Review: ‘The Balanda and the Bark Canoes’

Several notches above a regulation making-of docu, "The Balanda and the Bark Canoes" is an enlightening excursion to the remote set of Rolf de Heer's "Ten Canoes." Centered on cross-cultural issues tackled by writer-helmer de Heer, co-director Peter Djigirr and their Aboriginal collaborators, docu gracefully illustrates storytelling methodology on both sides of the cultural divide.

Several notches above a regulation making-of docu, “The Balanda and the Bark Canoes” is an enlightening excursion to the remote set of Rolf de Heer’s “Ten Canoes.” Centered on cross-cultural issues tackled by writer-helmer de Heer, co-director Peter Djigirr and their Aboriginal collaborators, docu gracefully illustrates storytelling methodology on both sides of the cultural divide. Fests showcasing “Ten Canoes” should snap up this ideal accompaniment, and broadcasters in relevant territories may also wish to take a look. An audience award winner at the Sydney fest, “Balanda” will screen on Aussie pubcaster SBS before year’s end.

Concerned with more than simply the practicalities of working with non-professional actors in crocodile infested Arnhem Land, de Heer’s eloquent narration lays bare what went right and what didn’t. Long before cameras roll, de Heer is involved in complex consultations and a roundabout series of translations as Aboriginal cast and community members (many with little or no English) put forth views on the path “Ten Canoes” ought to follow. Taking misunderstandings and near-disasters in its stride, heartfelt docu emerges as an uplifting account of how a free-for-all discussion topic evolved into a viable cinematic entity. Tech package is fine.

The Balanda and the Bark Canoes

Australia

Production

A Fandango Australia production, in association with SBS Independent. (International sales: Fandango, Sydney.) Produced by Julie Ryan, Rolf de Heer. Directed, written by Molly Reynolds, Tania Nehme, Rolf de Heer.

Crew

Camera (color, HD), James Geurtis, Charlie Hill-Smith; editor, Nehme. Reviewed at Sydney Film Festival, June 10, 2006. English, Ganalbingu dialogue. Running time: 52 MIN. Narrator: Rolf de Heer.
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