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March 27, 2023

Powerful Indigenous film screens in Byron

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Local filmmaker Sinem Saban and the Rev Dr Djiniyini Gondarra OAM, filming on Yolngu Country in north-east Arnhem Land.

Local filmmaker, Sinem Saban, who is screening her latest documentary, Luku Ngärra: The Law of the Land this week in Byron, has considered herself an activist for over 20 years. 

She has been in war zones in Iraq, Palestine and Israel, and marched in Indigenous rights protests in Australia. 

When she started to spend a lot of time with Dr Gondarra OAM ten years ago, she slowly started to realise just how static and paralysed she was in her hatred of the perpetrators of such wars and injustice. 

‘You could say Dr Gondarra has been like a teacher to me’, she says, ‘not just because of what he has taught me about his pain, his struggles, his culture and his law, but also because of the spiritual wisdom that has come from those life experiences.’

Saban says it became very obvious to her that Dr Gondarra is a very unique person in the arena of Indigenous activism and beyond; he has a healing spirit that she believes is really important for all of us in this day and age. And thus, the film was born.

Yolngu culture gravely misrepresented

Saban says that Yolngu culture and law has been gravely misrepresented and it’s hard to find a place to start unraveling that. ‘Where does one begin? Upon first contact, we called them “uncivilised” and “primitive” when in fact in the 20 years of my life learning about their world and I can tell you it is far more sophisticated and refined than any other culture and law system that I know of.

‘Thanks to uneducated history books, unsophisticated mainstream media reporting and primitive government viewpoints, we have repeatedly painted horrific pictures of Yolngu culture and law as being innately violent against women and children when it could not be any further than the truth.’

Not government funded

Saban says she did not take any corporate or government-affiliated funding in order to make this film. 

‘That meant we had no funds from film funding bodies like Screen Australia and the likes. It was a struggle most of the time, but that is usually the case when you are trying to hold a value in place. 

‘What we have now is some debt, but a majority Indigenous-funded film, which means we did not compromise on the integrity of the message and something that is a genuine representation of everyone involved.’

Saban says she must raise funds to cover post-production costs before the film can move forward. 

Fundraising post-production

‘We are hoping to gather some support from generous community members in the Byron Shire to help us to the finish line’. For more info, including the GoFundMe campaign, see Seven entertainment.

There is a GoFundMe page that people can donate to directly, or we are accepting tax-deductible donations.’

Saban says working with Dr Gondarra has shown her that the depth of this man cannot be captured in a 90-minute film or even in words. 

‘His reverence is humbling and his directness and sense of spirit is liberating’. 

‘He has been a gift to me and my family. But there is so much more to him that is more like a feeling, rather than an intellectualisation and I am lucky that I will have that feeling inside of me for all the years of my life ahead.’

Even in the filmmaking world, five years is a long time but Saban says she is slowly starting to feel the marvel at all that has been achieved given the limited resources. ‘It was big. Dr Gondarra just turned 78 years old in February so I am just really happy for him that he will finally get some kind of acknowledgement for all that he has done in his life and the gift he will leave to all of us when he leaves the physical world.’

Find out more about screenings and donating to this venture in this week’s Seven entertainment pages.

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