I've been in Australia this fortnight. I couldn't help observing how, though colonial empires have colonised nations the world over, in Australia, aboriginal people and their lands are actively remembered in city area names, and in regular public acknowledgements of ancestors and lands at the start of public events even today. For instance, Sydney has places called Wooloomooloo, Wahroonga and Turra Murra. And Brisbane ("Brizzy") has Woolloongabba, Indooroopilly and Tarragindi.
Last week, I had the wonderful privilege of attending a screening of Sergei Eisenstein's 1925 silent masterpiece Battleship Potemkin, at the Old Museum in Brisbane, with live music accompaniment by Camerata, the Queensland's Chamber Orchestra. One of the greatest films of all time, set amid the Russian Revolution of 1905, the film has iconic images and the climactic Odessa Steps, and superb live accompaniment by the 10-piece string ensemble. The host's introduction included an acknowledgement paying respects to the Elders and traditional custodians of the land, and the land itself. Similarly, at the start of an Australian or New Zealand film, instead of the usual warning of the dangers of smoking, you may find the warning: "Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that the following film contains voices and images of deceased persons" to avoid causing grief or offence to Indigenous Australian people, for whom seeing or hearing someone who has passed away causes great distress.
I am in Australia as a member of the Asia Pacific Screen Awards International Nominations Council (APSA, Brisbane), that awards the best Asia Pacific films from 70 Asian nations, including India. It is my fifth year on the council; and they have a record breaking 26 entries from India. Previous Indian APSA winners include Anurag Kashyap's Gangs of Wasseypur, Ritesh Batra's The Lunchbox, Manoj Bajpayee (Best Actor, Aligarh) and Sudheer Palsane (Best Cinematographer, Vihir). Indian APSA Nominees include Om Shanti Om (Best Film), Vidya Balan (Best Actress, The Dirty Picture), Jayaraj's Ottaal (Malayalam), Killa (Best Youth Feature), Bidesia in Bambai (Best Documentary) and Goopi Gawaiya Bagha Bajaiya (Best Animated Feature). APSA has an Oscar-style procedure: the Nominations Council selects a list of nominees in various film categories, from which the International Jury chooses the winners. This year's council included chairman Kim Hong-Joon (Korea), Kiki Fung (Hong Kong/PRC), Shawkat Amin Korki (Kurdistan), Julie Rigg (Australia), Gulnara Abikeyeva (Kazakhstan) and myself. They also have an Asia Pacific Screen Lab, where I am Script Mentor to Asian filmmakers from Singapore and Jordan.
On a previous visit to the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary in Brisbane, I remember being instructed to "stand still and pretend to be a tree" while getting to hug a live koala, as photographs are organised, and I heard of the koalas' having "hug fatigue". This time, I visited Trupty and Aarti Nimkar, old friends from Bombay, living in Brisbane. Aarti told me the owner of a mango orchard nearby had a sign saying 'Free Mangoes' and was thrilled to give her baskets of kairis "because otherwise fruit bats will attack them." She made tonnes of murabba, panha and pickles. Free mangoes indeed — how batty!
Meenakshi Shedde is South Asia Consultant to Berlin Film Festival, award-winning critic, curator to festivals worldwide and journalist. Reach her at email@example.com
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