TWO LAWS / KANYMARDA YUWA
A Feature Film of the Borroloola People’s Struggle for the
Recognition of Aboriginal law. Charles Merewether and Lesley
Stern talk to Carolyn Strachan and Alessandro Cavadini about Two
Laws. This interview was reprinted with kind permission from
Media Interventions (September 1981).
the interview: face to face/
question and answer/
back to back
Recent debates around the status of oral history have highlighted the
theoretically problematic position that interviews have held in the writing
of histories. And yet it remains commonplace for interviews to be held
with people working within the visual arts, most especially filmmakers.
This can be seen as seeking to secure the image through an extra-textual
account providing a means of completing the film, speaking for it or even
exceeding it by taking it beyond the parameters of the visual (the screen),
back into the moment of inspiration, its generation. Do we expect the
filmmakers to flesh out the film and ultimately replace it with the voice
of intentionality and authenticity?
It is choice between reading the film of the status and relationship of
an author's speech about a text (i.e. the film) to that text itself. As
such it could be considered as a relationship between two discourses rather
than one serving to illuminate the other.
No film speaks for itself; but this is not to say that there is another
voice - that of the filmmakers - which speaks on its behalf. Rather, it
is to dispute the film text as a sacred site, consecrated as such by a
theoretical tendency which argues that a text refers only to itself, that
it makes sense, determines the way it is to be read, through a signifying
system internal to itself. For the way in which films are made sense of,
or nonsense of, depends very much on the context in which they are viewed.
Films circulate in a social context, are appropriated and enjoyed for
different purposes. They are subjected to readings by subjects informed
by different histories - the film as text does not produce an invariable
viewing subject - different subjects are produced through the shifting
nexus between text and context. To say that no film speaks for itself
is simply to suggest that any film occupies at different times, different
sites and in the process of circulation becomes, in its turn, a site from
which meaning is produced.
Involved in this writing there are two of us who make films and two of
us who teach and write about cinema. Carolyn and Alessandro have been
involved since 1979 with the Aboriginal people of Borroloola in the Gulf
area of the Northern Territory in the production of a feature length film,
Two Laws/Kanymarda Yuwa. During the process of editing,
a range of people were invited to view and discuss the film. In this context
the film was not on display as a finished product; rather, 'viewers' were
being asked to engage with and contribute to the film in process. It was
at this stage that Charles and Lesley viewed the film and discussion got
underway between the four of us.
It was out of these discussions that the idea of writing something emerged;
of writing something that would revolve around the film but would function
less as a reading, more as a discussion of the way the film has been shaped
both by the processes of production and the conceptualisation of different
possible audiences. Film theory nowadays talks a lot about the text as
a process. There is notably little written about films in the process
of production, but the production process is also a process of production.
When the film appears as text, if often appears to be ubiquitous and outside
history. We are using production here fairly loosely to designate all
the processes prior to the release and exhibition of the film. But production
is used in another sense, pertaining to the production of meaning, where
it is usually seen as an activity which comes afterwards, after the completion
of the film.
It is in order to approach the intersection of these two notions of production
that we, have chosen to structure this written piece around a transcribed
discussion. The discussion at times takes the form of an interview but
it would be difficult to map questions and answers onto theorists and
practitioners, or to place questions and answers back to back in a neat
symmetry. Which is not to say that the discussion has been caught and
framed in its moment of immediacy and spontaneity. It has been edited,
in parts rewritten, and transformed. If the film proposes certain problems
about open and closed forms, about who is speaking, about mode of address,
so does this piece of writing.
Politics: Leave It Till Friday
Two Laws might be characterised as being 'about' a group
of aboriginals, or alternatively, 'about' a struggle for land rights.
Depending on the way you look at it, it might then be described as either
anthropological or political. Is there any point where the anthropological
and the political intersect? Given a tradition of anthropological filmmaking
that defines itself as observational, that often evades political questions,
and a tradition of political filmmaking that defines itself primarily
through its subject matter, how do you start thinking about the politics
We've been amazed at the way in which ethnographic filmmakers deny that
their films are political. This denial is enforced by a claim that the
camera in particular is neutral and observational, but what is in fact
produced are visions of the exotic or the romantic. This came out very
strongly at the Ethnographic Conference at Canberra in 1978. There is
an explicit lack of theorising about for instance, the politics of going
into and disrupting a community, or taking information and images from
one society to be exploited by another. But what also needs raising is
the politics of film language and the dominant belief in the scientific
objectivity of ethnographic film. Until recently the majority of writers
and filmmakers on Aboriginal culture have taken for granted the dominant
position of men in Western society and have therefore not noticed that
Aboriginal women enjoy a greater degree of economic independence than
women in their own society. Even the Land Rights Act has been written
along patrilineal descent lines ignoring the matrilineal claims to descent
The Imperialist Gaze
If the political implications of filmmaking are not simply signposted
by subject matter, if it's also a matter of film language, how do you
'read' the ideological in these films.
Well, take the issue of the romantic and exotic - what you appear to get
is very intricate observation of people's lives, but sequences will be
punctuated with cutaways, shots of, say, a woman feeding a child or shots
of landscape, with a voiceover of a white anthropologist explaining what
these people think and feel. The narrator functions as an expert, and
the narration comes across as explanation, as providing complete knowledge.
Very often in those films with Aboriginals, the people don't talk at all,
certainly don't talk to the camera.
There's also the question of editing control. Often elements are put in
at the editing stage which haven't been considered when the film was shot,
and which are not related to the situation at all. The unspecific use
of music, for instance: where music might have a very important function
for the community in traditional terms, fragments are laid over images
to create a mood effect, according to Western conceptions.
But there's a reaction against that in the form of cinema verite,
which is all pre-editing, you shoot as it occurs in front of you and you
record everything. As a specific practice it seeks to suppress its own
processes of selection, structure, editing and shooting.
Yes, it's a debate about open and closed forms which has characterised
ethnographic filmmaking circles. 'Closed' is understood by the use of
close-ups and moving from shot to shot in rapid succession. however some
of the best open films are quite interesting. What they're trying to get
is the feeling, the quality of life which is quite different to ours.
In allowing everything to happen in front of the camera, it often stands
back from the subject with longer takes. This theorises about what is
happening. And yet there is an assumption that in avoiding the imperialism
of those conventions of structure they are obtaining a more accurate picture
of the real. This form of filmmaking can nevertheless amount to trading
on a voyeuristic relation to the subject, even when there is some notion
of reflexivity. For instance, in a film we saw recently, the presence
of the camera is marked. The people were telling each other you are on
film now and must behave for the camera, and then the camera picks up
someone saying to someone else "I don't like you sitting next to
me because you scratch too much", and the audience laughs.
The Portable Generator
Given these general responses to ethnographic filmmaking how did you approach
the making of Two Laws?
Firstly, we didn't have any intention of going into an Aboriginal society
and making another film, but then we were approached by Leo Finlay, a
prominent member of the Borroloola Aboriginal community, who had been
wanting to make a film for some time, who had seen some of our films and
the group had strong ideas about what they wanted to do. We decided that
it was a project that we would like to be involved in and that we had
something to offer. When we went to Borroloola we didn't film for the
first two months. We had to get to know the people and they had to get
to know us and teach us the rules about how to behave in an Aboriginal
society. There are about three hundred people, scattered over hundreds
of miles and living in separate little camps. So we travelled from camp
to camp staying in each place for several days. During that process we
were given skins so that we knew our relationship to everyone else in
the community and had to learn how to behave with each relative in the
proper way(1). During this time we were also
showing films. We travelled by boat and truck with a portable generator,
showing films at night in the open air. We showed our own films so that
people could have an introduction to the kind of work that we had been
doing, and also other films about Aborigines, about American Indians,
about Africa, often showing films about black people because the only
other films that they had seen had been about whites. In the mornings
there were formal meetings, according to Aboriginal law, where the films
that had been screened were discussed, and there was also discussion about
what shape Two Laws was to take, who would he involved
in organising different sections etc. At the same time we were going hunting
and learning Aboriginal ways.
During this time we laid down the base and structured the work of the
film so we became more involved, as technicians and the people took over
control of the production.
In response to the films shown, different modes of filmmaking were discussed.
The people objected immediately to white narrators. They responded strongly
to the American Indian's struggle for land rights because they had just
gone through a land claim but- they thought the way it was presented was
boring so we discussed a lot about style.
Angle Of Incidence
What particular cultural determinations were there?
Because there isn't any television and few films had been seen, the people
were unfamiliar with the whole of Western film culture, so their ideas
came largely from Aboriginal structure. For instance when we got down
to filming there was automatically only one position for the camera and
one position for the sound recordist - because everyone has their place
in a highly structured spatial arrangement. Men sit in one position, women
in another, and each individual sits with particular relatives. So the
determinations had to do with the tribal structure into which the film
fitted as opposed to being outside it.
During those first two months we did do a number of tests to try out different
ideas, and the choice was then made to shoot the entire film with a wide
It was the one that people responded to and liked. With a wide angle you
can include much more in the shot than with a standard lens, but it's
not so appropriate for close ups.
If someone wants to make a statement, others have to be present to make
that statement possible – to confirm or contradict. Sometimes there
was a disagreement between people but it’s presented as a group
discussion as opposed to one individual being the authority.
The use of the wide angle indicates how film language works. There are
no cutaways, reverse shots or close ups. The interaction between people
is in one frame so that the contradictions that arise out of story telling
and the telling of history are in one frame. It also avoids censorship
at the editing stage. For instance if you have an individual in close
up making a statement and in a separate shot someone else in close up
disagreeing, at the editing stage you might say, ah well we don’t
really need that comment or contradiction and wanted it included in one
frame as a process.
With the use of the wide angle there’s often distortion, particularly
of subjects closer to the camera. How did people respond to that?
They didn’t mind it. What they were after was an exchange of information
so that our notion of the aesthetic, an aesthetic of realism, wasn’t
At times the distortion actually foregrounds the fact there’s a
filmmaking process at work, that it’s not some kind of objective
truth that is being presented.
Yes, right throughout the film there is always an awareness of the camera.
People point to and speak directly to camera, they don’t speak to
an interviewer because they were not really concerned about us, they were
concerned as a group using the camera.
The film is divided into four parts: Police Times, Welfare Times, Struggle
for Our Land, Living with Two Laws. Although the arrangement is roughly
chronological, the film isn't a straight linear narrative and neither
is it divided into four quite discrete parts. Rather, there are interconnections
between the various parts and interconnections between the past and the
present, which is dealt with through an investigation of history and the
way history is constructed, and also of story telling, of the processes
of story telling.
When Leo approached us to make this film he asked that a history be made
and he explained this by saying that the people were going through a struggle
for land rights and an assertion of Aboriginal Law, and they wanted a
history that would help place the present and contribute to a struggle
for the future. The way people approach history is very different to the
way we see history as located firmly in the past. People talk about history
in the present tense, use the first person, employ dialogue, re-enact
events. In everyday life people tell stories that happened yesterday or
happened one hundred years ago.
Part One, Police Times, revolves around a particular
incident which took place in 1933. This is presented partly through personal
accounts, through the agency of memory, of oral history, and partly through
dramatisation. The dramatisation evokes a sense of fiction, and the personal
accounts can be read as either establishing the authenticity of history
or as foregrounding the fact that history exists in the telling, has links
with story telling. How is the relationship between story and history
conceived? Does the story become history once it is filmed? What is the
relationship between the processes of story telling and the processes
In the first part people wanted to cover a certain aspect of their past
to do with contact with white law, with property owners and police. When
property owners wanted to move in and take over Aboriginal land, the police
would come in and remove the Aborigines. Particularly, they wanted to
tell of an incident that happened in 1933 and that led to some of the
old people becoming the main organisers for that part. Each section has
different people to organise it, and the first part is organised around
the old people who were telling their part of the story.
Police Times ends with a group discussion. Old Dolly
who had directed Part One says to camera, “I’ve
been telling you the stories, I’ve been telling you the story true,
and I’ve finished now”. Karakine (Annie) continues, saying
“Yes, you’ve been acting” – so she’s pointing
to the acting out of the story telling – and she says also that
the “young people didn’t know the stories until Dolly told
us”, so that’s really setting up the whole process of actively
reassessing that history.
Acting Out/Acting On
So there are at least two audiences: the viewers of the film, and those
within the film, who are listening to the stories, acting out a particular
story and acting on history.
The film was being used as an opportunity to develop both a knowledge
of the past and an analysis. The young girls have been able to sit around
Dolly and hear the stories, but because many of the men have been away
on stations the young boys haven't had the same opportunities. So preparation
for shooting and discussion about how to structure the section involved
more than just a preshooting program. Telling the stories round the camp
fire was an act of interpreting history as well as retelling it. And it
wasn't just the old people telling the younger people what happened, it
was a total community involvement in a part of history that belongs to
everyone. It was also important, in order to involve everyone, that the
whole of the story was acted out. There's one and a half hours of acting
out and story telling originally filmed. We travelled the path that Stott,
the policeman and the Aboriginal prisoners took, to get the story, but
shot it in a different place.
Whilst we were filming there was a constant dialogue about acting. Some
people would get confused about where they should be, but there was always
someone like Dolly close to the production of the film. She would reassure
them about the processes of production, for example in shooting out of
sequence or in another place.
So how did you tackle the process of editing?
Everybody saw all of the rushes, and were aware that we couldn't use all
of the material. When the rushes of the Stott story came it looked as
though it could easily have been made into a ninety minute drama film
which would probably have been quite successful. But as the discussion
proceeded so did an awareness that this was to be placed in the context
of the rest of the film, and the images were discussed from this perspective.
There was some discomfort about the more brutal and dramatic scenes, and
we too were convinced that we didn't want to make a dramatic film.
We wanted the audience, as well as the people making the film, to assess
history, to think about it, not necessarily to see the story as one incident,
but about police times in more general terms, and not only in Borroloola
but in the whole of Australia.
So it becomes a discourse about repression rather than representing a
Yes. There was a scene filmed where the policeman is bashing some of the
men with a waddy. We’ve eliminated that scene and what we have is
a black man acting as the policeman, beating a tree and telling of how
the policeman beat him.
Two Laws or More: Rewriting History
Before Part One there is an introduction to the whole film. People representing
the four language groups come to the camera and say, we call this film
Two Laws and there is a discussion amongst the whole
group about what Two Laws means. They talk about the
attempted destruction of their Aboriginal law, about police times and
welfare times, about what has happened, how and why. They are constantly
placing themselves in those Two Laws, and so as an introduction
it places Part One in the whole body of the discussion about Two
In the opening section we are also shown the filmmakers being introduced
to the community and there's some discussion about the making of the film,
so that also serves to situate the Stott story not just as a privileged
and authentic moment of history, but as part of a process which is being
constructed and reconstructed and perhaps transformed through the very
process of filmmaking.
Part Two, Welfare Times, also deals with particular incidents
and is located historically, but in more general terms investigates increasing
intervention by the state, and also deals with the function and implementation
of written law.
A comment about that written law. We dealt with written law for the first
time much later, when we came to the land claims in Part Three, and it
was only then that we analysed that written law, began rethinking parts
Two and One and filmed introductions to those parts. For Police
Times we filmed an introduction saying:
"The Borroloola Police Station was set up in 1886 to resolve local
conflict, and the journals left by police officers described the warlike
state that existed between Aborigines and Western interests in the area."
That was written within the land claims submission, and was then re-examined
by the police and put back into the context of work that we were doing
on the film, and then subsequently interpreted in the film. The same thing
happened for Welfare Times, but more specifically in introducing the Welfare
"The year 1953 was the beginning of the Welfare Ordinance. Its aim
was to direct and encourage the re-establishment of the Aborigines, that
they would eventually be assimilated as an integral part of the Australian
community." And at the end is added: "Which means that they
wanted us to be like white people.”
So the film establishes a kind of dialogue, or can be seen as a response
to the rewriting of history by whites now, in terms of the land claims.
Yet, realizing that the biggest handicap in their land claim has been
the lack of an historical perspective, the fact the past wasn’t
made sufficiently relevant to the struggles of today.
The Aboriginal people at Borroloola have a traumatic history of massacres,
institutionalisation and dispossession of their lands. Historical stories
have emerged on public occasions as prefaces to speeches at community
meetings. The need to broadcast the significance of this history became
urgent at the People's Land Claim Court in 1977. Judge Toohey and the
Land Commission had in some cases blatantly manipulated the parameters
of establishing the rights of Aborigines to the land. In so doing they
favoured the interests of Mt Isa Mining Company.
According to the reading of the results, the Borroloola people had lost
out because they did not express a strong enough desire to set up outstations
and live on their own country. Therein lay the major misinterpretation
of the evidence. There was a complete lack of recognition of the historical
pressures and subservience to which Aborigines had been subjected in the
area, which was physically and psychologically preventing people from
initiating long term outstations and making grandiose statements about
returning to country. The people wanted direct evidence of land title
before they acted.
This consideration of history in their terms is increasingly part of a
basis for action and the consolidation and definition of aims and is why
the Borroloola people asked for the film to be made.
For instance, Welfare isn't something which just existed in the past,
nor is it separate and distinct from Police Times, from
the issue of land rights or cultural identity. People have been picked
up, chased off their land, shot at, and, more particularly, brought into
welfare and told that the way they were living was wrong, that they had
to learn white ways. When we examined the Welfare Ordinance and went over
all the bits and pieces of written material that people brought in they
realised that during Police and Welfare Times there were actually written
white laws defining and controlling the way that Aborigines were to go.
It wasn't just individual laws, but a whole policy of assimilation.
In Welfare Times it became more urgent for the work of the film to be
more precise in closing the gap between yesterday and today. Taking the
incident of when the community of Borroloola was shifted to Robinson River
-- we don't just dramatise the incident, but bring out the fact that the
community had no access to information - they found out that they were
going to be shifted from someone else who could read, and who brought
a newspaper from Darwin.
In this section someone says we found out that there were plans to start
mining in the area (Mt Isa Mines) through a newspaper and we didn't really
understand what it meant at the time. So that they were actually commenting
from now about the whole importance of coming to grips with and being
able to contest white law.
Looking Back, Looking Forward, Looking Down, Looking Up
In Welfare Times someone says we always looked down,
we never asked questions, we never looked the boss in the face because
we were too frightened. We didn't understand this white fella way, but
now we understand more, and because we are fighting for our land we will
look up and we will ask questions. So Welfare has a direct
link with Parts Three and Four: Struggle For
Our Land, and Living With Two Laws.
There's a depiction of welfare today where people are getting their cheques
and that's stuck in between the story telling about welfare in the past,
and the analysis of the present day.
There's a comic dimension to the acting out, and to the performance of
Welfare Times, an edge of parody which comes through
as an analytic understanding of the situation, rather than through a simple
Yes, immediately after the woman has said we always looked down, there
is a cut to a dramatized segment where the white welfare woman is saying
“Good morning, have you washed, here’s a pretty dress for
you because you’ve been a good girl” and so on, and the people
are all laughing, not looking down at all. So it’s like we’ve
now got some distance from that – we’re looking at it, but
from the present rather than the past.
So welfare is understood as a form of economic control, of containment,
and transformation of people’s lives.
The Map: Neutral Ground?
The most striking segment of Part Three, Struggle For Our Land,
is probably the court sequence, where the land claim is presented. It
is shot, outside on an airstrip, not in a courtroom, and presented almost
as a tableau in a markedly non-naturalistic way.
Everyone wanted to include the land claim court in the film, but it was
very difficult because nobody had really understood the procedures of
the court when they had submitted their land claim. At the same time people
were always talking about their gudjika(2)
– their song for their land; they would talk to us about their land
in the black way. But the land claim submission, because it was prepared
for a white court and within a specific set of legal representations,
treated it all in white terms, in terms of maps and written anthropological
knowledge, which didn’t have much relevance to the way people relate
to their land, to their own laws. It was very difficult to put all those
conceptions into one little sequence. It was the most discussed and most
puzzling section. Eventually we came up with the idea of having aspects
of the white land claim court, showing the maps and showing the judge
and the court reporter, at the same time incorporating the Aboriginal
aspect, where people sing their gudjikas which are in fact used in ceremony
and are very important. That took a lot of discussion because all the
old people had to be consulted. Because of their seniority they have control
of the song and it gets passed on. Together we wrote a kind of script,
and after much discussion we filmed it, with a different exposure to the
rest of the film because it exemplifies most the black law in its broadest
terms and because the court itself is an abstract notion. We wanted to
film on neutral ground because it would have been wrong to sing the gudjikas
on any particular land. We chose to express in that scene the kinds of
conflicts between the two laws: the people were fighting for their Aboriginal
land, which exemplifies Aboriginal law itself, but they had to go through
the weirdest white procedures in order to gain it. For instance we needed
only a fragment of the gudjika, and of course, if it was being done in
black terms, it would have gone for days and been sung in ceremony at
night, so even to sing it there was a compromise, but people considered
it important enough to do.
So although you have the map and the song what emerges is the falsity
of any notion of negotiation, of the possibility of being able to negotiate.
Just before the land claim scene, there’s a sequence in which we
are shown some of the Borroloola women listening with headphones to tapes
of the previous sequence. Is this simply to demonstrate that the film
Well that element's there to show the process of filmmaking. But there's
also something being said about the use of film technology for political
purposes. In the previous sequence we have seen one djunkai, a man, confront
a white person who has destroyed his dreaming place(3).
But the women are also djunkais and it is their duty in fact to assess
the situation and work with the other djunkai and so they're listening
to the tape and deciding what to do next. It's a political process of
deciding what to do about the destruction of the sacred site and using
film technology in order to do it, in order to hasten the process. We
were wanting to show that the film is being used, that we haven’t
just been hanging round observing things.
Rights And Lore, Speech And Silence, Law And Rites
The issue of land rights is often seen as a topical issue, of importance
because of its immediacy. But the film can he read as inscribing land
rights as an issue throughout, as a way of focusing history, so that Police
Times demonstrates an alliance between white landowners and police,
and Welfare Times an alliance between mining interests
and welfare. What Struggle For Our Land in fact shows
is the Aboriginal people becoming more vocal about their history and more
vocal in terms of the current struggle. Which introduces the final part,
Living With Two Laws.
This part opens with a depiction of the Brolga Dance which raises some
problems around this notion of the community becoming more vocal. The
way in which the Brolga Dance is represented seems to be much closer to
orthodox anthropological filmmaking than the rest of the film, and could
perhaps be read as a representation of the Aborigines as other, as mysterious,
as exotic, and most of all as silent.
Well, firstly we have to look at its placement. It's not at the beginning
of the film, it's in the fourth part and is contextualised. In Part
Three with the song we have seen an assertion of Aboriginal law,
so that the Brolga Dance is actually a statement about practising black
law, about practising ceremony. Also in the final section, it’s
juxtaposed with other elements, such as representations of an initiation
ceremony, a women’s dance, hunting and work on the outstations.
So that it’s not outside history.
The last section deals with practical ways of living with black and with
white law, but in part looking at the difficulties and compromises rather
than reconciliation. The development of stations with the move hack to
their land after the land claim refers very directly to Welfare Times
where the people talk about hunting as work, as economy, as social structure.
Now, within the outstation economic structures are different, but the
role of welfare is similar. When the people set up these outstations the
government gave them some money for development, but they were never actually
able to manage that money, it was administered once again through the
There is similar discussion in the film about schooling. They want their
kids to have knowledge about white ways in order for them to protect themselves,
but as well as wanting them to read and write they want them to be able
to manage accounts and to learn skills needed for the stations. So they
talk about the need to have schools on the outstations rather than having
to travel into Borroloola to a central place.
So to go back to the Brolga Dance, although in filmic terms it could be
interpreted as you have indicated, we have tried to put it in context
in the film. It is also there to acknowledge that it remains a part of
the Aboriginal way. The people wanted it filmed, wanted its dramatic and
It can be looked at in terms of different notions of the dramatic, of
performance. The film utilises different inflections of the dramatic.
For instance the court scene foregrounds quotation, the Stott story in
Police Times is presented as reenactment and the Brolga
Dance contains elements of 'open form' practice by observing a traditional
dramatic form within Aboriginal law.
Yes, ceremony is a dramatic form of statement, but it's not theatre as
we think of it, and it's not the way we see Aboriginal dances at the Opera
House. When people are in ceremony it is a real abstraction, but there
are dramatic elements, dramas about land, about legend, about various
incidents. There's humour as well.
To Open And Close
It’s always difficult to bring about an ending. How do you bring
about the closing of a film without closing off the issues?
Those are the sort of difficulties with which we were confronted. We wanted
to have something positive in order for the film to be used by other Aboriginal
struggles, and for people to feel that they were consolidating what they
were going through in the film and to lead onto further struggle. But
we didn’t want the ending to seem too idealistic or imposed. It
was obvious from the beginning that the speech made by the woman would
be part of the conclusion. She says:
"We've been very weak people because we've been hunted and herded
around and we didn't understand, but with land rights we've got a little
stronger. We used to be shoved around and put on government trucks, but
now we're not getting on the government truck, we're getting off it. We're
going to go where we want to go, but Aboriginal people must fight because
we've got to get what we want, and we're not going to be pushed around
So she is making a statement that it's not happened yet, but the fight
has begun. The speech just before that is saying something similar - a
man sitting on his outstation with the people around him, saying, we've
had to travel thousands and thousands of miles, we've gone to Canberra
and Sydney and Melbourne to argue our case, to talk for Aboriginal people,
but we've got to get stronger.
But it doesn't end with those two individuals making those direct statements.
The film finishes with the group that began the film, still continuing
to debate about two laws. It ends not with individuals, but a group, a
Who Makes Films? For Whom?
There's another way of looking at it - which might be not to look for
an ending at the end of the film. In a way the film invites a different
way of looking: in part, because it is patterned by cross references rather
than being tied to a referential mode of representation it raises questions
about chronology, as pertaining to both narrative and history, and the
problem of conceptualising the present; and in part, because it is divided
into four parts, where one part does not lead automatically to the next,
so that the different parts can he used separately, this flexibility accounting
for different viewing contexts. For instance where just one part is shown,
there might be time to include, discussion as integral to the viewing.
So that the film doesn't end when the projector stops running, the meaning
isn't self-contained. Which raises the question of audience and takes
us back to an earlier point about films circulating into a social context.
Throughout the making of the film the question of audience was discussed.
Sitting by campfires every night there was much discussion and differing
opinions. Some people conceived the film as being made for other Aboriginals.
But most people argued quite strongly that they wanted white people to
see it too, and this provoked a whole discussion about the use of language.
Most people don't speak English well, they would prefer to speak in their
own languages, but we were aware that they wanted not only whites to understand
but also to communicate with other Aboriginal language groups. So they
chose to use subtitles and voice over, and to speak English, and also
pidgin, knowing full well that most of the people living in traditional
situations don’t read and write.
Independent radical cinema in this country is often judged according to
criteria of relevance and accessibility. We might ask: relevant to what
and accessible to whom? To ask this is not simply obtuse, and certainly
not to dismiss the social audience in favour of celebrating as intrinsically
radical those films which don't appear to 'make sense'. Rather, it is
to rethink the terms 'audience' and 'sense', to think them in terms of
a generative relationship rather than as separate categories. Two
Laws/Kanyrnarda Yuwa has, for us, provoked these kinds of questions.
Aspects of the film which might well present themselves as difficulties,
as points of inaccessibility, for some white audiences - eg the absence
of close ups and sustained drama which could be seen as dehumanising -
might be experienced quite differently by certain Aboriginal audiences.
But to speculate thus immediately foregrounds the need to situate audiences
in a social context. For instance, a group of black activists in an urban
environment will probably not read the film in an identical way to a group
living and seeing the film in a traditional environment, and similarly
there would probably be differences of reception between a film studies
class and a group of anthropologists. Nor, in any of these contexts, will
there be a unified response.
This is not to say that the film is meaningless until it is made sense
of, and from that to deduce that it is open to any meaning, all meanings
Clearly the film resists certain appropriations and actively provokes
certain questions - most generally to do with the relationship between
film and politics. Because it utilises a variety of filmic modes it is
very hard to see the film as simply an instrument for transmitting information
in an unmediated manner. It is not just that the film is marked as an
activity of production but the neutrality of information is also called
into question. This is exemplified by the way the map is used in the land
claims sequence. The map is not illustrative, it does not fill the frame
and serve as an accurate description of neutral ground. It is presented
as an icon, as a cutout, as an element used in the defence of white law;
it is not allowed to speak for itself, but is juxtaposed with and called
in question by the gudjika. Film students might point to this as a distancing
device, as a denaturalisation of the image; other viewers might not be
concerned with filmic strategies at all, concentrating rather on the political
use-value of maps outside the confines of the film. In either case the
mode of representation is likely to generate a certain kind of discussion
which will go beyond mere observation of devices or mere receipt of information.
For the map is presented precisely as a representation, and provokes the
questions by whom? for whom? Colonialism produces its own image in the
map and then effaces that image as a production. Two Laws
contests the map as an image of the real, uses it to articulate a relation
between representation of the political and the politics of representation.
Multiple considerations have been at work in shaping this film and proposed
marketing strategies. This film meets certain of the requirements for
ethnographic film, the 'independent' film, the campaign film, the art
house film, the educational film and feature film. However it cuts across
those categories by engaging in and exploring questions such as the notion
of history, of competing representations, chronology, romantic naturalism
and formal narrative.
We see that the significant part of the film making process is the relationship
between the film and audience or subject. During the shooting and editing
of the film we were engaged in discussions about the film with the Borroloola
people, other filmmakers, distributors, film writers and critics. A considerable
amount of energy has always been put into accompanying the film and being
present at discussions about it. This stage more than any other, has shaped
ideas for our continuing film practice.