Stephen Page is no stranger to telling stories. As artistic director of one of Australia’s most renowned dance theatres, Page has been telling stories through dance on a global stage for 25 years.
Now, Page transports one of Bangarra’s most spiritual productions to the screen with its first feature film, Spear.
Spear is a coming-of-age story about a young man and the unification of his two worlds. With minimal dialogue, the film uses movement and images to transcend the story of what it means to be a man with ancient traditions living in a modern world.
“We were posing and asking ourselves what is it to be a man in the 21st century, what is men’s business in an urban environment, what is male Indigenous testosterone in this male western world. What are our values and cultural custom practices, how do we have one foot in the modern world and another foot in the traditional world. What is our role as a man for our community? I wanted to pose all of these different social issues - from deaths in custody and substance abuse and stories that we’ve all heard,” Stephen told NITV News.
Based on the 2000 production of the same name, which starred Archie Roach and Wayne Blair, Spear follows the young male character, Djali, played by Page’s son, Hunter Page-Lochard, and his spiritual journey through different social chapters where song, dance and photography play out.
“I connected with it. Personally for me it was an initiation story, a young modern male going through the trials of becoming an adult, but as an Indigenous male, [which] is even harder.
I hope the audience feel what I feel when I watch it, euphoric. It was a new experience emotionally, and has a visual and spiritual essence. I hope audiences open up to it and not analyse. It definitely goes places, and that’s what art is supposed to do,” Hunter says.
Stephen says Hunter encouraged him to do the film.
“He kept coming to my shows and kept saying you’ve got to do film. He was a joy to work with on the film. He really comforts me in the whole experience, he looked after me, and he pretty much looked after himself. We really had a good connection working on set, it’s been a great journey,” Stephen says.
The film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in September last year to critical and popular acclaim. It made its first Australian premiere at the Adelaide Film Festival last year, which through The Hive Fund created an opportunity for Page to bring the story from stage to screen.
“I just wouldn’t have had the opportunity that the initiative allowed me. It gets you to stay close to your integrity of what you do in the theatre, and then you take it from the theatre stage, and then you try and put it in the filmic way. I wanted stay true to the spirit that we do with our theatrics on stage, so I wanted to keep true to that, but I just wanted to carry that along and bring it in the medium of film,” Stephen says.
But this isn’t the first time Page has worked in film. The internationally renowned choreographer worked with Australian author Tim Winton to create a chapter from a collection of short stories based on Winton’s The Turning. He was also the choreographer behind hit-films Bran Nue Dae and The Sapphires.
With a low budget, limited dialogue and just three weeks to shoot, the feature debut is ambitious, but Stephen makes no apologies about steering away from traditional story-telling.
“It’s not a traditional film, I think it’s good that people are challenged and shifted out of their traditional zone in a way or their comfort zones. It is an acquired watching, when you watch if you are trying to work it out in the first twenty minutes what the film is you just need stop you should just surrender and go with the photography,” Stephen says.
The almost entirely Indigenous cast features Bangarra veteran and iconic Yolngu songman Djakapurra Munyarryun, Bangarra’s 17 dancers, and actor Aaron Pedersen as a homeless, schizophrenic man.
Although the film deals with a number of different social issues, the storyline centres on young Djali and his connection with an elder.
“We deal with suicide, we deal with deaths in custody, we deal all these social issues. But also we have this beautiful old fulla character called Dimala, he takes Hunter on these really quiet [places], they’re not spoken they just sit in these interesting photography places and they just look and learn from each other and its really interesting the form we use to do that,” Stephen says.
Most of the film is submersed by the cinematic score composed by Page’s brother, David creating a haunting soundscape.
“It doesn’t have dialogue so you’ve got to go with David’s score. It’s been an interesting one, people have [both] gone along with it and surrendered their energy,” Stephen says.
Stephen hopes audiences connect to the spirit of Indigenous storytelling.
“I was lucky I stuck to my guns and I wanted to do the film I wanted to do. It’s a feeling, connecting, spirited film. I hope people can sustain watching it, and come out from it having a true sense of connecting to the spirit of our storytelling, of our culture, and the evolution of it from past to present.”
Spear is in cinemas from March 10.