Black and white issue has gray areas

Touchy subject among locals

SYDNEY — Aboriginal films are enjoying a renaissance in Oz, but indigenous filmmakers want more “blackfellas” behind the lenses.

Helmer Richard Frankland, best short film winner at the 2000 Hollywood Black Film Festival, is calling for at least one black key creative on each indigenous film. Otherwise those films should be billed as “interpretations,” Frankland wrote in local film magazine Cinema Papers.

Local filmmakers are clearly uncomfortable with the issue.

Trio of releases

At least three films featuring black stories will release in the next 12 months. The first, “Yolngu Boy,” from white helmer Stephen Johnson and Palace Film, features an all-white key creative team with all thesps black, except veteran actor Jack Thompson.

Johnson says “Yolngu Boy,” which opened last week in Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra after debuting in the Outback March 15 to a fine A$9,000 ($4,500) engagement average, is not an indigenous movie, but rather an Australian movie.

Johnson, musicvideo director for pre-eminent indigenous rock group Yothu Yindi since 1990, considers himself part of the region’s indigenous family and says labeling a film by race only perpetuates divisiveness in an era when more and more Australians want to reconcile historically strained race relations.

The highest-profile of the pics caught in the racial crosshairs is helmer Phillip Noyce’s historic feature “Rabbit Proof Fence,” about native children being removed from their parents and raised “white.” Based on indigenous author Doris Pilkington’s novel, “Rabbit Proof” was lensed, penned and produced by whites. Executive producer David Elfick declines to comment on the touchy subject. Noyce and co-producer and scriptwriter Christine Olsen were unavailable.

The Australian Film Commission’s archives show only three indigenous people have ever helmed features, and all are stories about blacks.

First-time director

Aboriginal debut helmer Ivan Sen, who will add his name to the small club, is lensing “Beneath Clouds” in rural New South Wales with a mixed crew that includes an indigenous director of photography and several indigenous secondary crew members. Sen and white producer Teresa-Jane Hanlon bemoan the limited availability of skilled black crews, and they blame a historical lack of opportunity.

Hanlon praises the government’s Australian Film, Television and Radio School for beginning to redress the problem.

And “Yolngu Boy’s” Johnson, though shying from the controversy, says he had several budding indigenous filmmakers working as trainees of pic’s department heads.