• A scene from Jon Bell's short film 'The Moogai'. (MIFF)Source: MIFF
Award-winning Indigenous director and writer Jon Bell has wins a prestigious prize for his short film, which uses horror to depict the terrible reality of trauma faced by First Nations people, including that of the Stolen Generations.
Bernadette Clarke

29 Mar 2021 - 1:02 PM  UPDATED 29 Mar 2021 - 3:55 PM

Wiradjuri Bundjalung Yaegl man Jon Bell hopes to shed light on the transgenerational trauma faced by Aboriginal people.

The writer and director recently took home the Jury Prize at the South By Southwest Festival in the United States for his short horror film 'The Moogai'.

'The Moogai' is a Bundjalung word meaning "bad spirit", something akin to the "boogie man". 

Mr Bell spoke to NITV News about his complete surprise at winning the award, and the meaning behind the film for Aboriginal people.

"I was totally surprised, it took me a good 30 seconds to register what happened, it's a big festival, it's not just film, it's music, it's gaming... so very surprised," he told NITV News.

The short uses horror to illuminate the haunting colonial past First Nations people have faced, particularly mothers who were forcibly parted from their children.

"I wanted to touch on themes of the stolen generation and post-natal depression, and how transgenerational trauma passes on from one generation to the next."

"I thought of having a moogai that steals children as this exhausting thing that keeps chasing you and doesn't give up."

While Mr Bell said personally his family were not a part of the stolen generation, he is still affected by it, as aremany Aboriginal families.

"We have near misses, my family was either one step ahead, for whatever reason they were able to avoid being taken. That feeling that got into the kids of "oh you got to really be careful", that's a feeling that gets passed through generations.

"A constant fear that some young Aboriginal women may face today when giving birth in a hospital is thinking "Is someone going to try and put a value on me, or manipulate this situation to say that this Aboriginal woman is an unfit mother?'" he told NITV News.

The writer and director said that a psychological horror was the best fit to resemble the difficulty Aboriginal people have faced in the past and are facing due to the ongoing effects of colonisation.

"Taking somebody's children is just such a heartless, villainess, evil thing to do to people, to take their babies and try and make them not be like their parents."

Mr Bell told NITV News that while the short film holds significance for Aboriginal viewers, losing a child is a concept that people across the world can connect to.

The strong symbolism of the short film and the weight of the past that is portrayed had the director in tears behind the scenes.

"There's a part there where Shari, the lead actress (who) plays Sarah, where she's screaming out, 'Don't take my baby! Listen to me!'... Me and two of the producers, we were just crying. It was so full on."

Mr Bell acknowledged that he did feel concerned that the film may trigger past trauma for some Aboriginal viewers, but he said the past needs to be told.

"The important thing is that our story gets told. I think since the apology, some people seem to think that's all been dealt with now, so let's move on from that, but people still have trauma so it's tricky. "

Mr Bell highlighted that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders have always been story-tellers, but now that he and other Aboriginal Artists are able to tell their stories through mass media, there will be "a revolution on how we see ourselves".

"In The Moogai, the kids are all blind and that's representative of the fact that because they've been stolen, they can't seen themselves unencumbered by a white gaze."

"To decide how we want to be seen and have a voice in that, it's almost everything."

Looking forward, Mr Bell has written a couple of drafts for a full-length feature film of 'The Moogai', while also working on a sci-fi series, and he has recently finished a script about Pemulwuy, the Aboriginal warrior who fought off the British when they first landed on what is now Sydney.