Another Country: David Gulpilil Explains Indigenous Culture

Charlie's CountryThe 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.

 

James Curnow is an obsessive cinephile and the owner and head editor of CURNBLOG. His work as a film journalist has been published in a range of print and digital publications, including The Guardian, Broadsheet and Screening the Past. James is currently working through a PhD in Film Studies, focused primarily on issues of historical representation in Contemporary Hollywood cinema.

13 thoughts on “Another Country: David Gulpilil Explains Indigenous Culture

  1. Pingback: Jakes Wilson on Mad Dog Morgan: Histories, Myths, Legends and Motivations - CURNBLOG

  2. I don’t know much about cultural relations in Australia, but this looks like a brave and timely film. Thanks for this great review James.

  3. I saw the film, very interesting and the confusion and cultures in clash mode, both indigenous and white fella showing their faults and short comings along with good intentions. As Davids character tried to switch back to his cultural hunting but that falls short due to fears that the spear could be used as a weapon… Too much history gets in the way, what do our indigenous brothers want? They enjoy their share of the white fellas ways and hand outs to just go on a cultural and permanent walkabout. We are all lost for the answers.

  4. Sounds like a very intriguing movie, James. I really enjoyed seeing Rolley Mintuma in Tracks last year. Made me remember that authenticity really has value. Gulpilil would seem to bring a great deal of authenticity to whatever he tackles.

  5. Excellent article on a terrific actor, James. This looks like an interesting film; I wish Gulpilil was more well known here in the United States–he has excellent range and can move from comedy to drama seamlessly. That’s not easy to do. 😀

  6. I have always enjoyed his performances, James, and it looks like he is the perfect person to bring some understanding of his culture into the mainstream. First-rate review mate.
    Best wishes, Pete.

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