Walk-In Cinema: CAMELS & THE PITJANTJARA (1969)

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The WTS Walk-In Cinema presents a free monthly film and food event in the car park at Watch This Space.

#7 Camels & The Pitjantjara
dir. Roger Sandall. English narration. 1969; 45 minutes.
curated by Anna Georgia
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This session of the Walk-In Cinema includes the screenings of feature-length Camels & the Pitjantjara, local filmmaker Ahmed Adam’s Mark & Memory (2017, 6 minutes), and a Q&A with curator Anna Georgia facilitated by Ahmed.
From the 1920s onwards, when motor vehicles displaced camels as a mode of supply in central Australia, camels gradually went feral. As Camels & the Pitjantjara shows however, in the 1960s the Pitjantjara were making good use of camels to facilitate their travels and connections with other areas.

This remarkable film, shot in 1968 (released in 1969) follows a group of Pitjantjara men, led by “Captain”, a veteran cameleer, who travel out from their base at Areyonga Settlement, to capture a wild camel, tame it and add it to their domestic herds. They then use camels to help transport a large group of people from Areyonga to Papunya, three days’ walk away.

This film departs from the usual emphasis of the AIAS (now AIATSIS) films in the 1960s on recording ceremonial life and traditional craft skills. Since its formation in 1964 through to the early 1990’s, AIATSIS commissioned the recording of Australian subject matter considered to be ethnographically or historically significant, for archival purposes.

Over the years, producer Roger Sandall made many recordings for AIAS documenting Aboriginal men’s ceremonies (which remain under tightly clan-controlled viewing restrictions), as well as whole films. Camels and the Pitjantjatjara is significant because it moves away from what Sandall decried as the ‘painfully rigid format’ of ritual recordings to explore, in a more open-endedly curious and cinematically immersive way, how indigenous cultures were responding and adapting to European colonisation. The film also touches on the malaise of life at Areyonga, where the men are generally bored: “yesterday’s skills are meaningless” in the Settlement where food and necessities are generally supplied.

In Camels we are introduced to individuals (Captain and Nosepeg) who show the camera how their people were incorporating European animals (camels, horses, dogs, rabbits) into their way of life both productively and with affection. In the 1960’s, the Sandall’s highlighting of this robust adaptability was important not only in belying any notion of indigenous people ‘dying out’ in the face of European settlement, but also in its epistemological departure from traditional approaches to anthropological filmmaking as objective record or scientific illustration.

Roger Sandall (1933-2012) was a New Zealand born anthropologist and filmmaker educated at Columbia University, who was part of a vibrant avant garde and social documentary film culture in New York in the 1960s. His work was known and respected by the likes of Jean Rouch, John Marshall, and Robert Gardner; and his ideas about ethnographic filmmaking developed in dialogue with David and Judith MacDougall, and Colin Young.

An AIAS Film Unit production – 1969 – English dialogue and narration. Ronin Films wishes to advise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people that this film may contain images and voices of deceased persons.

Note that the film is narrated in English. Passages of dialogue in Pitjantjatjara language are not translated. Note also that the word “Pitjantjara” in the main title is an earlier Anglicism of the modern term “Pitjantjatjara”.
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The Walk-In is an under-resourced cinema and we rely on a BYO hospitality attitude. We will provide food and film, and request that you bring your own deck chair, swag, thermos, food vessel, blanket and anything else you might need to keep yourself comfortable.

Food will be served from 6:45PM.
Screening will commence at 7:00PM.
Please note this is a dry event, there will be no alcohol served or permitted. It is family friendly, dog friendly, it is friendly to all.
The Walk-In Cinema is supported by Screen Territory.

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