Kaytje Writer and Director, Erica Glynn’s documentary focuses on a classroom in Brewarrina, a rural northwest NSW town with a majority Aboriginal population, where 45-65% of Aboriginal adults are functionally illiterate.
On Friday night, 'In My Own Words' premiered at Sydney Film Festival, in the heart of the city, and to make the movie even more special - a bus load of community members from Brewarrina, who travelled more than 12 hours for the opening night.
Glynn says she wants audiences to understand how difficult it is for Aboriginal adults in Australia to not be able to read and write.
"Coming out of their shell and finding the courage to talk about their illiteracy and to be able to act on it is an amazing thing."
“This mob does a really great job of covering up for not being able to read and write, but coming out of their shell and finding the courage to talk about their illiteracy and to be able to act on it is an amazing thing. Their triumphant and achievement is really amazing.”
Filming every day over the course of 13-weeks, Glynn captures the poverty, hardship and challenges faced by individuals struggling to read or write. These students attended ‘Yes I Can’ - a course run by the Literacy for Life Foundation in Brewarrina.
The course is facilitated by Mary Waites, a Brewarrina local and an inspiring woman. 'In My Own Words' briefly dabbles on her own journey, where she describes how she found new hope which enabled her to help her own people.
Waites accompanied Glynn and the dozen other locals that travelled to Sydney. For many of them, this was the first time they’d ever left home, and stepped foot in the hustle and bustle of one of Australia’s busiest cities.
“If we can’t steal them all and we can’t poison them all, let’s just make sure they can’t read and write so they can’t be smart enough to make their own decisions."
Waites says what made the lengthy journey worth it was ‘bringing the mob down to Sydney’.
“Having them here has made this whole thing so exciting. To the mob back home, just be proud of the Yes I Can project and be proud of the mob representing Brewarrina.”
'In My Own Words' is nominated for the Documentary Australia Foundation Award for Australian Documentary. And the talent clearly runs in the family as Glynn’s brother, internationally renowned filmmaker, Warwick Thornton, and his son all have films showing this week at Sydney Film Festival.
Thornton says despite being related, he wasn’t allowed any sneak peeks of the film.
“She refused to show me anything, I didn’t even get to look at the rough cuts.”
Thornton who is well known for his feature film, Samson and Delilah, says his sister is more than just a powerhouse Indigenous filmmaker.
“She’s grown me up; she’s been my sister, my mother, she’s my everything. She’s kept me on the straight and narrow my whole life so for her film to be here at Sydney Film Festival I’m so excited.”
The Kaytje filmmaker says 'In My Own Words' is a prime example of the power of education and how not holding literacy disadvantages Aboriginal Australians.
“What a tragedy it is for older Aboriginal people today who can’t read and write. As soon as you learn how to read and write you can start create your own knowledge… This is an interesting platform to do with a lot of Indigenous communities about literacy."
He says to not learn how to read and write is actually a way of keeping people down.
“If we can’t steal them all and we can’t poison them all, let’s just make sure they can’t read and write so they can’t be smart enough to make their own decisions even though we can without it. Literacy, a dictionary – suddenly you actually can learn how people think, how things happen; you can make important decisions if your life but without a literacy there’s so many follow on effects.”
Glynn says Sydney Film Festival has a great selection of First Nation films.
“It’s great to see Indigenous content represented. What’s really amazing is that NITV has pulled together this collection of films and three of them are actually here.”
Thornton agreed saying ‘the most important stuff I watch on television at the moment is only on NITV.’
“The stuff I see from the rest of the world, the Native American stuff, the Black American stuff, it’s the only place I’m hearing languages and seeing subtitles. It’s the only place that’s empowering me at the moment.”
'In My Own Words' will premiere on NITV on July 30th @ 8:30pm as part of the 'You Are Here' series.