Date(s) - 10/10/2012
12:00 am - 6:00 pm
Dr Therese Davis
“Having four Aboriginal women on the big screen is political.” – Tony Briggs, Co-writer and Associate producer, The Sapphires, Melbourne International Film Festival, July 2012
The Sapphires (2012) is Australia’s most commercially successful Indigenous film to date. It took $2.3 million at the Australian box office in its opening weekend in August, beating other recent local releases such Kath and Kimderella ($2.1 million) and the big budget, much-hypedBait 3D ($365,000). Since then it has gone on to become only the fifth Australian film in the past five years to gross more than $10 million at the local box office.
Much of this success is undoubtedly due to its ‘feel good’ style and its soundtrack of soul classics (the latter having spent several weeks at No.1 on the ARIA Albums Chart). But The Sapphires is not a one-hit wonder. It is part of a broader ‘Black Wave’ of successful screen projects resulting from a strategic shift in Indigenous screen policy in the past five years toward mainstream production models and career development.
This paper will discuss these policies, including a new work and training program to create media jobs for Indigenous Australians, titled Media RING (Media Reconciliation Industry Network Group), encompassing more than 40 broadcasters, government media agencies, Indigenous organisations, trade associations, media buyers and newspaper groups, including Screen Australia, ABC, SBS, FOXTEL and News Limited.
Paying particular attention to The Sapphires, I look at the ways in which emphasis on mainstreaming and professional development in Indigenous screen policy is impacting filmmaking practices. I argue that box-office receipts cannot be the only measure of success of The Sapphires and other Indigenous screen projects; and I propose a new analytical approach designed to help us to understand the ways in which Indigenous cultural knowledge and values are successfully being applied in mainstream film/television projects, exploring benefits of this work for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous audiences.
Therese Davis is a senior lecturer in film and television studies at Monash University. She is the author of The Face on the Screen: Death Recognition and Spectatorship (Intellect, 2004) and co-author with Felicity Collins of Australian Cinema After Mabo (CUP, 2004). She has published articles on Australian Indigenous film and television in Screening the Past,Continuum, Studies in Documentary Film, Studies in Australasian Cinema, Australian Historical Studies, Senses of Cinema and Metro. She is currently working with Dr Romaine Moreton on a new book on Australian Indigenous filmmaking for Screen Australia.