The Molly Reynolds’ directed film, Another Country, is a difficult work to define. Guided by the cool, calm, and soothing narration of indigenous actor, David Gulpilil, we are sent on an almost structure-free wander through Gulpilil’s home town, Ramingining. I say almost, because both he and Reynolds have a very clear purpose in mind – to detail the often-misunderstood nuances of aboriginal culture, and reveal the consequences of such misunderstandings when they are translated into government interventionist policies.
But perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself. For those who may not be in the know, it is probably worth mentioning that Gulpilil is Australia’s most well renowned indigenous film star (unfortunately, there aren’t enough of them). He made his screen debut in Nicolas Roeg’s Walkabout (1971). He co-starred with Dennis Hopper in Mad Dog Morgan (1976), the tale of one of Australia’s more infamous bushrangers. And he had significant roles in Peter Weir’s The Last Wave (1977) Crocodile Dundee (1986), Wim Wender’s Until the End of the World (1991), Phillip Noyce’s Rabbit Proof Fence (2002), John Hillcoat’s The Proposition (2005) and Baz Luhrman’s Australia (2008) amongst other films.
But problematically, despite Gulpilil’s fame, many of the films he has appeared in have been centred around interpretations of indigenous culture as written by non-indigenous people with a limited conception of these cultures (there are exceptions). Another Country is one of several films developed collaboratively by Rolf de Heer, Molly Reynolds and David Gulpilil aimed at redressing this issue in recent years (including The Tracker, Ten Canoes, and Charlie’s Country), and it is easily the most experimental.
Gulpilil’s background makes him the perfect bridge between indigenous and “white fella culture”, a point that he makes clear from the beginning of the film as he lists off the various celebrities with whom he has interacted (Hendrix, Bob Marley and the Queen make the list) before also making the point that he has spent most of his time far removed from all this glitz and glamour amongst his own people in Northern Australia, the Yolngu of Ramingining.
Which is where, for Another Country’s duration, Gulpilil invites us to spend much of our own time. He guides us through this community, showing the impact of successive generations of government policies (some more well-intentioned than others, but most built on fundamental misconceptions about the culture on which they are imposed). These policies include everything from the oblivious attempt to herd disparate aboriginal groups with different languages and cultures into singular populations; imposing ideas around wealth generation on communal cultures that traditionally distribute wealth amongst members; reactionary approaches to social issues that create entirely new problems; and implicitly, the ongoing consequences of the Stolen Generation. But during all of this, what is most striking is Gulpilil’s hopeful tone, and lack of bile:
“We can’t get there if you think you know more about us than we do. You have to try and understand us. Listen to our history. Listen to us.“
The film is a simple, concise, unadorned, and important request to reconsider the relationship between Australia’s indigenous and migrant populations.