The challenge of the video essay format in an academic context is how to use it to communicate complex ideas and arguments. Invariably, the form seems to raise questions of what it is that actually makes a video essay ‘academic’? And, whether voice-over, on-screen text, or seeking to allow images to speak for themselves offer the best approach. These questions are highlighted when working in the video essay format, as well as when viewing essays in the field. The challenge of this video essay then, was how to achieve its key goals, which were: first, to distil a complex psychoanalytic analysis of two films, Picnic at Hanging Rock (Weir, 1975) and The Last Wave (Weir, 1977), into a succinct, comprehensible audio-visual summary; and second, to illustrate what I read as a contemporary response to that argument offered in three films by Indigenous Australian filmmakers: Warwick Thornton’s Samson and Delilah (2009), Wayne Blair’s The Sapphires (2012) and Ivan Sen’s Goldstone (2016). These three films, along with a range of TV series and programs by Indigenous creators, have emerged from a number of initiatives by Australian national broadcasters, funding bodies, and training institutions, as well as from production companies such as Rachel Perkins and Darren Dale’s Blackfella Films. They are part of a critically and commercially successful body of work by Indigenous Australians, and are considered here for the alternate representation of the Australian landscape they offer to the two New Wave films of Peter Weir as read by Douglas Keesey.
Keesey’s argument uses Freud’s notion of the uncanny to describe the troubled representation of the landscape in Weir’s early Australian films, particularly as it relates to the dispossession of Australia’s Indigenous population. Since Australian federation in 1901, white writers, and (later) filmmakers, have relied on the outback as a central metaphor in the defining of the national identity. Settlers, bushman, and ANZACs (Australia New Zealand Army Corps)—as well as their shadow figure, the criminal bushranger (see Ned Kelly)—have all been key in the construction of the white, male, Anglo-Saxon national identity, as evident in films such as Gallipoli (Weir, 1981) and Crocodile Dundee (Faiman, 1986). Each of these figures has had a relationship to the Australian outback as a key component of that identity, however, in contrast to the cowboys of American mythology, for instance, whose role is to tame the frontier and make it safe for women and children, Graeme Turner has shown that the heroism of the Australian protagonist results from merely surviving it. For Keesey, the dangers and threats posed by ‘the outback’ that have been central to the construction of the Australian identity become for Weir, an uncanny reminder of the dispossession of Australia’s Indigenous inhabitants. In this video essay, I have attempted to present a succinct sketch of Keesey’s argument using selected text and excerpts from Weir’s films, followed by excerpts from the concluding scenes of three films by contemporary Indigenous filmmakers that articulate responses to the theme of dispossession. The goal was to provide a clear contrast between Weir’s characters’ uncanny habitation of the land with that of some contemporary Indigenous characters’ experience of it, which, while complex and still troubled by dispossession, remains hopeful and at moments, even redemptive.
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