• Director of 'We Don't Need a Map', Warwick Thornton and producer, Brendan Fletcher at the 2017 Sydney Film Festival (NITV)Source: NITV
From 1930s biology examinations of Sami people to adult literacy in Brewarrina, a rural northwest NSW - this years' Sydney Film Festival is jam-packed with Indigenous content.
Sophie Verass

Sydney Film Festival
10 May 2017 - 3:27 PM  UPDATED 10 May 2017 - 3:30 PM

The Sydney Film Festival has just announced its 2017 program with Indigenous stories in the spotlight. The long-running festival will be screening the works of Indigenous filmmakers from Australia and around the world, showcasing the red sands of Western Australia to the snowy landscape of the Arctic Circle on the silver screen.

For the first time, an Indigenous documentary will be headlining the Festival, with the world premiere of Warwick Thornton’s (Samson & Delilah) We Don’t Need a Map, a documentary which explores the cultural and political meaning behind the Southern Cross, looking at the constellation’s astronomical, colonial and Indigenous history, how it exists today.

We Don’t Need a Map, directed by Thornton and produced by Brendan Fletcher (Mad Bastards), will be the Festival’s Opening Night Film and has also been selected in the prestigious Sydney Film Festival Official Competition, sitting amongst industry heavy-hitters like Academy award-winners Sofia Coppola and Michael Haneke.

Here are the films competing for the 2017 Sydney Film Festival's top prize
The competition for the 64th Film Festival boasts some big names.

The Official Competition celebrates its tenth anniversary in 2017, marking a decade of awarding the Sydney Film Prize to each year’s most 'audacious, cutting-edge and courageous' film.

We Don’t Need a Map is an NITV commissioned film, as is two other festival selections; Tyson Mowarin’s Connection to Country, about the battle to preserve Australia’s 40,000-year-old cultural heritage in the Pilbra, and Erica Glynn’s story of adult Aboriginal students to read and write for the first time in In My Own Words.

Head of Indigenous at Screen Australia, Penny Smallacombe said,

“It is a reflection of the outstanding quality of these three bold, compelling documentaries that they will premiere at the Sydney Film Festival. We are proud to partner with NITV on the landmark Moment in History initiative, bringing the powerful work of Australia’s leading Indigenous filmmakers to our screens, and look forward to the full series premiering on NITV and SBS.”

The Festival, together with NITV and Screen Australia’s Indigenous Department, is showcasing the following First Nations’ films;

Feature Films

We Don’t Need a Map

Dir. Warwick Thornton

In 2009, director Warwick Thornton said that “the Southern Cross is becoming the new Swastika". Seven years later, Thornton takes us on a journey through this five-star constellation's history to the present day. For Aboriginal people the meaning of this heavenly body is deeply spiritual, a connection vividly expressed in stories from North East Arnhem Land, Katherine and the Central Desert. By contrast, the star-adorned Eureka Flag was emblematic of protest and defiance from its first appearance, a quality that caused it to be adopted by activists, and lately, the darker side of Australian nationalism.


Connection to Country

Dir. Tyson Mowarin

In the heart of Western Australia's Pilbara region sits the Burrup Peninsula (or Murujuga). It is host to the largest concentration of rock art in the world, dating back over 40,000 years. It's a dramatic and ancient landscape so sacred that some parts shouldn't be looked upon at all, except by Traditional Owners. Waves of industrialisation and development threaten sites all over the region, but the people of the Pilbara - forever connected to country, forever responsible – are fighting back. Documenting the rock art, recording sacred sites and battling to get their unique cultural heritage recognised, 'digitised' and celebrated.


In My Own Words

Dir. Erica Glynn

Raw, heartfelt, sometimes painstaking but often funny, In My Own Words follows the journey of adult Aboriginal students and their teachers as they discover the transformative power of reading and writing for the first time in their lives. "They don't think they can do it, but I know they can", says indefatigable class organiser Mary. Erica Glynn's documentary focuses on a classroom in Brewarrina, a rural northwest NSW town with a majority Aboriginal population. Research reveals that 45-65 per cent of Aboriginal adults are functionally illiterate. Filming every day of the 13-week course, Glynn captures the woman and men, the poverty and hardship, behind this sobering statistic.


Short Films


Dir. Perun Bonser

Aided by a female Aboriginal tracker, a constable hunts a band of dangerous criminals on Australia's western frontier in the early 1900s.


Brown Lips

Dir. Nakkiah Lui

Two cousins from Sydney's outer suburbs decide that the only way to feel loved is to turn their back on family for good.


Finding Mawiranga

Dir. Dylan River

Indigenous actor Tom E Lewis, once uprooted from his Arnhem Land home, returns after 40 years, re-connecting through the Murrungun songline.


Last Drinks at Frida's

Dir. Bjorn Stewart

A lonely jazz singer and a troubled Indigenous soldier find solace in an underground speakeasy where rules don't apply.


Feminism & Film: Culture & Collaboration

Powerful collaborations between non-Indigenous and Aboriginal filmmakers and communities, as a prelude to Aboriginal produced work that burst onto screens from the 1990s.

My Survival as an Aboriginal (1979)

Dir. Essie Coffey

My Survival as an Aboriginal was…one of the first Australian films where an Indigenous Australian was directly involved in deciding how she and her community would be represented, and is also the first documentary directed by an Indigenous woman


Two Laws (1981)


The Borroloola people of the Northern Territory use their storytelling practices to share their history of colonial law and Aboriginal law; dispossession and land rights.


Special Event

Cleverman Season 2: Episode 1 & 2

Dir. Wayne Blair

Sexy, bloody, thought provoking and startlingly original, the critically acclaimed Cleverman returns for a second season with its innovative blend of mythology and futuristic thrills.


Europe! Voices of Women in Film

In 2016, only 7% of the 250 top-grossing films were directed by women — a decrease from 9% in 2015. The industry-wide underrepresentation of female filmmakers is a disparity not ignored by the Festival.

Sami Blood

Dir. Amanda Kernell

Elle Marja is a 14-year-old girl growing up in 1930s Sweden at a time when the indigenous Sámi people were highly discriminated against. Elle is bright and ambitious, but finds herself stymied. When she is humiliated at her school and forced to endure race biology examinations, she becomes determined to build a new life for herself. To do so, she will have to take on a new identity, one that distances herself from her community and her culture.


Focus on Canada

Celebrating the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation, the Festival showcases the best of new Canadian cinema.

Angry Inuk

Dir. Alethea Arnaquq-Baril

Stories in the media of brutality and exploitation were at odds with director’s Arnaquq-Baril's childhood memories of seal hunting with her family on remote Baffin Island. Her people were accused of terrible things, which didn't reflect her experience. Environmental groups used footage of baby seals being clubbed decades after this was banned, and falsely claimed that the seal population was endangered. Arnaquq-Baril believes the Inuit approach is ethical and sustainable, but when trying to discuss this with activists, no one returns her calls.



Dir. Zacharias Kunk

Set in 1913, Maliglutit has a timeless quality, and patiently provides insight into Inuit life before a pivotal event. When Kuanana's home is attacked by raiders, relatives are killed and his wife and daughter kidnapped. The Inuk man has no option but to seek revenge and rescue his family.


Rumble: Indians Who Rocked the World

Dir. Catherine Bainbridge, Alfonso Maiorana

A stomping tribute to Native American musicians, crammed with concert footage, which celebrates their weighty yet unheralded contribution to music, from Hendrix to Metallica. It tells the story of how Native American musicians and rhythms influenced the South from North Carolina to the streets of New Orleans and includes fascinating interviews and archival clips tell stories of music greats like jazz singer Mildred Bailey, guitar genius Jesse Ed Davis, and Native Canadians Buffy Sainte-Marie and The Band's Robbie Robertson.


For a list of the whole program and information on tickets, go to the Sydney Film Festival website; sff.org.au 

'We Don't Need a Map', 'Connection to Country' and 'In My Own Words' all coming to NITV in July 2017 

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