The documentary begins with us meeting a young Zach, excited about the approaching initiation ceremony he will go through, a cultural rite of passage within his tribe and a part of his Aboriginal heritage.
It signals the beginning of a truly unique and vital exploration of what it takes to be a man in today's society, but more importantly a man who knows his culture and sees that as a foundation for the rest of his life. Talking on Koori Radio's drivetime program just ahead of the documentaries Sydney premier, Alec and Zach spoke about the process and inspiration behind the film.
"It all started because I wanted to show the beauty of our culture and our people. To also show that one of the things we need to do is take control of who we are, and show how strong we are and how our culture is still alive and vibrant in today’s society. I also wanted to show that we can live in both worlds and adapt to this new western society that is around us now." Alec said.
It all started because I wanted to show the beauty of our culture and our people.
For Alec, taking charge of the story and knowing his vision was crucial. "I wanted to tell it through the eyes of my son and show that us, as Aboriginal men, can be good fathers, good providers, be the warrior for our family at home. I wanted to give my son a hero in the lounge-room to look up to, and not always looking up to people on TV and the screen. I guess it turned into this epic masterpiece that was shot over 10 years - you watch Zach as a little pipsqueak 7 yr old growing in to this big 18 year old warrior that we see here today. It was a beautiful journey."
They didn't know exactly how long the process of the film would take but are happy with where it took them as individuals and storytellers. "I’m glad that it took as long as it did, because it gave me a chance to grow, not only as a film-maker but also as a Dad and as a mentor to my son as well. And it gave Zach a chance to grow and become the young man that he is today too." Alec said.
For Zach, having a father who was heavily involved in all forms of media including radio and TV, the experience of having a camera around didn't phase him as it may have others. "I had a lot of media training growing up. I didn’t even know there was a camera there so when It would be turned on I would just be focused on our father and son relationship and just being a kid. I was 6 years old when they started filming so I wasn’t really focused on making it fake or making it real, it was actually my life that Dad recorded. For me it was awesome to be recorded and I saw what my father was trying to achieve, making a stronger voice for our people making our culture more powerful respected in other different cultures."
Within the film we see young Zach navigating both his culture and the distractions of the modern world. Like all teenagers, Zach reaches his rebellious years where complications arise and anger at issues such as racism have to be faced. He also searches for his balance in between his communities, that confusing and difficult position where he 'feels too white to be accepted by his family and friends and too black for his inner city peers.'
Alec acknowledges that there are many in all cultures who are lost and within our own communities, it's an affliction of not only city-dwellers but those also living out bush. "A lot of the young ones are too busy playing on Facebook or Xbox to worry about their culture and rites of passage. I wanted to show it was still vibrant and that it was still happening and is something that we are very proud of. I wanted to make it cool, to be in that old world and use our initiation as a foundation to help us stay strong and be connected to who we are as people, but at the same time utilise it in this new world and become that new staunch, strong warrior that we know we are inside."
One of Alec's favourite moments in the film is where Zach returns to Sydney and is greeted by Aunty Jenny Munro at the Block to bless him and perform a smoking ceremony. "That’s just as important, that little piece there as when Zach is out bush doing ceremony with his elders there. To show that our ceremonies as rite of passage are still happening but it’s not what people perceive it is, it’s what we make it."
So how do they both define what a strong, Aboriginal man is in today's society?
Zach says, "For me, being a strong black warrior it teaches me to carry myself with respect but also to respect those that came before me. my dad’s always taught me that is important and knowledge is power. So for me being an Aboriginal man I’m proud. I’m proud to know my heritage and culture and to be able to go home and sit with my traditional practices with my tribal elders, I love it."
Alec sees the role of a strong man as being a provider for both family and community. "What it means to be a good man/warrior in today's world is to do the ‘little’ things. To be a good dad, good son, uncle, husband, to be consistently good at it. We all have our ups and downs but for me a man is someone who takes care of the home the family, the community. Being there consistently to do that is who we are because we are family orientated, that’s part of our culture to look after all of our mob. That’s why we always take people in, if they need a bed, or a feed or cup of tea, doors are always open. That’s what being a man means to me, leading by example, doing it consistently, trying your best every day."
Zach's Ceremony will premiere on NITV on Sunday 2nd July @ 8:30pm. It will also be available on catch-up On Demand.