Film-makers Rolf De Heer and Molly Reynolds will be in Perth from the February 23 to 26 for a series of events called Tracking Country. Brought to us by the Perth International Arts Festival, this will include a retrospective look back at the artists’ work with an introduction by either de Heer or Reynolds, as well as an In Conversation interview with both directors hosted by presenter Fenella Kernebone. These films represent a fascinating insight into rural and indigenous Australia that many of us would never get, thanks in part to the cooperation of the Yolngu people of Arnhem land. Dingo, The Tracker, Ten Canoes, Another Country, Charlie’s Country, and Still Our Country – Reflections on a Culture, will all be screening. DAVID O’CONNELL spoke to director Rolf de Heer about this work and his career so far.
Director Rolf de Heer is in Perth for PIAF’s Tracking Country, a collaboration with partner Molly Reynolds that covers twenty six years of their work. The series of films highlights their work with indigenous communities, especially the Ramingining community in Arnhem Land, and in particular actor David Gulpilil. It’s a friendship that lead to an extraordinary trilogy of films, that de Heer and Reynolds refer to as The Country Suite.
“It’s an accidental trilogy… well, two trilogies,” says de Heer. “It was never intended to be a trilogy, but it’s sort of become that. The first set is Charlie’s Country, Ten Canoes, and The Tracker. Then there’s a triptych of Charlie’s Country, Another Country, and Still Our Country. So they’re an interrelated Country Suite of projects.”
Although each work stands on it’s own, the last triptych have various common threads woven throughout. The series was launched when documentarian Molly Reynolds accompanied de Heer to Ramingining, with the intent to shoot a documentary while he was filming Charlie’s Country. What resulted is three films (one fiction, and two documentary features) linked by subject, place, time, and the people working on them.
“It is what it is,” explained de Heer. “It’s about what it’s about not because I wanted to make something about that, but because I wanted to make a film with David (Gulpilil).”
The seeds for Charlie’s Country arose after visiting Gulpilil in jail, and the actor stating he wished to work with de Heer afterwards. The result was a powerful and critically acclaimed work, but on a personal level also aided with Gulpilil’s recovery.
“It needed to be contemporary, it needed to be something close to him. So I made a film about contemporary life up there, and it so happens that the Intervention (and it’s successors) provide various frustrations to the people living there. So Another Country is an overtly political film (as it’s David’s thoughts about what is going on up there), Charlie’s Country is a covertly political film, and Still Our Country is apolitical.”
With his time in Arnhem Land and his almost daily contact with both David Gulpilil and Peter Djigirr, de Heer has formed a distinctive impression on the fallout from the Intervention. “For the mob it’s made them more dependent. It’s dis-empowering and it’s getting worse and worse. The Intervention is basically a dis-empowering mechanism. They are forced into white man’s modern life, and they’re not equipped to deal with it progressing so rapidly.”
“There’s a classic quote about the law: ‘You white fellas you call that law? We’ve had law for many thousands of years and it’s always the same. You white fellas change it nearly every week. How do I know what to do?’
“Of course, that has no collusion that we are progressing so rapidly that we are forced to change laws over time, but you can see the problem.”
Although not by nature a retrospective person, Tracking Country does give de Heer opportunity to consider his work.
“This incredible privileged thing,” he says. “I think back to every film and think how different each of those was as an experience for me. How intense and how wonderfully those panned out. It’s been a wonderful time to be Rolf de Heer the director. For me it’s unbelievable.”
Check the Perth Festival website for tickets and details.