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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 of filmmaking?
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 land.

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 angle lens.
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 appropriate.
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.

History/Story Telling
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 of filmmaking.
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 specific moment.
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 Laws.
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 Ordinance:
"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 reliving.
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 is reflexive?
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 welfare office.
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.

The Dramatic
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 visual impact.
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 anymore."
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 community.

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 being equal.
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.

1 Skin a person's social group (within a system of six interrelating cycles).
2 Gudjika are song cycles often consisting of as many as one hundred verses sung in order. These describe, sometimes from the standpoint of an observer and sometimes from the point of view of the power, the movements and experience of the power as it passed over the land.
3 Djunkai is described as the 'manager' or 'custodian', but sometimes is more like a 'warden' or 'policeman'. They manage the ritual estates of their mother's clan and their father's mothers clan. They in turn have their own ritual status and they are managed by the children and son's children of the women of their clans. Managers lack the axis of identification with the dreaming associated with the estate they manage.

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