Sustaining Grief in Japanese Story and Dreaming in Motion

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Throughout this book we have proposed that the post-Mabo era in Australian cinema can be read through the metaphor of backtracking. This intermittent activity of reviewing, mulling over and renewing icons, landscapes, characters and stories defines contemporary Australian national cinema. In our conclusion we want to propose that, in the post-Mabo context, this brooding passion for raking over the national repertoire of icons serves as a vernacular mode ofcollective mourning, a process involving both grief-work and testimony. If this is the case, then Australian national cinema, since the Mabo decision, has been an occasional participant in creating and corroborating national recognition of terra nullius as the nation's troubling, founding myth. This raises the question of whether a national cinema is in the business of confirming the nation's consoling myths or contesting the nation's historical memories. As Ross Gibson says at the end of his book on the badlands of central Queensland, 'Myths help us live with contradictions, whereas histories help us analyse persistent contradictions so that we might avoid being lulled and ruled by the myths that we use to console and enable ourselves.'1 Gibson's eloquent piece of literary backtracking ends with an exemplary call to mourn the failures and losses of the past in order to overcome the denial of the violence that founded the nation. In this view, mourning is a way to achieve national maturity by 'recognising the issues that we wish we could deny, ignore or forget'.2 In various ways, the two kinds of film projects discussed in this chapter explore the badlands of our social imaginary, asking us to bear witness to traumatic traces of a history we can no longer deny, ignore or forget. To give up the consoling and enabling myth of terra nullius is to displace white settler Australia as the core of national identity and national history. For Australian national cinema, thinking beyond the founding myth is a perplexing task, one which requires backtracking over familiar ground, whether that be the desert, the bush, the suburbs or the beach, in order to reconcile current knowledge about the past with present experience of the history wars, U and to imagine a more accommodating sense of national identity for the a future. 1

In the cycle of films discussed in Chapter 1, the shift in identity occasioned g by the Mabo decision is made explicit. These films are clearly part ofthe resur- r gent 'memory industry'3 which has become so prolific in Western societies f since the early 1980s, exemplifying a paradigm shift from modernity's focus on 'present futures' to postmodernity's preoccupation with 'present pasts'.4 In this concluding chapter we will look at two kinds of film projects, each recognisable as part of Australian national cinema's engagement with history, memory and identity. The films belonging to these two projects are less explicit than The Tracker or Rabbit-Proof Fence in their post-Mabo historical consciousness, but their preoccupation with 'present pasts' is intimately tied to the work of memory and mourning. This work, of backtracking through consoling myths about the colonial past, is seen as a prerequisite for mature nationhood by many post-Mabo pundits engaged in the history wars described in Chapter 1.

The first project belongs to the art-house circuit of international films, often launched at the Cannes Film Festival before being released to local audiences. The most recent Australian film to succeed at Cannes is Japanese Story (Sue Brooks, 2003). The film's marketing team used the premiere at Cannes to launch an international campaign before returning home to scoop the pool with eight wins at the 2003 AFI Awards. Set in the Pilbara iron ore region, the film reprises the sweeping landscape tradition of the 1970s period film along with the contemporary off-road, cross-cultural movie imbued with the sensibility of the post-Mabo period. The second project is a package of five short films supported by Film Australia and the Indigenous Unit of the Australian Film Commission, Dreaming in Motion (2003). Unlike the high-profile cycle of feature films around the Indigenous-settler theme released in 2000-02, Dreaming in Motion brings together a mosaic of Indigenous Australian perspectives on the present. The films range in genre from the road movie to the urban comedy. The ethic and aesthetic of this kind of project is indebted to the 1970s independent cinema. Thomas Elsaesser, writing about New German Cinema, defines this kind of filmmaking in terms of erfahrung. This term is broader than its English translation as 'experience'. It implies a direct relation between the filmmakers and their audiences, both of whom 'rediscovered the cinema as a new public space, promising very personal experiences, but which through discussions and debates could be verbalised or rationalised in a political discourse'.5

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