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Reviews > Rolling Stone, Australia:

'Two Laws' challenges white images of Aboriginal life

Directors: Alessandro Cavadini, Carolyn Strachan and the Borroloola Community; producers: Creative Development Branch of the Australian Film Commission with additional assistance from the Aboriginal Arts Board; photography: Alessandro Cavadini; distribution: Sydney Filmmakers Cooperative.

Two Laws isn't just another trendy documentary feature about Aboriginal land rights. Nor does it represent one of those over-romanticised anthropological studies of Australia's very own, poignantly doomed "noble-savage." Rather, it avoids getting stuck in either the topically sensational or tritely exotic grooves and emerges as one of the most challenging and original local films in years.
Much of its unique character stems from the significant fact that the Aboriginal people in front of the camera were actively involved in the planning and production process behind it as well.
The film was made by four tribal groups around the Borroloola region in the Northern Territory with the technical assistance of Alessandro Cavadini and Carolyn Strachan, two white filmmakers, who have been working with Aborigines for the last ten years. Before shooting any footage, the pair spent two months with the Borroloola community, learning the people's customs, living their lifestyle and showing themfilms about Aborigines, American Indians, Africans and other native groups in order to help determine the eventual form and content of Two Laws..
The past and present struggles of the Borroloola people are organised into four sections: "Police Times", "Welfare Times", "Struggle for Our Land" and "Living with Two Laws". The film's progression is approximately chronological, beginning with a police-instigated atrocity in the early 1930s through to the Government's notorious "assimilation" programs of the 1950s right up to more recent controversies surrounding the land question. Despite these chapter-like divisions, certain themes and issues echo throughout, with an underlying gradual movement from passive oppression to active resistance.
Stylistically, Two Laws demonstrates a number of revealing innovations, which serve to keep the overall message a matter of open debate rather than a closed case. The standard commentary of a single authoritative narrator, whom we usually hear dictating the tone andshape of many documentaries, is replaced here by the democratic council-group discussion of numerous on-camera speakers. This communal cast of oral historians is always viewed through a wide-angle lens since Aboriginal people traditionally dislike the body dissection caused by talking head closeups and gesturing hand cut-aways.
Apart from English, both pidgin and native dialects are spoken, necessitating the use of sub-titles. Through such distancing devices as the presence of onscreen film technicians and the announcement by each participant of real name and enacted role ("I'm Splinter Woody and I'm playing the judge"), Two Laws reminds us that we're watching one filmed interpretation of a complex historical experience, rather than an artfully controlled, celluloid-coated ultimate truth.
This cooperatively produced testament of our white and their black times engages the viewer in a passionately convincing argument for Aboriginal rights without resorting to academic jargon or TV newsy meoldramatics. It's a bracingly sober, always fascinating social document which allows you to bring your brains to the cinema along with your eyes and ears.
An exclusive two week season of this remarkable film began at the Sydney Opera House Cinema on May 3rd and will be followed by screenings in other states at dates to be announced.
--Peter Kemp, Rolling Stone
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