Winner of the Stanley Hawes Award 2015 for Contribution to Australian Documentaries, Pauline Clague, told the Nga Aho Whakaari conference, “We don’t need to be told how to tell stories – we’ve been doing it for thousands of years! We just need the opportunity to tell them – and to own them.”
Her mother once received a “Warrior” award, a valued recognition from her community. She told Pauline that as a screen producer she should not so much break walls, but simply just not see them and keep going through them.
“We need to develop more practitioners,” Clague said. 25 years ago there were 40-plus Aboriginal directors, and only two producers. “What we do well is take risks – the Elders told us to.”
Clague was Indigenous Training Officer at the highly reputable Australian Film, Television and Radio School from 2009 to 2013; but Clague realized that after graduating none of her indigenous students were getting work.
She decided to leave the school and join NITV – the National Indigenous Television Unit, which became independent from SBS in 2012, since broadcasting on their own channel.
She started at NITV as Commissioning Editor and Head of Internal Productions. In her first year, Clague’s team produced 128 short documentaries in four months in partnership with 59 production companies in Aboriginal communities, most in remote areas of Australia. Under the banner Our Stories, Our Way, Every Day, over three years they produced more than 400 programmes.
“The series is produced by Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander filmmakers and media organisations from emerging, remote and regional sectors of Australia,” says the SBS website. “The stories are digital songlines to share knowledge about our life, our history, our elders, our communities, our events, our youth and our cultures”.
NITV continues to make and broadcast these 15-minute mini-docs seven nights a week for much of the year.
In one remote community they created 30 jobs for 12 months, plus other shorter-term jobs. These brought a lot of money into the small community.
Indigenous people are the most prolific users of Facebook. While ratings showed that 10,000 people were watching a particular programme, the Facebook page had 70,000 likes. Clague suggests that the popularity of Facebook grows out of the natural phenomenon of where news is spread through the indigenous community primarily verbally (she suggested that included what might be called “gossip”). In 1988, for example, the year of the bicentenary celebration of British settlement in Australia, there was no internet, no cell phone. Someone had an idea for a march by indigenous people, and told five others. Three weeks later 100,000 people turned up.
Clague says they’re training young people to be the “Facebook Army”.
“I love technology, but care is needed with its impact, to ensure that cultural knowledge is protected. We are lucky in Australia that a huge amount is spent on protocols and pathways.” In white culture, individuals own stories – not so in the indigenous world. In the white world, it’s necessary to consult with family, and others close to the subject. Again, this is not relevant in the indigenous world – hence the need today for the protocols and pathways. They have worked hard at defining what an indigenous film is, partly because they’re opposed to the model of consultation and collaboration.
Then there’s the problem of how to engage the community, especially young kids, who with their phones and earplugs are so unaware of what’s happening around them. “The less we converse, the more isolated we feel.”
It’s noticeable that when young people are given an opportunity to make a film, their first story is always about themselves, or about someone close to them, commonly their elders.
“Our kids are not being taught in film to have their own free thought.” Clague mentioned the high suicide rate amongst youth. It’s a problem we are familiar with in Aotearoa, where we have the highest rate of youth suicide in the world, and where the rate amongst Maori is significantly higher than in the overall population.
AUT’s Ella Henry asked her how we should go about decolonising the minds of our young. So many young Maori children are brought up to believe that because they have brown skin they are dumb, and so forth.
Firstly, Clague said, filmmakers have to stop presenting the stereotypes. Secondly, the people in power have to stop holding on to those stereotypes –such as being an indigenous person means being dark-skinned!
“One thing we know – white people love black experts!”
While experts like directors Warwick Thornton and Rachel Perkins are useful, that’s only one aspect. Someone in the audience picked up on this comment, pointing out that while one Maori person has one Maori perspective, many Maori have many different Maori perspectives, and too often a white person has only a singular perception of what a Maori perspective might be.
Clague now works at the University of Technology in Sydney (UTS), where she is a Senior Research Fellow in the Jumbunna Institute for Indigenous Education & Research. She will also be appearing soon in a feature documentary about mental health issues in Australia, The Show Must Go On, currently in post.
Clague concluded by encouraging us to attend Australia’s Winda Indigenous Film Festival in November in Sydney. After all, it’s much closer to Aotearoa than Canada’s ImagineNATIVE festival, where she goes twice a year as one of the programming selectors. It was quite an experience for her in Toronto to see Australian (and Kiwi) indigenous films in Toronto that she had not seen in Australia. “It is so important to interconnect internationally.”
Clague contrasts notions of success. “White people’s idea of success is how much money there is in the bank. My idea of success is how many stories are on screen.”