×

Film Review: ‘Zach’s Ceremony’

A perceptive, benevolent documentary about a contemporary and particularly high-stakes rite of passage from young adolescence to manhood.

With:
Zachariah Doomadgee, Alec Doomadgee

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5569614/

A perceptive, benevolent documentary about a contemporary and particularly high-stakes rite of passage from young adolescence to manhood, “Zach’s Ceremony” follows bright young Indigenous teenager Zacharias Doomadgee from the age of nine to 16 as he fends off prejudice in his Sydney community and prepares for his initiation ceremony in the far-north Queensland Aboriginal lands where his doggedly supportive yet unrelentingly tough father Alec grew up. “Not black, not white, sort of in the middle,” is how Zach describes himself. “I don’t know myself.” And it is this very poignancy of this struggle, patiently and gracefully assembled by director Aaron Petersen and producer-writer Sarah Linton, that earned the film the nonfiction Foxtel Movies Audience Awards at the Sydney Film Festival and will propel it to maturity on the festival circuit and in specialty situations.

Zach seems a genuinely engaging child who likes to hunt, fish, and play sport with his father and four siblings. Alec is teaching the boy to box, and he seems adept at that too. Yet for all the camaraderie within his family there are troubling fissures in the foundation. One of the very few Indigenous children in his inner west Sydney high school, Zach is bullied, teased, and ostracized as black, even though he is light-skinned (frustratingly, the reverse is true when he’s in Queensland). The film never makes Alec’s job situation clear, nor does it explain why Zach’s Aboriginal mother, who is seen later in the film, is out of his life (all Zach has to say on the subject to the camera is, “If I think of all the good moments I’ve had, Mom isn’t there”). Alec has remarried, to the white Amy; she’s committed to the family and Zach likes her, but she’s determined to be more of a support figure than a surrogate mother.

When Zach is 14, Alec, who has his own issues with the prejudices of his father, makes a three-month, off-screen pilgrimage to go Walkabout with Native Americans. While he’s gone, Zach begins smoking dope and drinking with his friends and causes Amy no end of consternation. Upon his father’s return, Zach is dispatched to his ancestral home to participate in the initiation — which goes much better than the chaotic 16th birthday party that follows. Such ceremonies are rarely revealed to outsiders, and the last third of the film offers a unique opportunity to witness sequences of the initiation featuring Zach and other so-called Daru boys.

Petersen and Linton balance economy and insight in assembling what must have amounted to a sprawling amount of footage. Central to the former are graceful animated sequences by Brendan Cook, which summarize the grim historical facts of the marginalized Indigenous people. The latter is emphasized by Alec’s mischievous home-movie footage, which offers a sly reward to those who sit through the closing credits. “The knowledge continues…,” reads one of the final title cards, and it this kind of illumination of the ongoing Aboriginal struggle that will promote understanding, dialogue and positive change.

Film Review: 'Zach's Ceremony'

Reviewed online, Sydney, Australia, June 21, 2016. (In Sydney Film Festival.) Running time: 96 MINS.

Production: (Documentary — Australia) A Screen Australia presentation of a Wangala Films production, in association with National Indigenous Television. (International sales: Wangala Films, Sydney, Australia.) Producer: Sarah Linton. Executive producers: Mitzi Goldman, Dan Goldberg.

Crew: Director: Aaron Petersen. Writer: Sarah Linton. Camera (color): Robert C. Morton. Editor: Aaron Peterson.

With: Zachariah Doomadgee, Alec Doomadgee

More Film

  • Summer Box Office: 'Avengers: Endgame,' 'Lion

    Summer Box Office: Five Weekends to Watch

    Popcorn season is upon us, and it’ll be up to comic-book heroes, a wise-cracking genie, and a lion who would be king to ensure movie theaters are still the hottest place to spend the summer. Last summer, blockbusters like “Avengers: Infinity War,” “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom,” Ocean’s 8,” and “The Meg” drove moviegoers to their [...]

  • Critics Week

    Cannes Critics’ Week Unveils Its Lineup

    Lorcan Finnegan’s science-fiction thriller “Vivarium” with Jesse Eisenberg and Imogen Poots, Jérémy Clapin’s fantasy-filled animated feature “I Lost My Body,” and Hlynur Pálmason’s Icelandic drama “A White, White Day” are among the 11 films set to compete at Critics’ Week, the section dedicated to first and second films that runs parallel with the Cannes Film [...]

  • China Box Office: 'Wonder Park' Fails

    China Box Office: 'Wonder Park' Fails to Impress While 'P Storm' Rages On

    Even on one of the quietest weekends of the year, new U.S. animated release “Wonder Park” failed to inspire Chinese audiences as much as Hong Kong and Indian movies already in their third weekend in theaters. Starring the voice talents of Matthew Broderick, Jennifer Garner, Mila Kunis, and Ken Jeong, among many others, the film [...]

  • David Picker dead

    David Picker, Studio Chief Who Acquired James Bond Novels for UA, Dies at 87

    David Picker, who headed United Artists, Paramount and Columbia’s motion picture divisions and was known for forging relationships with groundbreaking filmmakers and material, died Saturday in New York. He was 87 and had been suffering from colon cancer. MGM tweeted, “We are saddened to hear that a member of the United Artists family has passed [...]

  • Abigail Disney on Bob Iger

    Abigail Disney Calls Bob Iger's $65 Million Compensation 'Insane'

    Disney chairman-CEO Bob Iger’s total compensation for Disney’s fiscal 2018 was a whopping $65.6 million. Abigail Disney, the granddaughter of Disney co-founder Roy Disney, calls that sum “insane.”  While speaking at the Fast Company Impact Council, the filmmaker and philanthropist insisted that this level of corporate payout has a “corrosive effect on society.” Disney took [...]

  • 'Curse of La Llorona' Tops International

    'Curse of La Llorona' Tops International Box Office With $30 Million

    Warner Bros. and New Line’s “The Curse of La Llorona” led the way at the international box office, summoning $30 million when it opened in 71 foreign markets. The supernatural thriller collected $26.5 million in North America for a global start of $56.5 million. “La Llorona,” based on the Mexican folklore about the Weeping Woman, [...]

  • Box Office: 'Curse of La Llorona'

    Box Office: 'Curse of La Llorona' Wins Worst Easter Weekend in Over a Decade

    Warner Bros. and New Line’s “The Curse of La Llorona” ascended to the top of domestic box office charts, conjuring $26.5 million when it opened in 3,372 North American theaters. “La Llorona” is the latest horror movie to outperform expectations, further cementing the genre as one of the most reliable box office draws. Even so, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content