Third Karrabing Film Collective short makes Melbourne film festival debut

The Karrabing Film Collective short “How The Dogs Talked” will screen at the Melbourne International Film Festival. Photo: Supplied Elizabeth Povinelli and Linda Yarrowin film the latest Karrabing Film Collective project. Photo: Supplied
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In “Windjarrameru, the Stealing C*Nt$”, a group of young Indigenous men are wrongly accused of stealing beer. Photo: Supplied

The Karrabing Film Collective is a collective in the true sense of the word. All 25 to 30 members function both as actors and crew in their films; all have equal footing in their projects.

“We’re trying to develop a different mode of film production in which everyone has a specific role and an individual role,” says director Elizabeth Povinelli​, who has travelled back and forth between New York – where she is a professor of anthropology and gender studies at Columbia University – and outer Darwin for the past 31 years.

“But at the same time, we do it all together as one: that’s the Karrabing, it’s not like self or collective, it’s self and collective.”

Povinelli is the only member who stays behind the camera. The decision to cast her as director was made early on, when her filmmaking colleague Liza Johnson came to co-direct the collective’s first short.

“Liza said to us, you grew up together, I don’t mean to get in your business, but if Beth [Povinelli] is there on screen everyone’s going to make it about about the white person. But we really wanted it to be about what it is to be Indigenous in the shadow of the intervention and to not lose that focus,” says Povinelli.

Karrabing does not refer to a tribe or geographical place: rather, it’s an ecological condition describing the point when the tides are at their lowest. Most members of the Karrabing hail from the Belyuen​ region of the Northern Territory, just east of Darwin.

On Friday, 10 representatives will fly to Melbourne to see two of their short films screen at the Melbourne International Film Festival on Saturday night. How the Dogs Talked explores the complexities of hanging on to cultural traditions in contemporary life, when the community’s sacred lands and government housing are under threat.

In Windjarrameru, the Stealing C*Nt$, a group of young Indigenous men hide in a polluted swamp after being wrongly accused of stealing beer. Meanwhile, miners continue to contaminate their land.

The films aren’t scripted; the storylines are mapped out and then the cast perform what Povinelli calls “improvisational realism”, where they riff on events similar to their own experiences.

“It’s close to reality but it’s not a documentary,” she says.

“We just all put our two cents into it until it shapes up into a movie.”

Claude Holtz​ has acted in all three Karrabing films to date.

“I think after being half homeless, it’s good to show people what we’ve been doing in life, what the reality is,” he says.

“I remember making the first one, I didn’t really know what to say or what to do, but as we went along and started getting together we came good. It was a really good experience, something different.”

The Karrabing’s inclusion in  the Melbourne film festival this year follows the selection of their first film Karrabing! Low Tide Turning for the 2012 Berlinale​ Shorts Competition.

“I think it’s really fantastic the festival is giving these films recognition – our budgets are $100,000 at most, we’re talking about real people whose income is between $10,000 and, if you have a job, $30,000 a year,” Povinelli says.

“…It’s not just that the films do social work – they do – but the films also really capture the will and determination you have to have when you’re bumping into a variety of slapdowns and governmental policies.

“We’re stubborn people. That makes us resilient.”

Karrabing Film Collective Shorts screen 6.30pm on Saturday, August 1, and Tuesday, August 4, at the Kino. 

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