The Balanda and the Bark Canoes

A documentary about making Ten Canoes

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Director Rolf de Heer wrote during the production of Ten Canoes: “We are making a movie. The story is their story, those that live on this land, in their language, and set a long time before the coming of the Balanda, as we white people are known. “For the people of the Arafura Swamp, this film is an opportunity, maybe a last chance, to hold on to the old ways. For all of us, the challenges are unexpected, the task beyond anything imagined. For me, it is the most difficult film I have made, in the most foreign land I’ve been to ... and it is Australia.” The making of that landmark feature film provides the framework for The Balanda and the Bark Canoes, a documentary exploring much more than simply, the practicalities of working with non-professional actors in crocodile-infested waters. Long before cameras rolled on Ten Canoes, de Heer was involved in complex consultations with the Aboriginal cast and community members. The film observes the process by which the people of Ramingining and Murwangi recreated the canoe-making process for Ten Canoes, working from a wealth of photographs taken in the 1930s by anthropologist Donald Thomson. Taking misunderstandings and cultural differences in its stride, this fascinating and often amusing documentary is as an uplifting account of how a free-for-all discussion evolved into a highly successful feature film.