The Sydney Film Festival rallied the indignant on the first full day of its 2009 screening schedule by programming two documentaries that portray indigenous populations pitted against the encroachment of western civilization.
At the Dendy Opera Quays cinema on the Sydney Harbour foreshore, the 5.00pm screening of Joe Berlinger's Crude was well-attended by a wide cross-section of festival types. The film is a scathing indictment of multinational petrochemical giant Texaco/Chevron and the environmental genocide it perpetuated upon the native people of the Amazon basin for nearly two decades.
While certainly a rousing statement against irresponsible commercial abuse of the natural world and the corporate rape of a people and their land, Crude also provides a thrilling insight into the legal lengths and immoral depths to which a shareholder-dependent company will go to deny rightful compensation and defy international outrage.
With the images of cancer-ridden natives, petroleum-choked rainforest tributaries and reptilian solicitors still tightening my chest, I jumped the 440 bus to the George Street cinema complex for the world premiere screening of co-directors Bentley Dean and Martin Butler's Contact, the docu-drama account of the removal of the last of the Martu tribe from their Western Australia desert home by the Weapons Research Establishment, just prior to the first of the Woomera missile tests.
Attending the screening were Thelma, 53, and Yuwali, 62 – the only two surviving members of that nomadic clan whose removal at the hands of the first white men they met signaled the end of the Martu tribe.
Contact could be the most profoundly-moving film this country has ever made; the film the 'Sorry Generation' deserved; the personal story of displacement and forced detachment that will burn into the fibre of our national identity the reality behind this countries shameful treatment of its indigenous people.
I was fortunate to have been sitting directly in front of Thelma and Yuwali during the film, which they were seeing with an audience and in full for the first time. To hear them laugh at images of themselves as young girls, sigh at the recollections brought back by the 50 year old footage of their clan, clap and cheer as the 'whitefellas' lust for the naked black woman is denied, was a movie-going experience I will never forget.
When presented to the packed auditorium post-screening, Thelma, Yuwali and the filmmakers received a standing ovation which left them all visibly moved, if a little bewildered.
Crude and Contact indicate a fearlessness of vision from both the factual filmmakers and the festival directors. They are urgent, vital documents that reward as examples of the craft, but if they are to fully succeed, it will be as tools of social change – film as a means by which to expose the past and better the future.