Jenny Fraser: Keeping Culture Alive Over Many Lifetimes

Jinda: Ruth Wharton

Just before the start of the new year #DirectedbyWomen had a chance to connect with Indigenous screen artist Jenny Fraser, who is working on her latest film Jinda, which she describes as “a series of cinematic poems” and a cross between “Orlando and Baraka, on walkabout.” At this time when Australia is so seriously challenged by the impacts of global climate change, I hope you’ll take time to hear what she has to share and chip in to her crowdfunding campaign, so she can bring her vision out into the world.

DBW: Here we are on New Year’s Eve… a perfect time to explore what’s unfolding in your life and work. Thanks for taking time to talk.

JF: It is. Good morning. Happy Tuesday.

DBW: Great to finally find time to connect. You’ve been on my mind.

JF: Yes! I was hoping we would too. Did you get a proper rest after Directed by Women this year?

DBW: I finally did get some rest though this has been a very full autumn for me.

JF: It’s all good.

DBW: I’m excited about your new film project Jinda. Can you share a little about your vision for the film and where you are in the process?

JF: Thank you. Yes, the vision for the film is quite epic, that of Womankind.

DBW: Yes… “We’re making a film about womankind. Jinda is a series of cinematic poems built around the characters travel through country, centuries and generations.” Just reading that description exhilarates.

JF: The main performer is Ruby Wharton, and she plays a character that is reincarnated over and over in different eras. Each character has an association with stories that I know about different ancestors of mine over time, but many other people could relate.

DBW: When I tune in to that, I see a braid – weaving together the personal and the universal.

JF: Making a film has a lot of resonance with the craft of weaving – it can get technical, and a lot of knowledge, skills and language help to form the story and aesthetics.

Jinda poster

DBW: Where will you shoot the film?

JF: The film has mainly been shot along the vast area of the East Coast of Australia, in Queensland and Northern New South Wales, including my Ancestral Homeland which is now called the Scenic Rim. These are very beautiful places, but the screen industries are not supported properly to grow screen culture here, so we rarely see these landscapes in the context of what they really are, or mean.

DBW: The power of place being filmed by someone who has a deep connection to and appreciation for the land is something that cannot be overstated. Too often filmmakers blunder on to land they don’t know and for which they have no reverence. They use the land as a prop and fail to care for it, leaving damage in their wake.

In a story that takes place over generations the land itself is there throughout. That’s powerful. A few years ago we were communicating and you used a phrase that has stayed with me: “we can divert from the gatekeeper’s stairway.” As we dream a new world into being… one where women everywhere have space to flourish as creative beings… we build our own stairways…

JF: Thank you. Yes, I agree. And sometimes this can also mean danger for the unaware film makers. In Australia there is a history of film makers being cursed and dying early, even though sometimes they have been warned against filming or going to sacred or taboo places.

DBW: Ah… yes. That’s painful. Lack of awareness can be fatal. But something I appreciate about cinema is that it has the capacity to help people shift perception and become aware of the deeper, underlying patterns of connection in the universe.

JF: Yes, even though we may have lost some people, language and culture to colonial violence, the land is still here and it is healing to connect in these places that our stories and essence are made of. The land will still be here even if we mess up, and hopefully the land can also heal itself without us.

DBW: I think of that often. Humans tend to think of themselves as the center of the universe… not realizing we are part of an intricate whole. I’m thinking about the power of a reincarnation story to help us perceive life in a less constrained way. We have the potential to explore life in so many ways… not only from one lifetime to another but within each lifetime. We have the power to leap from one way of being to another.

JF: The dominant “civilisations” now will probably be the first to go.

DBW: Without deep grounding in place… without a deep sense of how life is woven together… cultures can’t sustain.

JF: The gatekeepers will always be around, enjoying their little bit of power, but the best thing about technology is that we can use new platforms to break down the barriers, and the gatekeepers probably wont have the new knowledge and awareness that it brings.

One of my favourite quotes is by Francis Ford Coppola “just people who normally wouldn’t make movies are going to be making them. And you know, suddenly, one day some little fat girl in Ohio is going to be the new Mozart, you know, and make a beautiful film with her little father’s camera recorder. And for once, the so-called professionalism about movies will be destroyed, forever. And it will really become an art form.”

… and that’s what this work is, its an art film.

DBW: Yes. I wanted to talk with you about the importance of women creating cinema that arises from deeply authentic places in their being.

JF: The Film Industry in Australia doesn’t appear to have any respect for artists, but that is a great loss for film and screen culture here.

Jinda: Ivy Marika

DBW: The #DirectedbyWomen initiative is about noticing, honoring, relishing, sharing and celebrating cinema by women from everywhere in the world… not only work that is rising to the top of Hollywood, major film festivals, etc. I’m very interested in helping film lovers expand their film viewing possibilities.

I feel that film lovers are deprived of the richness of women’s authentic creative expression and every time a film lover turns attention to what women filmmakers are bringing into being opportunities expand for women to make and share their work.

JF: The thing is that you can’t stop real culture, so even if they want to take away all the funding for the arts, there will still be ways that projects get made. This is the space where a lot of women are coming from, we are not doing projects to be career film makers, and we are so oppressed creatively and financially that the simple act of making new work is healing and expresses our being.

DBW: Yes. That’s beautifully said. So let’s talk about Jinda and how you are going about creating this and what your vision is for sharing it once it is ready to be screened. And how can film lovers help you complete the film.

JF: The Directed by Women initiative fills a space. Our societies are so male dominated that we need constant reminders of what else is out there for film lovers.

DBW: Exactly.

JF: I haven’t been able to get much support for the Jinda film in Australia, but recently I have applied to participate in a year long fellowship in the USA, which can help me develop the film further. I am praying for this as it would be a really useful opportunity in fleshing out the project. When it is made, I hope to tour Jinda on the film festival circuit first, and then work out which method of delivery will work out best for the project.

DBW: I hope that comes through for you. There’s a crowdfunding campaign people can contribute to as well, isn’t there? Every little bit helps.

JF: Yes, Jinda has a Crowd Funding Campaign on Chuffed, and has great incentives involved, as I am donating my personal art collection to those who donate certain amounts.

DBW: The art pieces are exquisite!

JF: Nothing but the best.

aboriginal art

DBW: I know you’ve organized screenings to create space for indigenous women’s creative expression to connect with audiences. Are there insights you’ve gleaned from those experiences that help you as you think about helping Jinda connect with audiences? I realize you’re still in the midst of trying to get the film made, but I always think that having a vision for sharing the completed work can have a powerful impact on carrying the process to completion.

JF: I am editing a short draft of the film at the moment because I want to screen it at a healing arts event that I am organising for early next year. I am feeling that it will be a great response to #Cook2020 which is a propaganda celebration of Captain Cook who supposedly “discovered” Australia, but never even go off the boat most of the time, 250 years ago.

DBW: Keep me posted about that. I’ll be happy to share more as we get closer to help focus attention and build to the healing power globally. Where will the event take place?

JF: In Cairns, Far North Queensland, close to his namesake Cooktown, and other places that he renamed. It’s the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, and that place needs healing now too, so if we gather to share healing energy then that intention goes into the land and waterways also. There is a giant statue of Captain Cook in Cairns and he is giving the Nazi Salute. It’s very telling.

DBW: Oh… wow.

JF: Jinda doesn’t have much dialogue, but it is rich in a visual language that other Aboriginal people will appreciate. They will love seeing our people, plants, animals and land on the big screen, which is rare.

DBW: That’s very exciting. I think about the word ‘discover’ often… because as film lovers explore cinema they personally discover works that are new to them, but most of the time they’re simply looking at what they’ve already been told has value. They operate off of very skewed maps.

JF: Too much of screen culture is driven by buzz words and blockbuster hype, and that affects audiences viewing habits, not in a good way.

DBW: Yeah. We need to find ways for people to delight in conversations about films other than the ones with the hefty promotion budgets! I just realized we’ve been communicating for over an hour! The time has flown by. I’ve greatly appreciated your taking time to share about your work. Anything else you’d like to share before we wrap up?

JF: Likewise, thank you so much for your interest and support. This is a great way to spend New Years Eve, thinking deeply about the enigma that is art film.

DBW: Yes. I agree. It’s giving me a great sense of optimism about 2020 and beyond. I’m glad we’re on this journey together. Can’t wait to see your film come to fruition.

JF: We are kicking off lucky number 2020 in a significant way for sure.

Support Jinda on the Chuffed crowdfunding site.