Rachel Perkins, Director, Bran Nue Dae
One of the most contested borders in the world felt like the perfect venue for the Film Forward program to share its extraordinary stories. A high metal fence separated our audience on either side of the US/Mexican border. We had the privilege of being able to cross the border unhindered and engage in exactly the cultural exchange Film Forward (FF) promises.
On the southern side of the fence the guys from ‘Mexicali Rose’ ( an art gallery, radio station, media hub and FF partner) set up a screening of a documentary film at dusk. As the sun set the locals gathered in what we Australians call the ‘front yard’ of a house recently reclaimed from people smugglers. A large piece of cardboard was hoisted up against the wall to become the screen, chairs lined up, a few beers opened and the screening began under the stars to an enthusiastic crowd of filmmakers, photographers, musicians and other community people. The vibe was extraordinary, and as I returned across the border on foot with a couple and their baby just before midnight, I was reminded of the power of stories to inspire and reach across borders both political and physical.
Our film Brand New Day tells a story from the Indigenous, or the Aboriginal people Australia. Although I was on the other side of the world, I felt a strong resonance with the many people I met and saw. This part of America and Mexico is almost entirely populated by Hispanic people with a mix of Native American and European heritage. They are everywhere but on the TV and cinema screens. My people in Australia have struggled for twenty years to be represented on our screens back home. I was reminded of the importance of this movement when we screened at the local film school in Mexicali. I was excited by their dynamic group of film students and their impressive and newly built film school. The fact that Spanish will soon be the largest language spoken in the US combined with the hungry talent we met, promises to change the face of American screen production in the future.
On the US side of the border, we screened in small towns – in their libraries, council offices and school halls. Everywhere we were met with enthusiasm and gratitude that anyone would bother to bring films and filmmakers to engage with people in what locals know are perceived as ‘far flung’ locations. Most satisfying to me was the way the humor of our film crossed cultural boundaries – people got it and they laughed. It is fascinating that our film, which is layered with very specific Indigenous cultural meaning and social history, still speaks to international audiences. I was reminded that very personal stories are able to cross over because they portray our shared humanity. In our films story – the need to go home and where you can be yourself.
I think I absorbed more knowledge than I could offer, in an exchange where people gave willingly of their time and stories. My only disappointment was that we were unable to screen to the local Cucapa Indians, an indigenous community who were staging a sit in to fight for their fishing rights. As with Australian Aboriginal people, many years after colonization, rights are still being contested – the right to land, resources and importantly the right to tell our stories and be seen. With Film Forward, I was lucky to be extended this ‘right’ and to engage with a new and enthusiastic audience for our story.