Jenny Fraser: Diverting from the gatekeeper’s stairway

Linda Biumaiwai doing the Yugambeh #WelcomeToCountry for Solid Screen Festival at Tallebudgera Gold Coast
Linda Biumaiwai doing the Yugambeh #WelcomeToCountry for Solid Screen Festival at Tallebudgera Gold Coast. Linda Biumaiwai belongs to the Mununjali people of Beaudesert which forms part of the Yugambeh Language region.

DBW: It’s great to have the SOLID SCREEN Festival taking place during #DirectedbyWomen Worldwide Film Viewing Party. Your festival features work by “Indigenous Women ScreenMakers and acknowledges historically important screen culture.” Tell us about the program and what your festival is all about.

JF: The focus for the 2016 Solid Screen Festival is Australasia Pacific. The main curatorial premise for Solid Screen Festival is based on who can be present at the screening, because the important thing to me is that the director can introduce the film, and ideally they will be a mix of locals and internationals. Personally, I find that direct access to listening to a film maker can inspire Indigenous audiences in a magic way. This process means that the screen works for Solid Screen Festival are the last priority on the list after making sure that things like travel and accommodation are organised. Because the Solid event focuses on women I know I have to cast the net widely and invite many more than will attend, due to women being primary care givers and also holding down jobs and other commitments simultaneously. It’s worth it though, as the speakers are documented and their voice can then go that bit further towards the longevity of screen culture. In Australia this is unique as there aren’t many Indigenous Film Festivals and the dissemination of information about Indigenous Screen Culture in Universities and other institutions is almost unheard of these days.

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DBW: What inspires the use of the term “ScreenMakers”?

JF: I am a New Media Artist so I have to work hard to grow my artform area in Australia. It’s great to go overseas and get inspired by what is happening in screen culture there, but sometimes it can be too long between trips and part of the initial inspiration is realising that the strength of our own storytelling needs to be drawn out and highlighted as well. I learnt a long time ago that Australia is suffering from Cultural Apartheid and nothing much happens in Indigenous New Media Arts if I don’t make it happen, and it’s a Catch-22 because the more I make it happen, the less I am included – in both the mainstream white art world and also the minority Indigenous niche artform area. So I am showing the field how it’s done and re-Dreaming the artworld with events and showcases that I would like to see my own work in more often as well. I curate others who have a screen based practice to show that we actually exist, and we don’t all need to be rising stars in the film industry – we can divert from the gatekeeper’s stairway. It’s 2016 and in Australia we have had access to and use of digital devices for some time now. The divide between the Film Industry and other Indigenous Screen Storytellers is unnecessary, but it’s not going away.

DBW: How did you get involved in creating this festival? How has it evolved? Where are you heading next?

JF: There are some mainstream New Media Arts forums and artists camps in Australia now and then, but they don’t include enough Indigenous participants and they don’t cater to the Cultural Safety for Indigenous needs. Even when there might be one created specifically with an Indigenous focus, they are often problematic because its run by a Non-Indigenous organisation, and they often just employ their white mates as the facilitators, which defeats the purpose of the intended focus. I had always wanted to do my own and it took me about a decade to get funding for the first one in 2014 which was held at Innot Hot Springs, a remote area in Far North Queensland. Then in 2015 I couldn’t get much support again so I just decided to tour it to The Cairns Institute which is a great building for screenings, where I have an honourary position. I was also invited to tour Solid Screen to Kayche Festival in the Yucatan in Mexico around Mayan communities and while traveling I also hooked up screenings with the Hawaiian Women in Filmmaking in Honolulu and at an Indigenous Conference called Healing Our Spirit Worldwide in New Zealand. I’ve just presented a new Solid Screen Festival and Healing Retreat for 2016 and this time it was on the homelands of my ancestors at Tallebudgera and Numinbah Valley on the Gold Coast in South East Queensland. I didn’t want to do the festival again because it’s too much work, but it was important and inspirational for me to bring the good energy and Indigenous spirit to my homelands. It wasn’t easy, particularly because Queensland is so racist, but it was worth it, because my country is a beautiful backdrop, in both Saltwater and Freshwater country.

stingray-sisters
Stingray Sisters – streaming VOD

DBW: Can you share something about the work that screened at the festival this month? Are there places online where film lovers can find out about and possibly stream work by any of the Indigenous Screenmakers you will be including in your program?

JF:  There are stills and info about the screen works and films in the SOLID SCREEN Festival 2016 Facebook Photo Album. And here are a few videos…

DBW: Looking ahead to next year’s #DirectedbyWomen Worldwide Film Viewing Party I’m beginning to see a new process evolving – identifying power centers around the planet where film lovers/makers/programmers will concentrate attention to bring vibrant focus to films/moving images directed by women – and allowing those concentrated energies to fuel celebration globally. I’d love to explore teaming up with you, your festival, and others to make sure that Australia/New Zealand are contributing power to the global celebration. I hope that resonates with you.

JF: Yes, Directed By Women is a great initiative and we are happy to be a part of it because it helps us to focus on the bigger picture. Next year we might tour Solid Screen Festival back to Cairns again and show the new batch of videos that were showcased this year. We’ll be sure to take part in #DirectedByWomen again in 2017 so that we can all feel the good vibes and support around the world.

DBW: I look forward to that. Perhaps others engaged in the #DirectedbyWomen Worldwide Film Viewing Party 2017 will feel inspired to connect with you to co-create events to screen Indigenous work in other places as well. Let’s keep weaving together new opportunities.

Find out more: Jenny Fraser Good Medicine CyberTribe World Screen Culture Blackout Solid Facebook Page.