Namatjira Project

The contentious legacy of Australia's greatest painter

Namatjira Project In the rugged heart of Australia, Aboriginal painter Albert Namatjira carved out his place in art history with his captivating landscapes. The first Aboriginal person to be granted citizenship, he pioneered both art and Aboriginal rights. Yet the fruits of his legacy have been denied to his people, with the copyright of his works posthumously sold off. The Namatjira Project aims to restore those rights to his impoverished family.

"Albert was this amazing man creating port holes of image into central Australia through which suburban families could climb out and glimpse the heart of country for the first time." Playwright Scott Rankin sums up how Namatjira broke the mould of oppression constraining Aboriginal people to reach international acclaim. Immensely popular among Western audiences, he enjoyed success in his own lifetime - but his family and tribe have seen little reward from his legacy. Rankin's newest play, a biopic of the painter, tours the country, in an attempt to raise donations to buy back the copyright for the family. He knows what he's up against: "the stakes are high. The show has to be a crackerjack vehicle, and we're gonna have to keep working on it, and working on it".

For years the family have suffered the indignity of indifference towards their cause but have remained committed to their beliefs. "Talking about the copyright ... it was Albert Namatjira's, and it should come back to the family. To make the family proud," Lenie Namatjira, Albert's grandaughter, tells us. Despite their prosperous ancestry, the family are now facing hard times, yet refuse to be defeated by their circumstances. Sophia Marinos, who campaigns for The Namatjira Project, admires their resolve: "a lot of the Namatjiras, and particularly the grandchildren themselves, are in really quite desperate situations. There is this amazing sense of resilience and optimism".

As the play meets with success and the family's story gains wider attention, the campaign finds an international audience with two of Namatjira's grandchildren gaining a personal audience with the Queen. Despite this royal reception, their situation at home persists - but the campaigners stay optimistic. "It's all about the impact back home and it's all about what the project has been trying to achieve since its inception", comments Sophia.

This studied documentary lends insight not only to the history and legacy of Australia's greatest indigenous painter, but of a broader struggle for justice. Throughout the campaign emerges the story of a beleaguered group of people trying to make their voices heard - a story that rings true not just for the family of Namatjira, but the wider Aboriginal community.

The Producers

Sera is a director, cinematographer, photographer and video artist whose work has been screened both nationally and internationally. Sera has directed and shot documentaries and short films with some of Australia’s hardest to reach communities and most prolific arts and social change companies and NGO’s, such as Big hART Inc, Back to Back Theatre and World Vision. She is passionate about representing people who are under-represented in traditional media. She has worked on numerous films, documentaries, video installations, music videos and TVC’s, including Big hART’s documentaries for the ABC Drive and Nothing Rhymes with Ngapartji, Back to Back theatre’s film installation The Democratic Set, and Genevieve Lacey’s sound and film work Pleasure Garden. Namatjira Project is the first feature film Sera has directed.

Making The Film

As a filmmaker, the heart of our country has provided me with an invaluable and privileged education. It’s required me to fashion a craft in scrambling around the slippery circumference of our single east-coast story and pushing outward for another view. It is quiet and urgent work. It’s working in the shadows, always listening and observing, and then stepping out blushing but brave when the story demands. It’s thousands of dusty kilometres in rubbish cars with bomb-proof equipment boxes and maybe a baby rattling around in the back. It’s shooting and editing and mentoring and trying to hold onto bits of languages and ways of understanding this country so foreign to me. It’s embracing not presuming to know anything of how it is to be another person and the freedom that brings to your work together. It’s being filled up. It’s this process that allows us to go to the heart of the film, as we traverse the intersections where our stories meet. - Sera Davies

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