Departing from Trauma Dreaming in Motion

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Each of the five films in Dreaming in Motion attests to a traumatic colonial history of which the films themselves are a symptom.28 As a package, Dreaming in Motion contributes to a tentative, post-colonial imaginary whose traumatic past, in Felman's words, has 'not yet settled into collective remembrance'.29 Introducing an anthology of essays on trauma and testimony, Cathy Caruth defines trauma (in its literal, belated and latent aspects) as a symptom of history: 'The traumatized ... become themselves the symptom of a history that they cannot entirely possess.'30 She adds: 'To listen to the crisis of a trauma ... is to not only listen for the event, but to hear in the testimony the survivor's departure from it.'31 It is precisely this sense of departing from crisis (rather than moving on from the past) that defines these films as post-colonial grief-work. As spectators of Dreaming in Motion (2003), we participate in the desire to depart from a traumatic history. Listening to the filmmakers' attempts to depart from traumatic events, we look at images that evoke crisis. The stimulation of involuntary memory by these images has the potential to startle the spectator, to reveal the lived experience behind the traumatic testimony found in television documentaries such as Black Chicks Talking (Leah Purcell, 2002). The kinds of images and stories offered to the film spectator by Dreaming in Motion are different in affect from the stories offered to the television viewer by Purcell. Rather than a spirited assertion of pride in Aboriginal identity, Dreaming in Motion is more interested in exploring and overcoming the shame and injury attached to Indigenous identity by the violence of colonialism (discussed in U Chapter 9). a

Shit Skin (writer/director Nicholas Boseley) deals directly with the trau- z matic experience of the Stolen Generations. It is a return home film which g takes the form of an interrupted road trip to Central Australia, undertaken by r a grandmother, Nina, with her grandson, Luke, in the driver's seat. Alternat- f ing between Nina and Luke, Shit Skin deftly evokes the long-term impact of historical trauma on a family over four generations. The repetitive nature of traumatic experience becomes evident in flashbacks, delayed in time only to be unleashed by sensory experience in the present. Nina's involuntary memories of a ruptured childhood are provoked not only by photographs and household objects but also by the scent and touch and taste of place. Deliberately understating the melodramatic potential of Nina's belated return home (sixty-two years after being taken away) the film enables a laconic revisiting of the past, at the same time drawing Nina and Luke forward into a more reconciled future. The pain of return impacts on Nina through the senses, transforming the meaning of both time and place. The scent of a twig from a tree and the splash on her face of fresh water released from its hiding place under the gravelly desert recalls Nina to her childhood self, awakening a sense of belonging which she tries to deny to her grandson, Luke: 'I'm glad they took me away. These people, they can't let go, they're hopeless.' When Nina and Luke address each other with rough affection as 'half-caste' and 'shit skin' at the end of the film, there is a sense that their shared return to the original place of loss allows memory to settle into a less traumatised, more connected sense ofbelonging, ofbeing able (as Jimmy Little sings over the closing titles) to 'bring yourself home'. Shit Skin quietly, yet insistently, evokes the pain of return, and also its necessity, no matter how belated.

The presence of the past, and the necessity of return, are also structural themes in Black Talk (writer/director Wayne Blair). The film takes the form of a conversation between Scott and Tim, two cousins waiting to go into church as various relatives and friends arrive for a funeral. Seated under a tree, the cousins share childhood memories and a skylarking sense of humour, as well as feelings of loss and shame. Their affectionate banter turns serious when Scott, who remained behind with his community, asks city-boy Tim where he will find his soul once his assimilated, consumer lifestyle has finished sucking it out of him. Tim's ambivalence towards home resolves itself into grief as the two cousins enter the small country church for the funeral. As Tim walks up the aisle alone to view the body in the coffin, we realise with a shock that this is Scott's funeral and that the conversation outside the church took place between the living and the dead: that Tim has returned home for a final conversation with Scott. We learn that despite his material g success Tim knows he's been in the wrong place, but we are left to guess at js the reasons for Scott's untimely death. Perhaps there is no right place to be " in terms of country, kinship and culture at this moment in post-colonial history. The film ends with an overwhelming sense that the past is never

< dead, but (like Scott) still present and waiting for recognition.

2 In Flat (writer/director Beck Cole), the routine, everyday present where u 'nothing happens' is brought into view, literally, through the viewfinder « of a digital camera given to fifteen-year-old Marnie by her unreliable dad,

< glimpsed briefly through the video lens at the local TAB. Marnie, like Cole £ herself, uses her camera to telling effect. Flat invites us to contemplate the

< difference between the unblinking gaze of the film image as Cole's camera frames Marnie on a swing against a brick wall, and the softer, more intimate video image as Marnie uses her camera to pick out an old woman sitting on a chair or a neighbour wrappingbeerbottles in newspaperbefore putting them in the garbage bin. This slice-of-life film shares feminism's preoccupation with female self-image and identity, as Marnie lies on her bed and turns the camera on her own face and body. However, the final, more telling image is of a sign painted on the wall of the pawn shop: 'loved goods go cheap'. This mute comment on Marnie's circumscribed world is recorded as the last image on the video cassette before she embraces the inevitable loss -pawning the video camera to cover her father's losses at the TAB. A quality of stoicism, evident in Marnie's laconic exchanges with her little sister and a casual boyfriend, pervades the film, pointing to an austere ethic of survival as the bedrock of daily life. A glimpse of the desert landscape captured on video through the bus window is the only indicator of a time and place whose vast scale is lost to modernity, a loss of vision and connection signified by the ubiquity and disposability of film and video images.

A pervasive sense of loss is undercut in all the films by a sense of humour so dry you can hear the grass crackle underfoot. The final two films in the package bring this crackling humour to the fore, confronting modernity's conundrum of sex, gender and race with shrewd wit. Turn Around (writer/director Samantha Saunders) is a gentle romantic comedy which plays with the genre's central device of recognition/misrecognition between 'right' and 'wrong' partners. A feminist twist gives the controlling moves to the woman, who educates the man into recognising her in her own right. A road trip takes the would-be lovers on three detours. Each stopover educates the man into essential knowledge of the woman's qualities (respect for elders and culture; sensual affinity with nature; cool control of the pool table). These qualities, which value everyday encounters (a cup of tea with a respected uncle is an understated highlight), provide a strong contrast with the glossy-magazine appeal of his fantasy woman. When she drives off, leaving him to pursue his fantasy (or not, as the case may be) he has U to make his own way home. In an act of comic recognition he returns to a wash her car, acknowledging her wheels as the vehicle of his education into z sexual equality. Turn Around replaces romantic comedy's upper-class set- g tings (of city nightclubs, designer apartments and ocean liners) with coun- r try pubs, weatherboard houses and a Ford with radiator problems. This f 'trading down' of the genre's glamorous middle-class settings extends our expectations of the reach of romantic comedy, at the same time enlarging the frame through which Aboriginal experience becomes recognisable in cinema.

The four films above undermine the entrenched portrayal of Aboriginal characters in cinema as objects of an ignorant, investigative or sympathetic white gaze. Non-Indigenous characters are sidelined in favour of the experiences and perceptions of Aboriginal characters. The final film, Mimi (writer/director Warwick Thornton), breaks this pattern by engaging directly with the whiter-than-white world of the cosmopolitan investor in Aboriginal art. Mimi begins as a send-up of yuppie aspiration and consumerism, then quickly turns into an acutely observed comedy-horror film by combining the scene-stealing comic talents of Sophie Lee, Aaron Pederson and David Gulpilil. Their star turns, however, are upstaged by the wickedly animated Mimi, who wreaks havoc before being lured into a stainless steel fridge and unceremoniously dumped in a waterhole by Gulpilil, who declares, 'Whitefellas aren't ready for you yet, Mimi.' Nothing is what it appears to be in this film, which delights in improvised mimesis. A plastic-wrapped chook from the supermarket becomes a magpie goose with a feather stuck in its breast. A red cocktail dress and cosmetic cream become a makeshift traditional costume for ceremonially smoking Mimi out of the hall cupboard. A 'real Aborigine' is revealed as an errant grandson, more interested in chasing white girls than learning his grandfather's culture. An Australian collector of Aboriginal art knows so little about where she lives that she dials 911 in an emergency, imitating the terrorised blondes dialling 911 in scary American movies. Mimi takes pleasure in using comic-horror conventions to joke about authenticity, upsetting expectations and undoing pretensions in an original display of visual and verbal wit. Although the delightful spirit-world Mimi is returned to the outback waterhole, there is a sense in which the film imagines something beyond the return home, or the occasional reconciled moment between past and present, or even the stoic survival of everyday life as suitable endings for Indigenous stories. Mimi proposes a spirited quick-wittedness as an inventive, ethical response to the dilemmas posed by black and white encounters within modernity. The distance between Sophie Lee's personal watercooler g and David Gulpilil's outback waterhole is imaginatively traversed in this js film, with Aaron Pederson mediating a playful space for unpredictable con" versations between Indigenous tradition and Australian modernity. The past is present in Mimi in ways that enable the film's characters (and the specta-

< tor) to engage in imaginative acts of problem-solving, suggesting that there 2 may be ways in which the time after Mabo and the time after colonialism u (for Indigenous and settler peoples alike) are currently being experienced as

< mimetic spaces for inventing the future, creatively sustained by a keen sense

< of departing from (but not forgetting) a traumatic colonial history.

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