subject of recent documentary Bastardy), who worked with Maza on one of Nindethana's first productions, remembers Maza as a friend, a colleague, and a pioneer of Indigenous performing arts.
"He's been influential in so many ways in keeping film and stagecraft happening for Indigenous people around Australia. He seemed to be able to negotiate with anybody to put on performances," says Charles.
"I've been saying long and hard that if it weren't for him, black theatre wouldn't have gotten off the ground in the '70s".
Friday night's program includes Babakiueria - a 1986 satirical short which deconstructs black-white relations in Australia by reversing the roles of colonizer and colonized - Harry's War - a multi-award winning 1999 short about an Aboriginal man fighting for Australia in the Second World War - and The Fringe Dwellers - Bruce Beresford's 1986 classic, which starred Maza alongside the first all Indigenous cast.
The Saturday night program will focus on a new generation of Indigenous filmmaking in the work of Ivan Sen, whose debut feature Beneath Clouds received much critical acclaim in 2002. Also screening will be Warm Strangers - Sen's graduate short film - A Sister's Love - a 2007 documentary which follows actor/journalist Rhoda Roberts as she struggles to comprehend the brutal murder of her twin sister Lois - and Dreamland - his 2009 experimental, black and white feature film about an obsessive UFO hunter, which is yet to be released in Australia.
"[Black Nite Cinema] is a great celebration of the future, but also a tribute to the past," enthuses Pederson.
Hosting the event for the third year running, the 2011 program is particularly close to Pederson's heart. Maza (or "Uncle Bob", as Pederson affectionately refers to him) was the reason Pederson took up acting, after seeing him play a lawyer in ABC television series Heartlands. Importantly, this was the first time Pederson had seen an Indigenous actor in a leading, mainstream role.
"I feel like from the very first time I met Uncle Bob on Heartlands, I believed in what he believed in - to get Indigenous people into the mainstream so we can all start sharing each others lives and understanding each other… It's our privilege to be honouring someone like him.
"He'd be proud of this event, Uncle Bob - very, very proud of us".
Blak Nite Cinema is a free event. Entertainment starts at 7.30PM on both nights, but make sure to get there early to secure a good spot! For more details, visit www.thatsmelbourne.com.au/.