This website is part of a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship run by Dr Peter Kilroy from September 2014 till September 2017 and based at the Menzies Centre for Australian Studies and the Department of Film Studies at King’s College London. The project, titled Screening the Torres Strait: Remediation and Documentary Film (1989-), explores the proliferation of documentary films made by, about or in collaboration with Australia’s ‘other’ Indigenous minority, Torres Strait Islanders, after the Australian bicentenary of 1988. It focuses on these films’ politically charged re-use or ‘remediation’ of archive film and media within the wider context of Indigenous cultural politics and national refashioning. Aimed at readers across Australian cultural studies, Australian Indigenous studies and postcolonial film and media theory, it traces the relationship between the rhetorical style of these films and their broader cultural, political and legal contexts, and between their use of archive film and media and the incorporation of both within new media. More broadly, it aims to raise the profile of:
- Torres Strait film and media within Australian film studies;
- Torres Strait culture within Australian Indigenous studies;
- Postcolonial studies within media theory and vice versa.
Despite the recent proliferation of studies on Aboriginal representation and self-representation in Australian film (e.g. Althans, 2010; Bryson, 2002; Krausz, 2003), considerably less attention has been paid to the filmic representation of Australia’s ‘other’ Indigenous minority, Torres Strait Islanders and their descendants. This is all the more surprising given that the Torres Strait Islands have a century-old history of ethnographic, documentary and feature film-making: from the iconic ‘first ethnographic film’ of 1898 (the earliest moving images of Torres Strait Islanders and Aboriginal Australians), to the popular travelogues of the 1920s, the lurid features of the pre- and post-war period and the commonwealth films of the 1960s. During that period, Torres Strait Islanders were not only ‘screened’ on film, but often ‘screened’ as a medical, political or economic threat, or ‘screened off’ as a protected, invisible or exoticized other. In short, a relationship can be posited between culture and governance, representation and rule.
However, in the years following Australia’s bicentenary in 1988, these overlapping histories of ‘screening’ were gradually brought to light by a series of documentary films which conspicuously displayed the prior history of Torres Strait film and other media (e.g. photography, phonography and archival materials), whilst strategically re-purposing or ‘remediating’ them (Bolter and Grusin, 1999) within new narrative contexts (e.g. discussions about colonial governance, Indigenous land rights, cultural custodianship and diaspora). This project critically appraises that process by focusing on key practitioners between 1989 and the present (e.g. Jimi Bani, Frances Calvert, Llew Cleaver, Aaron Fa’Aoso, Trevor Graham, John Hughes, Eric Murray Lui, Kelrick Martin, Aven Noah, Rhianna Patrick, Rachel Perkins, Rima Tamou and Douglas Watkin) within the context of local, national and global cultural politics.
Its principal objectives are situated between Australian film and cultural studies, Australian Indigenous studies and postcolonial film and media theory:
- To trace the relationship between the rhetorical style of these films and the cultural, political and legal upheavals which followed the bicentenary in 1988 and culminated in the famous ‘Mabo’ Indigenous land rights decision in 1992. What role do such films play within wider debates on the ‘history wars’ and Indigenous Australian politics, and how does this resonate with Indigenous/non-Indigenous film-makers outside Australia?
- To link that relationship to the re-use or ‘remediation’ of prior films and other media (particularly the photography, phonography and cinematography of precursors like A.C. Haddon, Frank Hurley and Cecil Holmes). What is the status of this documentary claim to an archival past, and what parallels can be found amongst Indigenous/non-Indigenous film-makers in Canada and America, etc?
- To consider how both sets of films and other media have subsequently become absorbed, transformed or ‘remediated’ by new media (e.g. CD-ROMs, apps, YouTube and other websites). Are these digital archives an expansion, replacement or displacement of the old, and how are they situated within the broader politics of Indigenous media in Australia and elsewhere?
More broadly, the project’s aims are:
- To raise the profile of Torres Strait film and other media within Australian film and cultural studies;
- To raise the profile of the Torres Strait within Australian Indigenous studies;
- To forge a rapprochement between media theory and postcolonial studies.