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Ten Canoes

From a land not so far away, comes a film unlike anything you have ever seen

Breathtakingly innovative, Ten Canoes is a visually lush and groundbreaking film, exploring the very fabric of Australia's indigenous heritage. Time is fluid as Rolf de Heerís unique work weaves colour and monotone in an intricate, complex tapestry. Giving an insight into the life and cultures of tribes in Arnhem Land, the story is the result of a winning collaboration between de Heer and aboriginal actor David Gulpilil. An added source of inspiration is the series of evocative black and white photographs taken by anthropologist Dr. Donald Thompson, who lived among the Yolngu tribes in the '30s. Watching the film, there is a sense of journeying into unknown territory. The themes of culture, tradition and mysticism linger, as they accentuate both our differences and similarities. The biggest surprise is the humour. With David Gulpililís often irreverent and occasional mischievous narration, the dialogue (in Ganalbingu language) is revealing and at times hilarious. Full frontal nudity is simply part of the landscape. We are taken into a world that we have never seen before. >b> 'Once upon a time, far far away' is how the story starts, but a fairy tale this is not. The juxtaposition of the narrative effectively pits its story beside an ancient myth involving kidnapping, sorcery and revenge. 'Never trust a man with a small prick,' says Ridjimiraril (Crusoe Kurddal) as a stranger approaches. The roles of men and women are strictly delineated; men go hunting, women are gatherers. Men may have more than one wife, but family matters are surprisingly similar to our own. Bickering is a daily occurrence. Wives simply behave 'like wives', arguing with each other and regularly accusing their husbands of being lazy slobs. There are many things about Ten Canoes that are remarkable. First and foremost is de Heer's respectful direction and treatment of the topics. The performances from non-actors are outstanding, and the remote crocodile-infested settings spectacular. Above all, it is the way everyday life, with its mundane ups and downs, rests beside the spiritual. Life and death each has its place. Dying is not a solitary occurrence, but one in which the tribe participates, as it supports the soul that searches its way to another place. This is indeed a journey whose ripples propel us to a distant place. Louise Keller, Urban Cinefile

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Directed by: 
Rolf de Heer & Peter Djigirr
Running Time: 
English & Ganalbinju with English subtitles
Crusoe Kurddal, Jamie Gulpilil, Richard Birrinbirrin, Peter Djigirr, David Gulpilil
Screenplay by: 
Rolf de Heer

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