Dreaming back: Tracey Moffatt's bedeviling films.
Article Type:
Critical essay
Australian aborigines (Portrayals)
Filmmakers (Works)
Filmmakers (Criticism and interpretation)
Senzani, Alessandra
Pub Date:
Name: Post Script Publisher: Post Script, Inc. Audience: General; Trade Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Business; Business, international Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2007 Post Script, Inc. ISSN: 0277-9897
Date: Fall, 2007 Source Volume: 27 Source Issue: 1
NamedWork: Nice Coloured Girls (Motion picture); Night Cries: A Rural Tragedy (Motion picture); beDevil (Motion picture)
Named Person: Moffatt, Tracey; Moffatt, Tracey
Geographic Scope: Australia Geographic Code: 8AUST Australia

Accession Number:
Full Text:
In 1788 when the British settlers landed on Australian soil, the Aboriginal songlines that mapped the indigenous land encountered white cartography. In these first stages of colonization, as John Healy points out, "curiosity without panic was the mood" (4). Aborigines tried to make sense of the white settlers drawing on their own myths about the coming back of their ancestors from the depths of the earth (Berndt "The Aboriginal Heritage" XV). The colonizers, instead, read the newly found land through their narratives and legends about the antipode, where everything was thought to be reversed (see Gibson). An army of ethnographers and anthropologists constructed the Aborigines on a lower step on the Darwinian evolutionary scale, in order to justify the colonial enterprise as a mission of civilization, declaring Australia a terra nullius and thus denying its Aboriginal populations' rights to the land. Simultaneously, however, the colonizers acknowledged a certain fascination exerted by Aboriginal languages, songs, and legends. Anthropologists called for white writers to recognize the potential in Aboriginal myths to create an Australian-white literature that would draw from the epic qualities of indigenous mythology, translating it, though, into the known form of classical Greek epic, so as not to challenge the Western Weltanschauung (Roberts and Mountford 14).

What part did cinema play in this "intertextual invention" of Australia that saw the Western imaginary appropriate and (re)write indigenous narratives? As Ella Shohat and Robert Stare argue, cinema can well relay "projected narratives of nations and empires" (101) and Australian film scholars such as Tom O' Regan, Meghan Morris and Faye Ginsburg have well documented the influential role played by television and cinema in the construction of the Australian nation-state. In line with such arguments, in this study I look at the films by internationally renowned photographer Tracey Moffatt--specifically her two shorts Nice Coloured Girls (1987) and Night Cries: A Rural Tragedy (1990) together with her feature film beDevil (1993)--as texts that (re)trace and (re)invent representations of Australian Aborigines, constructing a reflexive aesthetic where different traditions and memories are set ill dialogue. I will review the vast literature available on her two shorts, in the attempt to synthesize it and expand it with an analysis which--including her feature film--wants to read the local (hi)stories of oppression and struggle in Moffatt's films against the global (hi)stories of power and colonization, bringing out the many intertextual references Moffatt weaves together in her work.

Moffat was one of the early beneficiaries of the Multicultural Agenda, which the Australian government launched in 1989 in concomitance with the bicentennial celebrations, a time when the nation tried to shrug off its past of colonialism and racism and instead promoted the project of reconciliation. Like in the 1970s, this renewed government's subsidization of the film industry countered the dominance of Hollywood products on the domestic market, which institutions like the Australian Film Commission greatly lamented, as evidenced by the June 1985 Saturday column in The Australian, where the head of the AFC, Phillip Adams, "castigat[ed] Australians for so uncritically accepting American culture" (Lewis 24). This promotion of local cultural products against foreign films was also aimed at reinforcing a sense of national identity at a time of intense debate due to the bicentennial anniversary of the Australian colonization. In this spirit, the AFC sponsored Hidden Pictures, a touring project, which "promot[ed] an indigenous cinema whose beginnings are located in collaborations between non-Aboriginal film-makers and Aboriginal actors and individuals" (O'Regan 75). Hidden Pictures" overview of cinematic representations of Aborigines in films written and directed by whites addressed the racism of early representations and the negative impact of those films on Aboriginal-white relationships. Beyond promoting positive images of Australian indigenous populations, such a project, however, also attributed to cinema--and its state funded projects--the merit of reconciliating the tensions between settlers and indigenous cultures. The series hence supported the view that contemporary filmmakers, film institutes and their funding entities are now making up for the past. Such a framework seems to overshadow the harsh battles that Aborigines themselves had to fight to obtain recognition, while ascribing both the guilt and the merit to whites. Yet, despite such ideological biases, the multicultural agenda did partially contribute to the emergence of more militant projects carried out by Aboriginal communities and filmmakers such as Tracey Moffatt, Rachel Perkins, and Ivan Sen among others, who are now using cinema to write themselves back into history. (1)

Perkins's Radiance (1998) and Sen's Beneath the Clouds (2002) belong to what Felicity Collins and Therese Davis see as a new era in Australian cinema developed "in the twelve years since the 1992 Mabo decision overturned the nation's founding doctrine of terra nullius'" (3). (2) By recognizing the land rights of the Indigenous populations of Australia, the Mabo decision forced Australians to reconsider their history and the myths on which their nation was founded. Collins and Davis argue that "post-Mabo" Australian cinema reacted by foregrounding "concepts of shock, recognition and trauma" and becoming a site, where history battles are fought over the founding myths of white Australia (9). (3) The authors read in this new cinema a form of "backtracking" that "reprises and at the same time retracts some of the seemingly intractable figures of Australian national identity" (3). There is thus a revisitation of the "Black Tracker figure" in Philip Noyce's Rabbit Proqf Fence (2002), Rolf De Heer's The Tracker (2002) and the less known short by Rachel Perkins One Night The Moon (2001), of the landscape film in recent releases such as The Missing (Manuela Alberti 1999), Serenades (Mojgan Khadem 2001), Yolngu Boy (Stephen Johnson 2002), and of white-Indigenous relations in general in Black and White (Craig Lahiff 2003) and Australian Rules (Paul Goldman 2002) (Collins and Davis). These titles testify of the growing interest and popularity of Australian Aboriginal stories, which culminated in the 2006 release of the stunning Ten Canoes directed by Rolf De Heer and focusing on David Gulpilil's people, their stories, customs and duck hunting traditions. (4) This increase in films dealing with Indigenous stories and critically (re)visiting Australian history contradictorily clashes with the latest political climate in Australia. Indeed, this new wave of films started in 1998, just one year after the institution of the nationalist One Nation party and the same year of their break through in the Queensland elections. These films successfully bring out the dissenting voices who are speaking out against the nationalist and conservative politics carried out by the John Howard's government in the late 90s and early years of 2000. (5)

My analysis of Moffatt's films aims at showing how her work significantly anticipates and enriches the debate on Australian cinema after Mabo, already pointing to the many contradictions pervading the national debate today. While Collins and Davis only briefly mention Moffatt's work, I argue that her films carry out a similar form of backtracking. Her two shorts came out just before the settlement of the Mabo's lawsuit, but already (re)visit the Australian "landscape film" and carry out a symbolic (re)appropriation of the Australian land. Her feature film beDevil, instead, was released just one year after the Mabo Court decision and only 5 years before the publication of the Bringing Them Home report in 1997. This document related of the forced removal of Aboriginal children from their families--the so-called "Stolen Generation"--and once again confronted white Australia with its past of abusive and racist practices. With beDevil, Moffatt continues her work of singing back into existence the Aboriginal heritage and, we could also argue, anticipates the Stolen Generation scandal, by focusing on the figure of the ghost, who in the film is often embodied by a mysteriously missing child. Backtracking to the early '90s, I will argue for Moffatt's pivotal role in the shaping of the New Australian cinema: beyond (re)tracing the founding myths, narratives and images of Australian cinema, Moffatt also opens up her texts to intertextual echoes that bring her viewers in contact with non-Australians traditions and establish sodalities with other groups on the margins, thus reinforcing her criticism of colonization and marginalization globally.

Moffatt's "people grew up on an Aboriginal mission outside Brisbane called Cherbourg," but she "was fostered out to a white family," while still maintaining contact with her Aboriginal community (Moffatt qtd. in Rutherford 52). She studied filmmaking at the Queensland College of the Arts in Brisbane, where she gained a strong grounding in cinema history and art, which informs her work and explains the painterly images of both her photographic and film projects. After graduation, she moved to Sydney and started to work as a photographer and filmmaker for service agencies helping Aborigines. (6) Her works have been funded by the Creative Development Fund as well as other state institutions and distributed at national and international film festivals, Aboriginal Studies and media conferences, film institutes, Aboriginal Service Agencies, and "community Aid Abroad seminars" (Jennings 75).

In numerous interviews, Moffatt has commented on her dual schooling in Aboriginal and Western cultures, two traditions that she mingles and sets in dialogue in all of her works; before attending art school, Moffatt was already exposed to Hollywood and European film and TV, having spent "a whole 1960s childhood and 1970s adolescence ... glued to the television" (Moffatt 5). During these years and later in college, she developed a strong passion for American mainstream cinema and a deep appreciation for European auteurs, taking in "everything from schlock to the sophisticated" (5). What is most striking in her work, however, is the (re)visitation of Australian movie history, in an attempt to (re)create spaces, landscapes, feelings, and characters from Australian classics and invest them with the meanings that had been suppressed.

Moffatt's first short film, Nice Coloured Girls, was released in 1987 and financed by the Creative Development Fund, winning "the prize for the Most Innovative Film at the 1988 Festival of Australian Film and Video, Frames" (Rutherford 147). Her work soon drew the attention of critics and scholars, as is indicated by the number of articles dedicated to her first--and second--cinematic attempt (see French, Gunew, Jennings, Mellencamp, Morris, Kaplan and Jayamanne among others). Nice Coloured Girls is set in Sydney and revolves around a night out of three Aboriginal girls, who "fish for captains," i.e. white men with money, and lure them into buying them dinner, and drinks. The Sydney setting allows the film to show the interethnic relationships that Aborigines entertain today; we see the girls "embrace [Australian society's] diversity" (French) and appreciate "American disco music and Italian food" (Jennings 71). Beyond showing their taste for Italian and American cultural goods, I would argue that Moffatt is here also indirectly establishing sodalities with other marginalized groups as well as pointing to the commercial appropriation and exploitation of "ethnic products." As shown in Figure 1, the Italian restaurant's setting is strangely reminiscent of African-inspired design with zebra patterned wallpaper that draws attention to the question of skin color, discrimination, and appropriation. Moreover, the "white captain" addresses the Italian waitress in the tone of the master, pinching her bottom and manifestly showing his sexual interest, similar to his behavior towards the Aboriginal girls. Moffatt seems, in this way, to point to the exoticization of the "ethnic," constructing the "darker woman" as a mere sexual object.


Reinforcing such a criticism, Moffatt starts the short with a focus on the girls' legs accompanied by a voice-over reminiscent of colonial ethnographic films. We hear a male, British voice reading excerpts from "Complete Account of the Settlement at Port Jackson (London, 1793)" by "Captain Lieutenant Watkin Tench, of the British Marine Corp" (Summerhayes The Moving Images 28). The diary describes Aboriginal women as hyper-sexualized beings, who welcome the white invaders out of their sexual curiosity. We can here detect the echoes of many colonial myths about "black women"--be they from Africa, Australia, or the Caribbean--as "sexually lascivious" (Mirzoeff 180). (7) This dominant colonial narrative, however, is soon challenged by the appearance of intertitles voicing the girls' thoughts and describing their actions. While the British explorer reports of the allegedly innate sexual lust and promiscuity of Aboriginal women, we read of the girls' tactics to fish for captains and get money out of white men. Using the most conventional techniques of the ethnographic films which constructed Indigenous populations around the globe as savages, Moffatt makes them clash and contradict each other, thus cannily deconstructing the dominant anthropological discourse. (8) Far from simply positioning the women in the role of victims, Moffatt first introduces contemporary, modern, Sydney girls taking advantage of white men looking for sexual pleasure. They are not needy prostitutes or mothers, but girls out to have fun in discos and restaurants, exploiting their hold on the sexual imaginaries of white men.

Simultaneously, however, Moffatt addresses the intersection between "Imperialism, Capitalism, Patriarchy and Racism" (Rutherford 147). The current relationship between the girls and the white captain is constantly traced back to colonial times, when Aboriginal women were forced to subject to the desires and wishes of colonial captains. The continuity between past and present is established not only by the voiceover, but also by sudden cuts to scenes on a white beach where a tribal woman looks into the camera and at the present urban life of contemporary Aborigines. Moffatt plays here with the cinematic gaze, in order to challenge the male colonial gaze and construct instead sisterly looking relations between the present Aboriginal women, the viewers and Aboriginal grandmothers and ancestors. We as viewers see the captain through the eyes of the girls; we are led to participate in their derision of his lust, while his gaze is constantly denied. There is no real exchange between the girls and the captain, their gaze is an objectifying look at the man as a mere source of money--a complete reversal of the male gaze--and when they do look beyond his body, or better his pocket, they encounter the gaze of the tribal Aboriginal woman on the white beach who knowingly looks back at them/us. As French argues, the Aboriginal women's appropriation of the gaze and their challenging of the obtrusive white voice-over through the subtitles contribute to make the "historical continuities of exploitation" visible. We understand that, if in colonial times Aboriginal women were forced to suffer the abuses of white men so as to survive, today their economic marginalization in white society still compels them to resort to white men for money.

Such continuity with the colonial past is reinforced by Moffatt's use of the soundtrack, which populates the contemporary urban Sydney landscape with sounds of colonial times such as boats, sighs, and waves, hence making the history of colonization resurface (French). Moreover, Moffatt also recurrently cuts to a "typical nineteenth century European print of the Australian landscape.., which reflects the European vision / representation of the Australian landscape" (French). In front of this painting, we witness "historical re-enactments" (Jennings 71), where Aboriginal women dressed in colonial clothes take money from the hands of white colonizers and climb a ladder, imaginatively leading into one of the colonizers' boats. The painting bespeaks the whites' attempt to define Australia and its indigenous populations; we see a hand blackening the frame, crushing its glass, and finally tearing down the wall supporting the painting and opening into a black space free of frames.

Moffatt moves here in the interstices between conventional genres and avantgarde techniques; as Karen Jennings observes, on the one hand, Moffatt resorts to the popular format of the "'heist movie'," on the other, she breaks this frame to introduce "anti-realist" elements "intended to open up spaces for the viewing audience, and demand an active, analytic engagement" (70). She works here in the Brechtian tradition of disrupting, fragmenting and questioning the narrative, by inserting alienating devices, which force the viewers to stand back and ponder on what is being said, written and shown on screen. We are thus critically confronted with the intersections between colonization, patriarchy and current Australian politics and economics. Furthermore, we are carried across the Australian borders, to draw parallels with other (hi)stories of colonization and exploitation. As emphasized by the musical soundtrack, Moffatt establishes a sodality with Black-American women, ending the short on the sound of Aretha Franklin's voice singing of "bad black girls." Indeed, Aborigines have learned early on that to gain visibility they needed to connect their voice with other diasporic and marginalized peoples in the world. In the late 1960s, even before acquiring full citizenship rights in 1967, Indigenous Australians started to make their voices heard through literature and theatre. They looked at the works of Black-American and Caribbean writers and artists, in order to interact with the other diasporas around the world (see Noonuccal). Such a tactic allowed Aborigines to insert their voice in a global movement that demanded agency and recognition; it reinforced their local voices, echoing resistances with longer traditions.

Such backtracking and retracing of both the Australian imaginaries and of our globalized visual archives is to be found again in Moffatt's Night Cries: A Rural Tragedy (1990). Together with Nice Coloured Girls, this second short has received much critical acclaim for its experimental aesthetic and its (re)writing of the past. Moffatt approaches Australian film history directly, in that she stages the sequel--and a reimagining--of Charles Chauvel's melodrama Jedda (1955), which controversially addressed white-indigenous relations at a time when assimilation policies were largely discussed in Australia and beyond. The story revolves around a young Aboriginal girl raised by white parents and attracted to the tribal Aborigine Marbuk. (9)

The film paradoxically constitutes both a landmark for the construction of an Australian national cinema and a testimony to the influence of Hollywood style and narrative on Australian filmmakers. Chauvel knew American cinema well and had actually spent some time in Hollywood; he deeply appreciated "American movie production methods," but also "had a sense of national destiny" (Lewis 11) and insisted on the need for "featuring Australia as a character in his films" (O'Regan 66). His double allegiance can be read into Jedda's aesthetic, in that--as Moffatt argues about the film that strongly fascinated and influenced her--its interior setting was "very American, very Bonanza, from the era when Australian films were trying to be like American Westerns" (qtd. in Murray 22). Simultaneously, however, its story was quintessentially Australian thanks to its celebration of the red outback landscape, which Chauvel believed to be "a source of national identity," a tool to exploit Aboriginal beliefs in the land and anchor European-Australians in the new colonized country (Morris). In Jedda, the Aboriginal characters and their story take center stage at the expense of the white settlers' family; Marbuk functions as a black Tarzan, representing the "'real primitive' ... [who] refuses to submit to civilization" (Langton 59).1" Jedda is instead the Aboriginal girl caught in between two worlds; she is educated in the white way of life, but, as the film's male voice-over claims, it is a "tough job trying to teach Jedda the ABC of a white child." She constantly feels the bond to her people and to her Aboriginal land; in the end, the McMann family's attempt to whiten up Jedda tragically fails and leads to her and Marbuk's death. The films shows a certain respect and appreciation for Aboriginal cultures as voiced in Douglas McMann's reproach to his wife's attempt to tame Jedda: "she's the member of one of the oldest races in the world, Sarah ... her roots are deep in a religion and way of living that we can never understand ... They don't tame, only on the surface." Yet, as McMann's final words suggest, the film constructs Aborigines as "noble savages" who cannot change and adapt to the white "civilized" way of life. Ultimately, the film reinforces the concept that Aboriginal cultures and customs will not be able to survive in the white world, embracing the dominant policy of the time of "smoothing the pillow of a dying race" (Headon 14).

Provocatively, in Night Cries Moffatt brings Jedda back to life and inverts the roles; in this rewriting, Jedda did survive in the white world and is now the custodian of her fragile and disabled white adoptive mother. Their relationship in the film is ambiguous and traversed by various tensions; on the one hand, we feel, see, and hear Jedda's frustration in having to take care of her white mother (see Figure 2).


On the other hand, Moffatt also expresses the affection between the old mother and the daughter; we see the latter wash the mother's feet with evident affection and, through unannounced flashbacks--like visual bits out of the daughter's memory--we see the caring hand of a young white mother combing the hair of the Aboriginal daughter. As Scott Murray argues, it seems that "Moffatt portrays within this troubled family a love that has not been extinguished by the defects of the past" (20). Yet, I would add, the past cannot but tint even the most affectionate memories, so that when we move to a scene out of Jedda's childhood where she joyfully plays with the white mother on the beach, anxiety and feelings of oppression infiltrate the seemingly happy picture. The innocuous sea weeds turn into film tape that threatens to choke the young girl, and the mother's diving is seen as an attempted suicide, which triggers fear of loss in the daughter. E. Ann Kaplan observes that with its fragmentary aesthetic the short "follows the structure and performative modality of trauma" (130). Moffatt mixes here genre conventions, depicting the mother-daughter relationship in melodramatic mode, but letting the trauma seep through the narrative and interrupt it, without offering any explanation and resolution to the elusive tension and conflict weaved into the story.

Moffatt manages thereby to voice the ambivalent relationship that many Aborigines hold to the colonial and familial past, where tender recollections of assimilation clash with harsh memories of abuse and oppression. Her story does not directly address the common policy of forcibly removing Aboriginal children from their families; on the contrary, it is purposely ambiguous, in the attempt to voice both the traumas resulting from white crimes against Aborigines, and the conflicts that pertain to most mother-daughter relationships. Probably, only Australian audiences would be able to catch the intertextual reference to Chauvel's film--thanks also to Moffatt's own claim that she intended to play on Jedda. However, most spectators can relate to the dilemma of a daughter split between the desire to attend to her dying mother and to break away from the motherly ties and construct her own independent life. The meaning of the film is multi-layered and we could also read a certain autobiographical note in it, since Moffatt finds herself in an ambivalent position as a child grown up in a white family without having been forcibly removed from her Aboriginal family.

Her own story is thus obliquely tinted by the traumas haunting Australian history, just like Night Cries is subtly framed by the appearances of Aboriginal singer Jimmy Little, whose "very presence reminds one of the era of the mission school, where black Australians were re-educated and reclothed in an attempt to whiten them" (Murray 19). In her insightful "Sri Lankan Reading of Tracy Moffatt's Night Cries," Laleen Jayamanne also observes that his performance draws our attention to "both the violent and the fluent aspects of cultural assimilation and taps into an Aboriginal cultural history which is neither pristinely indigenous nor completely other, a kind of mimetic zone" (6). Like Moffatt's own lifestory, this new Jedda narrative acknowledges the mingling of different traditions the contradictions and ambiguities buried in the Australian colonialist history. She pays homage to Jimmy Little's role as cultural mediator and to his artistic talent, while also countering his assimilationalist lyrics, by fragmenting his body, so that the "dismembering close-ups create a sense of unease" (Jayamanne 11-2). This disruption of the soothing performance is reinforced by the empty black space that frames all his appearances; as Jayamanne also points out, we can read this intruding empty blackness through Homi Bhabha's concept of the "'in between' space, that innovates and interrupts the performance of the present" (Bhabha 7). In this perspective, the black space functions as a metaphor for all the voices, stories, gazes, and bodies suppressed in the past that are today emerging and contaminating the dominant narrative of the present. Similarly to her depiction of the white mother, through Jimmy Little, Moffatt criticizes the assimilationalist past, while holding onto its significance to construct new white-Aboriginal relationships.


In her reworking of Australian narratives, Moffatt draws on another popular Aboriginal icon, by shaping the setting of Night Cries in the style of Albert Namatjira's paintings (Murray 22), which have been highly commercialized like Little's songs. Moffatt seems to employ Little and Namatjira as cultural mediators between the two worlds constituting her aesthetic, white and Aboriginal. Namatjira also functions as a bridge between the Aboriginal landscape and its Western appropriation. In the short, Moffatt shapes the Australian outback with the artificiality of a stage setting or a canvas (Figure 2 and 3), rejecting the dominant "obsession with photographing real landscape" typical of Australian films (qtd in Murray 22).

Like in Nice Coloured Girls with the blackening and final destruction of the framed, panoramic painting, Moffatt performs here a criticism of the Australian realist filmic tradition that has commodified the landscape and turned it into a tourist attraction. As mentioned above, Moffatt always refrains from directly addressing Australian political conflicts; however her fragmentary and multilayered short allows viewers to glimpse and hear the echoes of the struggles and debates pervading Australian society. The initial juxtaposition between the exterior shots of the painted red landscape and the close-up of Jedda reading a tourist brochure with a nice photograph of the fascinating red country, for instance, seems to foreground the clash between two different conceptions of the land and to indirectly open up a space to reflect on land rights issues. The tourist brochure in Jedda's hand gains in visibility for its being out of place in a solitary homestead in the outback and for its stark contrast with the artificiality of the setting. Such incongruity forces the viewers to reflect on the significance and value of such an item and brings to mind the many commercial images used to sell "things Australian:" red land, didgeridoos, boomerangs, tribal Aborigines dancing, and so many more. Advertising strategies that, as Maurie Scott observes, constitute an "outright theft of indigenous art and the appropriation of Aboriginal iconography for commercial purposes" (141). (11) Pointing to the market exploitation of Aboriginal signs, Moffatt also undermines the myth of terra nullius, unmasking instead how the dominant white Australian identity is constructed on the back of the pre-existing Indigenous customs, traditions and beliefs. I thus agree with Jayamanne that Moffatt's reliance on an artificial painted landscape works as "as a sign of a sign," (4), in that it simultaneously rejects the dominant white appropriation of the landscape and (re)visits Aboriginal cultures. Indeed, I would argue that the artificiality of the setting could also bespeak the Aboriginal conception of the country as a text, where all physical features are "worked upon by people to make them meaningful" (Muecke 7). Moffatt finally (re)takes possession--although just symbolically-of the ancestral land by bringing out the traces of its lived existence before colonization. (12)

In order to better understand Moffatt's indirect and subtle reference to political issues--both domestic and international, I would like to draw on the Barthesian semiotic notion of "'secondary signs.'" As Anthony Tamburri explains, these are "something that ... instead of being ... the cardinal functions/nuclei or catalysers, would be, instead, something in the line of indices or informants: those secondary and tertiary signs that seem to have no constitutive function in the production of meaning yet, when all is said and done, figure significantly" (37). The tourist brochure functions as such a "secondary sign," or-employing a more current concept--a hyperlink, which viewers can choose to open up and deconstruct. Moffatt disseminates her texts with such hyperlinks, leading us sometimes back to the local Australian history and other times outward to other places with their own (hi)stories of marginalization and exploitation. Listening closely to the soundtrack, for instance, towards the beginning of the film, we can hear blurred and confused noises that Moffatt describes as "sounds like crazy monkeys." These are actually the last gasps of "a woman choking" and they were "recorded in Haiti in the 1930s during a voodoo ceremony" (Moffatt qtd in Murray 22). Moffatt explains this foreign intrusion with Deborah Petrovitch's--the video artist responsible for the short's soundtrack--fascination with voodoo ceremonies and her own need to create an eerie feeling (qtd. in Murray 22). I would argue that we can also read this intrusion as an indirect attempt to move beyond the Australian borders and point to similar (hi)stories of exploitation and colonization. Like Aretha Franklin's voice in Nice Coloured Girls--and other hyperlinks we will discuss in beDevil--these eerie sounds remind us of the global marginalization of indigenous populations, of black women and of the strength that can be harvested in weaving together the struggles.

With this movement back into the Australian land and out into the globe, Moffatt is able to read the local against the global, to avoid a simplified universalist narrative, without falling into the trap of her own ghettoization. As a further argument for such a reading, I would like to go back to the very first frame of Night Cries, a black screen with a quote in white: "Look at the sunset Howard: It's like the daytime didn't want to end; the day is putting tip a big scrap to keep the nighttime from creeping on." These words are spoken by Rosalind Russell in the popular American melodrama Picnic (1955) set in a Midwestern town in Kansas; thus, Moffatt pays here homage to the Hollywood studios and the films she grew tip with that influenced her love of cinema. Simultaneously, she seems to be anticipating the style of the short and its themes, in that the setting will glow with the redness of a sky at dusk, which so often stands for the Australian landscape. However, like the nighttime that menaces the romantic sunset of Picnic, in this short the mythical redness of Australia "is putting up a big scrap" to hide the many untold stories buried in the Australian wilderness. The black spaces that frame Jimmy Little's appearances seem to represent such gaps and contradictions in the dominant myths of foundation and colonialism. Finally, we could argue that we are witnessing the last tenacious attempts of a white mother to dictate the life of her black daughter. As, Marcia Langton argues, the short (see Figure 2) "play[s] out the worst fantasies of those who took Aboriginal children from their natural parents to assimilate and 'civilise' them" (47), i.e. to end up alone and in the sole hands of these adopted "brown children." The depiction of the sickly white mother with a prosthetic mechanical hand can thus evoke the nightmares that can creep in at "nighttime," pointing again to the untold crimes perpetrated against Australian Aborigines; it comes to represent a "white society clogged by its own cancers" (Murray 20).

As the analysis of the two shorts points out, Moffatt tends to exploit the identificatory potential of cinema to elicit the viewers' empathy with her protagonists--the "nice colored girls" and Jedda. Yet, she also always interrupts the linear narrative and our identification with a variety of Brechtian techniques that help her defamiliarize the form and force the viewer to observe at a critical distance. The mingling of different genres pointed out throughout the analysis also implies "a series of shifts between different emotional registers or affects" (Collins and Davis 11), reinforcing this oscillation between identification and critical distance. It is useful in this context to turn to Kaplan's discussion of the "ethics of witnessing," whereby she understands witnessing as an active act of "bearing witness" and feeling responsible for the injustice committed and seen (122). Drawing on the literature on trauma and memory, Kaplan distinguishes "vicarious trauma" from "witnessing," in that the latter "leads to a broader understanding of the meaning of what has been done to victims, of the politics of trauma being possible" (123). Night Cries, Kaplan maintains--and I would add Nice Coloured Girls and beDevil as well"leave[s] the viewer with an uneasy, disturbed feeling, but with the sense of having been moved empathically and ethically" (135). The constant shifting in genres, affects, temporalities and styles forces the viewer to actively engage in the process of meaning construction, piecing together the many fragments of traumatic memories, of suppressed histories and struggles that emerge from the clash of the visual, cultural, and sound archives from which Moffatt draws to construct her multilayered narratives.

Such a strategy also characterizes Moffatt's first feature film, beDevil, which was released in 1993 and received mixed reviews, (13) but was "nominated as an Official selection for Un Certain Regard at the Cannes Film Festival" (Summerhayes "Haunting Secrets" 14). (14) The film is divided into three stories, "Mr. Chuck," "Choo Choo Choo," and "Loving the Spin I'm In" and was "inspired by family ghost stories [she] heard as a child" (qtd in Conomos and Caputo 28). As Carol Laseur points out, the title addresses both "content and reading positions," in that all the stories revolve around a ghost, who can act as a figure of bedevilment, and they simultaneously bedevil official history, as "an ongoing interventionist practice into a destabilizing of white Australian history as a master narrative." By choosing to center the film on ghost stories, Moffatt employs a common figure used by diasporic and marginalized writers to (re)write themselves back into history. (15) The ghost in its immateriality is able to resurface in the face of outright domination and to speak to the present and the future, providing an alter native account of history. (16)

The first story, Mr. Chuck, speaks to the power of oral history and storytelling to reconstruct a past filled with contradictory meanings, memories, and tensions. The story revolves around a missing American GI; Moffatt seems here to address the impact of American culture on Australian society and cinema, having a movie theatre being symbolically constructed over the swamp that hides his corpse, and hence "the memory of the U.S. culture of the 1960s, the years of her childhood" (Wojdylo 46). The construction of "this poxy cinema above that stink'n' swamp"--as Rick says in the film--also points to the fact that "a place that generates stories [the swamp] has now become the site for another type of story-telling. The question being asked is: whose stories are seen/told now?" (Laseur). In the short, we listen mainly to two voices, two competing accounts of the events: the first belongs to the older Rick, who, from a state prison, retells the story of his childhood, when he witnessed the building of the movie theater, the finding of the GI's corpse, and got infected with the bad vapors of the haunted swamp (Figure 4).


Secondly, we hear the voice of the older Shelley, a white woman and proud resident of the island, who nurtured much sympathy for the young Rick in the past. When the older white woman recounts the past events, she always mentions the young Rick with tenderness and confides that "he never knew how sweet he could be." After this remark, we jump to a past scene where the now young woman catches Rick stealing from her house. Instead of punishing him, she sits him down and offers him a drink.

The whole scene triggers a sense of unease, in that we follow the events and listen to the voice-off from the future retelling the episodes. We don't see the young woman's face, until she sits down, the camera thus creates a sense of static tension, a claustrophobic and oppressive atmosphere that seems to suggest a too vivid interest on the part of the white woman. We could speculate that Moffatt is here pointing at the power-laden sexual relationships between white and Aborigines. Moreover, Shelley's retelling is undermined by her unwillingness to recount all the events, which suggests a certain guilty stake in them. Indeed, she repeatedly mentions that "they" knew what was going on, and that "they" could have done something, but did not. Significantly, after one such comment, we see the camera pall away and when it returns to the house, it shoots the woman from the outside of her veranda. We see the woman talking to the over-flying camera, unsuccessfully trying to catch its attention and to show past photos, but we are taken away along the tourist coast, the cricket fields, to be dumped again in the mud of the long gone swamp.

The juxtaposition between the dump and the more tourist part of the island is set right from the initial sequence and is reinforced by a clash of cinematic genre conventions used to film the two spaces. We start out with a thriller film--camera moving slowly into an inhospitable space, suspense music reinforcing the danger, close-ups of the muddy water boiling, which we hence assume to be hiding some sort of mysterious and violent creature. After Rick falls into the swamp, we are suddenly brought to the present with the adult Rick's laughter out of the prison cell. He starts recounting the story and describing his hatred of the island. The camera then suddenly cuts to a white beach and we find ourselves in a seemingly tourist ad for a beach resort, with cruise-like music, panoramic shots of the coast and the bathing tourists, to end inside a white home with a nicely dressed white woman who tells us of her love for the island. The images of these white "Australians-at-their-leisure" are accompanied by a music that is "sharp and shrill, and in the background, almost, inaudible, are the sounds of chains being rattled and a man shouting: 'Get up'" (Ken and Jacobs 39). Like in her shorts, Moffatt uses here the soundtrack to introduce "secondary signs" that disrupt the myth of Australia as a perfect tourist paradise, reminding us of the bloody history leading to the construction of such sunny resorts.

This visual and auditory contrast triggers an eerie feeling in the viewers, forced to come to terms with this contradictory depiction and contrasting emotional registers; furthermore, we can read in the depiction of these white "Australians-at-their-leisure" a direct criticism of the many sympathetic whites who inactively observed the abuses of Aboriginal children, men, and women, in order not to shake their economic, social, cultural, and racial privileges. At various turns, Moffatt shows us silent and gazing white people, while suggesting abuses and violence against Aborigines. In an earlier scene, for instance, we see the two "hyper-white" kids of the movie theater owner gaze into the Aboriginal children's house. (17) They stand outside of the house and look in through the window; we see a shadow approach and start hearing the sound of heavy beating; at this point, the camera cuts away from the violent scene, and forces us to look at the two white kids silently and eagerly gazing through the window as if in front of a cinema screen. They stand there until they see red water coming out of the house, until the horror/ thriller show is over; denying us the sight of the violent act being committed, Moffatt thus shifts our attention to the unethical passivity of the witnesses. Like in Night Cries, Moffat thus encourages an active viewing, which draws attention to our own responsibilities and stake in the events happening around us, encouraging the audience to step back and (re)consider its own passive acquiescence of acts of violence, expropriation, abuse, oppression and marginalization. By masking the violence, Moffatt makes the responsibility of all of the bystanders visible, transforming them into accomplices of the racist system responsible for the killings of Aboriginal men and women.

It is their stories, their faces, voices, and bodies that still haunt Australia, the ghosts that inhabit the closets of all Australians' memories. As Ken Gelder and Jane Jacobs maintain in their study of the "Aboriginal sacred," Uncanny Australia, the ghost "becomes a figure of displacement" that speaks of "(dis)possession" (32). In their reading of beDevil, the authors emphasize that Moffatt shows "little interest in how the ghosts came to be where they are," concentrating instead on "the effects they have on those nearby" (38). While I agree with the authors that Moffatt never explicitly and fully addresses the origins of the ghosts or the actual moment of colonization and dispossession, I would argue that her ghost stories do present "an affective connection back to colonialism and colonial trauma" more than in transitory and fleeting moments as the authors would have it (39). The continuous shifts in temporalities and places, the undermining of white voices and gazes, all confront the viewers with the haunting past of colonialism and its atrocities, forcing them to re-live the same displacement. Moreover, while not explicitly addressing the crimes of the colonial past, Moffatt evokes once again the traumas of the Stolen Generation in her feature film, by focusing the first two stories on the ghosts of children and interviews with adults still interrogating themselves about their future. (18) In both stories, we listen to many "locals" retell the story of the ghosts and voice their knowledge of something eerie going on, but we also witness their cowardly refusal to take action and to listen to the ghostly voices haunting their home and their land.

Such an unethical rejection to bear witness is explicitly visualized in the second story, when the camera tracks across the major local street and the faces of its multiethnic inhabitants, who, directly addressing the filmmaker / viewer, gesticulate the "hear, see, speak no evil" signs. The ghost in this second story is a blind white young girl killed by a ghost train that nobody sees, but everybody hears. Interestingly, Moffatt had the "blond Aboriginal Karen Saunders" play the white girl (Summerhayes "Haunting Secrets" 18); such a play on representations might be read as a reference to the situation of many Australians with mixed heritage who are dispossessed both of their Aboriginal and European families. The girl's and train's ghosts regularly pay visit to the Aboriginal family living by the train tracks. As Laseur points out, this second story foregrounds women's voices, their memories, and their crucial role in preserving Aboriginal cultures. While we hear several different accounts of the event--a Chinese shopkeeper and a white older man for instance--only the Aboriginal women are willing to face the camera and actively recount the events. Like in the previous story, Moffatt draws our attention to the power of bearing witness and to the atrocities that instead an indifferent non-looking and non-listening help perpetrate.


As with Moffatt's previous shorts, this story also constantly shifts in time and space from the young Ruby living in the haunted house, to the older Ruby's memories of it. Interestingly, the young Ruby, played by Moffatt herself, (Figure 5), hardly speaks; as Laseur argues, she rather "observes and listens, in touch with the myths of her people and country." By casting herself in this role, Moffatt seems to further reinforce the need to listen and bear witness to the voices of the past, who speak to us in the figure of the ghost that cannot be repressed. The older Ruby, played by Auriel Andrews, takes on instead the task of (re)telling the past, with the help of the other women who make up her "team," as she calls it. Their agency is voiced through their direct confrontation with the spectator and their defamiliarizing practices: these women dress in flashy modern clothes with hypermodern sunglasses; they live in typical marginalized tin houses, but they drink white wine in fine glasses and prepare nouvelle cuisine using the ingredients of the "primitive" Australian outback. In this mingling of old and new, Western and Aboriginal beliefs, everyday practices such as "cooking, parenting, hunting and even sleeping are melded into a dynamic set of practices, all of which together have the power to enable a re-telling, a reiteration of the 'past' that is not past but, like the tension that builds, is always also present" (Laseur). It is a past that is also already contaminated, (re)read and interpreted through our contemporary lenses and global visual archive. We should thus not be surprised when in the studio-like red desert voodoo-like dolls suddenly appear. These are disseminated along the path of the Aboriginal hunter, haunting his daily routine with the memory of the young blind girl. Like in Night Cries, Moffatt seems to further creolize her aesthetic, inserting in her Australian Aboriginal narrative the traditions of other oppressed and dispossessed peoples.

The artificiality of this foregone outback denies any romanticization of "primitive nature," and, like in Night Cries, the theatrically lit and constructed landscape turns into a personal text, a sign, whereby Moffatt claims back Aboriginal land. Not accidentally, I would argue, all three stories feature spaces and homes that are being "vacated" or "abandoned" because of the ghosts haunting them. The cinema's erection above the corpse of the American GI can indirectly remind us of the many battles fought by Aborigines to protect the resting grounds of their ancestors; the young Ruby is chased out of her house by the ghost of a white girl and the sound of the impending train of white colonization; finally, in the third story, we will assist at the forced vacation of a building in the name of corporate business. While Moffatt never directly addresses the issue of land rights, we can always read it as a subtext in her stories. Like in her two shorts, Moffatt establishes a continuity in the histories of exploitation between past colonial oppression and present economic pressure. By constantly shifting temporalities, merging and blurring past and present, Moffatt reminds us that the past is self-constructed, drawn by our memories and voices and thus it always carries a sense of artificiality (see Figure 5). On the contrary, the present is never fixed, bearing the tensions of the past; therefore, it is often interrupted by those voices and gazes that had been repressed.

The past with its ghosts haunts the third story as well, where two mysterious lovers transgress Aboriginal law and die, but their presence still permeates the almost abandoned building where their mother continues to live. In the beginning of the story, we learn that Dimitri--the

owner of the building--wants to sell it, but the Aboriginal Emelda refuses to move out. hi an ironic scene, we see him handle the selling with two businessmen, and while he is assuring them that the edifice is being "vacated," a woman attired in Mexican clothes enters the building and is then joined by a whole party of Aborigines, who arrive and greet Dimitri as a family member. The embarrassed Dimitri tries to reassure the potential buyers, Cohos and Fong, that "It's all part of a traditional squatter's farewell ceremony!," but his deal seems now less and less likely. As the variety of names suggests, this last story revolves around interethnic relationships in contemporary Australia, and it humorously plays with representations and symbols. This is evident in the figure of the Mexican woman, whose appearance is particularly destabilizing, in that she is almost excessively marked as Mexican. The clothes she wears, the fashion she carries her hair, all point to the famous images of Mexican feminist icon Frida Kahlo. During the film, we often see this figure stand at the window and almost posing as if framed in a painting (Figure 6). At one point, we also hear her voice, which sounds particularly masculine and, given her marked facial traits, we are led to question whether we are looking at a woman or a man dressed in women's clothes. Moffatt plays here with our cultural knowledge and "uses actor Luke Robert's body as one that is inscribed with the image of Frida Kahlo (he dresses up as the artist and performs his interpretation of her person both in beDevil and his solo stage show)" (Summerhayes "Haunting Secrets" 17).


According to Catherine Summerhayes, Moffatt comments here on the recurrent use of her own image in her photography and films, which reminds us of Kahlo's own aesthetic; both use their bodies as a connection to the past and the stories of colonialism ("Haunting Secrets" 17). I would add that the evocation of Kahlo also brings to mind her militant fight for indigenous, women, and proletarian rights; the excessive artificiality of this performance forces the viewer once again to speculate about the connections, on how Kahlo and her artistic and political work can relate to the Aboriginal context. Moffatt in her work repeatedly comments on the multicultural configuration of Australian society; she represents Aboriginality as it develops in dialogue with other cultures. However, her look at multiculturalism never hides the power inequalities that underlie the cultural differences. We might thus speculate that her moving beyond multicultural Australia to establish connections with marginalized groups around the world is also a move to stress that, in terms of power relations, exploitation and discrimination, Aborigines might find better allies in the indigenous peoples of other colonial nations.

Certainly, the overt formalism and excessiveness of the Kahlo character force the viewer to reflect upon the signifying processes at work in the film and to consider Aboriginality as it is defined in the interaction of opposing discourses, multiple practices, and disparate spaces. Indeed, all of the films addressed above present a "self-conscious fictionalization" (Langton 40), an almost excessive artificiality, which foregrounds Moffatt's (re)writing of past representations of Aborigines. Her multidimensional approach successfully illustrates how "Aboriginality is remade over and over again in a process of dialogue, imagination, representation and interpretation" (81). While (re)writing and (re)defining what it means to be an Aboriginal in Australia--at different time periods, in different spaces, and within different interpersonal relationships, Moffatt also disrupts the form and the ideological codes used to represent Aborigines in the past. As Laseur maintains, her films constitute "a series of hybridised texts that fuse cinematic technologies with other visual art media and work to reconstruct notions of avant-garde, the short and the experimental." It is just such avant-gardism that has brought Moffatt some negative reactions for its inaccessibility and lack of political commitment (see French and Laseur). (19) However, as Moffatt argues, the project of experimenting with the form, deconstructing it and reassembling it with multiple layers of meanings, myths, and artistic conventions is essential "first of all because it is challenging previous styles of representation of Aborigines in film" (qtd in Murray 155). Moffatt wants to attack the realist conventions that have always framed Aborigines in limited and conventional roles; she wants to stress that "cinema take risks, that it be experimental and popular at the same time." We can perhaps use here Patricia Mellencamp's characterization of Moffatt as belonging to the "empirical avant-garde" of the late 80s and 90s, a movement defined by the "skepticism of those whose stories have been eradicated or forgotten. Embodying the mutuality of art and life, the empirical avant-garde connects fiction and history" (129-30). Moffatt's experimentalism is thus a political practice, an intervention on the form that aims at "destabiliz[ing] history through the experimental, granting women [and I would add indigenous cultures] the authority of the experiential" (130). (20)

Such a project wants to speak to its viewers, to relate to their own stories and memories. For this reason, Moffatt repeatedly insists on her desire that her work be accessible to a wide audience, despite her emphasis on the form. She recounts, for instance, that to promote beDevil, she sent out "postcards that say, 'Bedevil [sic]--scary, funny and terribly arty.'" (Moffatt qtd in Conomos and Caputo 32), pointing to the mixture of genres that characterizes the text, but also to its intention of being intriguing and entertaining. At various turns, Moffatt stresses that her first feature film "blurs the demarcation somewhat, between art gallery as a source of inspiration and the film industry" (31), hoping to "appeal to a wideranging audience" (29). Entertainment, (re)visitation of Australian history, (re)inscription of Aboriginal voices, gazes, bodies, and myths into the Australian imaginary, and an interrogation of the form and the ideological meanings it carries with it seem to be the constant concerns of Moffatt's work. Responding to Aboriginal criticism that her work is too "esoteric" and to a certain extent escapist, Moffatt answers that she also carries out projects that deal directly with the most pressing issues for Aborigines--such as health problems and deaths in custody. However, she maintains that also such social projects need not "be done in a straightforward documentary way" (qtd in Rutherford 153). She cites her short Watch Out about Aboriginal women and Spread the Word on AIDS as examples of social videos that employ experimental and avant-garde techniques to support a political, social, and interventionist discourse. According to Langton, "these productions were experimental and avantgarde at the same time, with distinctive artificial sets, comedic characterization, computer-generated art and rap music" (16). Despite or thanks to such experimental devices, these projects have been very successful with "not only urban based Aboriginals, but also Aboriginal communities living in traditional situations in Arnhem Land" (154), proving that a concern with the form does not necessarily clash with a political and militant filmmaking practice.

Certainly, Moffatt's work is very personal, but it does still voice her own political interest, commitments and beliefs; as she explains:

Her work brings a new and fresh voice to Australian cinema, which lets surface the many faces, echoes and voices of the silenced and marginalized peoples who have accompanied her in life and shaped her Weltanschauung. It is a singular voice that acknowledges and refracts the many others that have constituted her own unique perspective; a filmmaker who simultaneously backtracks in the visual archives of Australian culture and moves beyond to acknowledge the creolization of our world and the need to weave together personal and communal (hi)stories, local and global voices emerging from the margins of dominant discourses.

Indeed, while Moffatt and most "urban Aboriginal mediamakers" view their work as individualist artistic endeavors, they "nonetheless see themselves as responsible to a community of origin" (Ginsburg 368). They work on separate authored projects, but still participate in a close-knit network with other Aboriginal scholars, critics, artists and social workers, whereby they all at one point or another cross over in the other's discipline and collaborate with socially active groups. It seems that such a tendency bespeaks a collaborative subtext that might be seen as an alternative to the collaborative, collective and political projects carried out under the label of Third Cinema. Certainly, in the case of avantgarde filmmakers like Moffatt who exhibit their work in venues such as The Museum of Modern Art, the New Museum, and the Walter Reade Theater at the Lincoln Center, there is a tension between the indigenous project and "Western discourses that valorize the individual as a political or artistic agent in opposition to a broader polity" (Ginsburg 377). For this reason, when looking at the work of indigenous auteurs like Moffatt, it is important to set their work in the network of political and social relationships that they entertain. (21)

Notions of authorship can undermine a political voice, but an insistence on collective, indigenous projects can also run the risk of essentializing Aboriginality. Stressing, thus, the possibility of working both as an auteur and as a cultural worker or political activist on different projects and of constructing sodalities with other indigenous and marginalized populations can shift the debate from Aboriginal identity to concrete social, economic, and political needs. While, as Ginsburg also argues, Moffatt seems "more oriented toward formal issues," she understands her films--and photography--as "interventions into dominant conventions of representation regarding Aboriginal men and women in popular culture" (379 n7). Her focus on form should not be read as a form of depoliticization, but rather as a political practice aimed at constructing a new political and self-reflexive Aboriginal voice. Her interstitial approach-always on the border between white and Indigenous traditions, between genres, between film languages (narrative and avant-garde modes)--successfully tackles the many contradictions of Australian society and offers a new model for a pluri-accented and pluri-vocal cinema.

Works Cited

beDevil. Dir. Tracey Moffatt. Perfs. Jack Charles, Auriel Andrews, Dina Panozzo. 1993.

Berndt, Ronald M., and Catherine H. Berndt. The Aboriginal Australians: The First Pioneers. Carlton: Pitman, 1983.

--. "The Aboriginal Heritage." Jack Davis. Kullark/The Dreamers. Sydney: Currency Press, 1982. XIII-XXI.

Bhabha, Homi. The Location of Culture. New York: Routledge, 1994.

Collins, Felicity, and Therese Davis. Australian Cinema after Mabo. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2004.

--. "Brazen Brides, Grotesque Daughters, Treacherous Mothers: Women's Funny Business in Australian Cinema from Sweetie to Holy Smoke." Womenvision: Women and the Moving Image in Australia. Ed. Lisa French. Melbourne: Damned Publishing, 2003. 167-96.

Conomos, John, and Raffaele Caputo. "BEDE VIL: Tracey Moffatt." Cinema Papers 93 (May 1993): 26-32.

Creed, Barbara. "Jedda: Charles Chauvel, Australia 1955." The Cinema of Australia and New Zealand. Ed. Geoff Mayer and Keith Beattie. London: Wallflower Press, 2007.63-71

Diawara, Manthia. "Black American Cinema: The New Realism." Film Theory. An Anthology. Ed. Robert Stam, and Toby Miller. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 2000. 236-56.

French, Lisa. "'An Analysis of Nice Coloured Girls. (Tracey Moffatt 1987)." Senses of Cinema 5 (April 2000): 1-6. .

Gelder, Ken and Jane M. Jacobs. Uncanny Australia: Sacredness and Identity in a Postcolonial Nation. Carlton South, Victoria: Melbourne UP, 1998.

Gibson, Ross. South of the West: Postcolonialism and the Narrative Construction of Australia. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1992.

Ginsburg, Faye. "Embedded Aesthetics: Creating a Discursive Space for Indigenous Media." Cultural Anthropology 9:3 (1994): 365-82.

Goldson, Annie. "Reviews: Australia's Anxiety of Influence." AFTERIMAGE. (Summer 1990): 22-23.

Gunew, Sneja. "Multicultural Multiplicities: Canada, U.S.A., and Australia." Social Pluralism and Literary History: The Literature of the Italian Emigration. Ed.

Francesco Loriggio. Toronto: Guernica, 1996.29-47.

Hawker, Philippa. "Black Magic: Aboriginal Films Take Off." The Age. 19 June 2000. .

Headon, David. "Beyond the Year of the Locust: Aboriginal Writing in the 1980s." Meridian 7:1 (1988): 14.

Healy, John J. Literature and the Aborigines in Australia 1770-1975. St. Lucia: U Queensland P, 1978.

Kaplan, Ann E. Trauma Culture: Tire Politics of Terror and Loss in Media and Literature. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 2007.

Jayamanne, Laleen. "'Love me Tender, Love me True, Never Let Me Go...': A Sri Lankan Reading of Tracy Moffatt's Night Cries." Feminism and the Politics of Difference. Ed. Anna Yeatman and Sneja Gunew. Sydney: Allen and Unwin, 1993.73-84.

Jennings, Karen. Sites of Difference: Cinematic Representations of Aboriginality and Gender. Melbourne: AFI, 1993.

Langton, Marcia. Well, I Heard It On the Radio and I Saw It On the Television Sydney: AFI, 1993.

Laseur, Carol. "beDevil Colonial Images, Aboriginal Memories." Span 37 (December 1993): 76-88. .

Lewis, Glen. Australian Movies and the American Dream. New York: Praeger, 1987.

Loos, Noel, and Mabo, Koiki. Edward Koiki Mabo: His Life and Struggle for Land Rights, St. Lucia: U Queensland P, 1996.

Marcus, Julie. "The Journey Out of the Centre. The Cultural Appropriation of Ayers Rock." Aboriginal Culture Today. Ed Anna Rutherford. Sydney: Dangeroo Press, 1988. 254-69.

Mellencamp, Patricia. "Haunted History: Tracey Moffatt and Julie Dash." Discourse 16:2 (Winter 1993-94): 127-63.

Miller, Toby, Nitin Govil, John McMurria, Richard Maxwell, and Ting Wang. Global Hollywood 2. London: BFI, 2005.

Mirzoeff, Nicholas. An Introduction to Visual Culture. New York, London: Routledge, 1999.

Moffatt, Tracey. Fever Pitch. Annandale, NSW: Piper Press, 1995.

Morris, Meaghan. "Beyond Assimilation: Aboriginality, Media History and Public

Memory." Rouge 3 (2004): . Mudrooroo, Nyoongah [published as Johnson Colin]. "Chauvel and the Centring of the Aboriginal Male in Australian film." Continnum: The Australian Journal of Media and Culture 1:1 (1987): .

Muecke, Stephen. Textual Spaces: Aboriginality and Cultural Studies. Kensington: New South Wales UP, 1992.

Murray, Scott. "Tracey Moffatt." Cinema Papers 79 (1990): 19-22.

Nice Coloured Girls. Dir. Tracey Moffatt. Perfs. Gall mabo, Cherlyl Pitt, Linsay McCormack.

Night Cries: A Rural Tragedy. Dir. Tracey Moffatt. Perfs. Marcia Langton, Agnes hardwick, Jimmy Little. 1990.

Noonuccal, Oodgeroo. (published as Walker K.), "Recording the Cries of the People: An Interview with Oodgeroo (K. Walker) and Gerry Turcotte," Kunapipi 10:1 (1988): 17-31.

O'Regan, Tom. Australian National Cinema. London: Routledge, 1996.

Roberts, Ainslie, and Charles Mountford. The Dreamtime: Australian Aboriginal Myths in Paintings. Sydney: Rigby, 1965.

Rony, Tobing Fatimah. The Third Eye: Race, Cinema, and Ethnographic Spectacle. Durham: Duke UP, 1996.

Rowse Tim. After Mabo. Interpreting Indig: enous Traditions. Carlton: Melbourne UP, 1993.

Rutherford, Anna. "'Changing Images:' An Interview with Tracey Moffatt." Aboriginal Culture Today. Ed. Anne Rutherford. Sydney: Dangaroo Press, 1988. 146-57.

Scott, Maurie. "Reinventing Cultures: The Politics of Cultural Reformation as Reflected in Contemporary Aboriginal Performing Arts." Aratjara Aboriginal Culture and Literature in Australia. Ed. Dieter Riemenschneider, Geoffrey V. Davis. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1997. 129-43.

Shohat, Ella and Robert Stam. Unthinking Eurocentrism: Multiculturalism and the Media. New York: Routledge, 1994.

Smee, Sebastian. "Multiple Exposures." The Sydney Morning Herald (May 9 1998): 3.

Summerhayes, Catherine. "Haunting Secrets: Tracey Moffatt's beDevil." Film Quarterly 58:1 (Fall 2004): 14-24.

--. "Moving Images: The Films of Tracey Moffatt--so far..." Womenvision: Women and the Moving Image in Australia. Ed. Lisa French. Melbourne: Damned Publishing, 2003. 267-80.

--. The Moving Images of Tracey Moffatt. Milano: Edizioni Charta, 2007.

Tamburri, Anthony J. "Black & White, Scungill" & Cannoli: Ethnicity and Sexuality in Nunzio's Second Cousin." Italian/American Short Films and Music Videos: A Semiotic Reading. Anthony J. Tamburri. West Lafayette, IN: Purdue UP, 2002.29-50.

Wojdylo, John. Review of bedevil. Cinema Papers 96 (December 1993): 46-47. Wyatt Cedric. "The Mabo High Court Decision," Milli Milli Wungka 6 (1993): 2/ 13.

* An earlier, shorter version of this article was presented at the annual Southwest/Texas Popular Culture/American Culture Association Conference, where a panel of judges selected it as the Post Script award winner for the best paper on film submitted by a graduate student. Winners of this award have the option of reworking their essay within ninety days and then submitting it to Post Script to be considered for possible publication in the journal.


(1) In 2002, Philippa Hawker even hypothesized that "Aboriginal films are moving into the mainstream," but she was soon contested by "Sally Riley, head of the Australian Film Commission's Indigenous Unit [who] has her doubts. Australian films are still a small percentage of the local box office, she points out." (Hawker).

(2) The lawsuit Mabo and Others v. the State of Queensland was first brought in 1982 by Eddie Mabo who was the first Aborigine to legally reclaim the land of his tribe. In 1992, he finally won the lawsuit, which put an end to the legal doctrine of terra mullius on which the Australian nation was constructed (Loos and Mabo XXV). As Tim Rowse explains, "Mabo's legal argument raised the point that 'Australia' is morally illegitimate to the extent that it is founded on European denial of the continent's prior ownership by indigenous people such as himself and Hobbles Danayauri" (2). Thanks to the Mabo victory, in 1993 the Native Title Act was passed, according to which Australian Aborigines can claim back the lands over which they can demonstrate to still hold spiritual and sacred bonds. See Noel Loos and Koiki Mabo and Cedric Wyatt for a better explanation of the constraints and limits imposed on this act and the negative consequences that they had and still have for Mabo and many other Aborigines.

(3) Collins and Davis observe such a shift in all three genres typical of Australian cinema: first, the landscape tradition launched by the AFC sponsored films in the 1970s-the most widely known are probably Peter Weir's Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975) and The Last Wave (1977); secondly, the purgatorial narrative centered around a "male protagonist [who] merely survives ... a pitiless natural landscape in films like Mad Max (1979--plus the sequels), Sunday Too far Away (1981), Gallipoli (Peter Weir 1981), Heaven's Burning (Craig Lahiff 1997), and more recently Yolngu Boy (2002), and finally the suburban grotesque comedy so frequent in Australian cinema as evidenced by the commercial domestic and international successes of Muriel's Wedding (Paul J. Hogan 1994), The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (Stephen Elliot 1994) and Strictly Ballroom (Baz Luhrman 1992) (Collins and Davis 76-78). See Collins's essay "Brazen Brides, Grotesque Daughters, Treacherous Mothers: Women's Funny Business in Australian Cinema from Sweetie to Holy Smoke'" for a detailed discussion of the comedic tradition in Australian national cinema and a discussion of the many Australian women filmmakers who are (re)inventing this genre like Jane Campion, Shirley Barrett, and Emma-Kate Croghan among many others.

(4) This last film follows in the come-back of this world renowned Aboriginal actor--who first debuted at 16 years of age in Walkabout (Nicholas Roeg 1971). After his two successful roles in Rabbit Proof Fence and The Tracker, Darlene Johnson dedicated a documentary to his life Gulpilil: One Red Blood (2002). Ten Canoes sees Gulpilil in the role of external narrator and his son Jamie Gulpilil in his first film role.

(5) See Collins and Davis for a discussion of the contradictions shaping Australian society in the last 10 years (55-56).

(6) I refer to the new monograph on Tracey Moffatt edited by Professor Catherine Summerhayes that Charta Press published in the Fall 2007. The book offers outstanding reprints of Moffatt's photography as well as stills from her films, including her very early works and a sort of photographic diary of Moffatt's career.

(7) See Mirzoeff for a discussion of how colonialism, race, and gender are entangled in the politics of reproduction (173-84).

(8) Moffatt participates here in the reworking and challenging of colonial anthropological discourses carried out by women filmmakers and critics such as Trinh MinhHa and Fatimah Tobing Rony.

(9) See Barbara Creed for a discussion of the film that inserts it into its local and global socio-historical context.

(10) See Mudrooroo and Langton for a debate on the figure of Marbuk and the different readings of Jedda.

(11) See also Julie Marcus on the "appropriation of Ayers Rock" and her comments on how Australian rural folk-songs are indebted to Aboriginal culture. Indeed, indigenous cultures have never received any acknowledgment-and even less economic compensation--for their stories, songs, and legends that have helped create many economically successful books, films, etc. Copyright laws are not designed to recognize the collective ownership of an indigenous culture that can thus be fully exploited to create a strong white industry, which will instead assign intellectual property rights to the individual--or better corporations--that will successfully market and package such indigenous myths (see Miller et. al. chapter four for a discussion of copyright laws and history).

(12) In this context, Gelder and Jacob would employ the concept of the "uncanny" to discuss how Moffatt makes strange the familiar to voice the repressed traumas. I prefer not to rely on such a concept here because I see a risk of the psychoanalytic reading obscuring the highly marked political issue of the land in Australia.

(13) See Gelder and Jacobs and John Wojdylo. The latter attacks Moffatt's excessive formalism and painterly approach to cinema, arguing that her characters are not well-developed and that the whole film in the end "is a simplistic record of typical feelings of the Australian outback, and is an extremely intricate, but not complex, way of saying 'Don't worry, be happy'" (47). The authors insist in defining the characters and the atmosphere of the film as "mundane," completely ignoring the criticism of past representations of Aborigines that Moffatt exerts with her mixture of genres and deployment of the ghost trope.

(14) Thanks to the success of her first two shorts, Tracey Moffatt received various grants to make her first feature film and she could work with a budget of $2.5m funded by The Australian Film Finance Corporation (Summerhayes "Haunting Secrets" 23n2). It thus seems that part of the funds were provided by the more mainstream state funding bodies and more details on the production of the film would shed a significant light on Moffatt's status within the cinematic industry and the possibilities for experimental, Aboriginal films. For more details on awards and production, see BeDevil managed by Prabhjyot K. Bal. and the page under CreativeSpirits.de .

(15) Arguably, the most well-known postcolonial ghost story is Toni Morrison's Beloved, where the ghost stands for slavery and all its abuses. As mentioned above, Aboriginal writers and artists have turned their attention to the work of African-American authors early on and have drawn inspiration from their fights. As for ghosts within the Australian landscape, Gelder and Jacobs in Uncanny Australia also focus on this trope for the post-colonial condition of the Australian nation; their approach draws on Julia Kristeva's Strangers to Ourselves and "her strategy to internalize and individuate the ambivalence as a means of coping with it" (27), where the "ambivalence" can take the figure of the ghost, with whom we need to familiarize (see 30-42).

(16) The possibility of (re)writing history also highlights the narrative nature of history; the ways we can come to see it differently at different points in time, reworking it through our present and future understandings. As Robert Stam and Ella Shohat often stress, relying on the Bakhtinian concept of the chronotope, multiple temporalities also question facile dichotomies of primitive / modern, by showing how different times can coexist at any given historical period in any given place.

(17) In an earlier scene, we watch the young Rick look at the theatre owner on construction site; he returns the gaze to Rick's worried face; at this point, Moffatt cuts to the silhouette profiled image of the theatre owner whose mouth and tongue start resembling those of a menacing snake. The superimposition lasts just a few seconds, but leaves us the impression of a cannibalist white entrepreneur.

(18) The format of the interview recurs in Moffatt's feature film and seems to comment on past ethnographic films and the question of who is given the right to speak. In the film's interviews, we are constantly faced with competing accounts of the same event and we are also led to reflect on the interaction between interviewer and "witness." Summerhayes argues that Moffatt introduces here the "fourth look of the ethnographer" and alerts us to the power relationships involved in such an interaction ("Moving Images" 226). As in her shorts, Moffatt often forces us to acknowledge the act of filming, by having the actor look straight into the camera, into our eyes, making us wonder whom they are looking back at and the subjects of whose gaze are they.

(19) Other criticism was moved to her first portrayal of Aborigines because "at the time of the production affirmative, anti-racist action was well in place and the ideology dictated that black Australians (and all Australian women) should be portrayed positively" (French). Moffatt is well aware of such criticism and irritated by the pressures of "having to present a positive view of Aboriginal life" (qtd in Rutherford 48). Indeed, positive images can just be as damaging in their essentializing Aboriginal identity as negative images. Moffatt's aesthetic wants to prevent any easy naturalization and promote instead a discursive model of Aboriginality shaped by power relationships, everyday practices, and myths. See Langton for a thorough discussion on Aboriginality and a discursive approach to it; see Shohat and Stare--chapter 5--for a thorough discussion of realism and the fallacies of evaluating cinematic representations always in terms of stereotypes.

(20) We might speculate that Moffatt's use of the term "avant-garde" on the lines of earlier movements (the most militant and active being the Argentinean movement for a Third Cinema) "revives the historical sense of the term ... as connoting political as well as cultural militancy, teasing to the surface the military metaphor submerged in the term" (Shohat and Stam 260). Moreover, we could also establish associations with the "Brazilian anthropophagy movement" and the ways it "mingled homages to indigenous culture with esthetic modernism" (310). However, such exchanges beg the question to what extent the Brazilian aesthetic of garbage, Moffatt's experimentalism and others are conscious of the multiple and complex esthetic exchanges at work in avant-garde works of art. They play homage to indigenous aesthetics and European modernism, yet is there a submerged reference to the "debt of the European avant-garde to the arts of Africa, the Pacific region, and the Americas?" (Shohat and Stam 294). Where is traditional Aboriginal art placed within these exchanges? How did it participate in them and is Moffatt commenting on these exchanges in the (re)working of the form? Moffatt's direct reference to Frida Kahlo and her own syncretic art seems to point to a certain degree of self-consciousness in evoking various artistic traditions and questioning binarism of modernist and primitive forms of art.

(21) Further study should explore how audiences at these venues or at festivals and conferences around the globe connect to the experience of other indigenous and marginalized populations. Annie Goldson, for instance, reports that at the "Satellite Cultures" series organized by the New Museum in New York City, an African-American woman upon viewing Night Cries "said that she found the portrait of 'mother' and 'daughter' very affecting. Black artists in the U.S., she stated, often hide non-black parents in the closet" (22). Such an example calls for an analysis of what happens when histories of marginalization and oppression are exchanged and discussed among different groups around the globe. The Internet has already become a place to share these experiences; on www.google.com, for instance, we can find the newsgroup "native" for "People indigenous to an area before modern colonization," and others may exist that can help us understand how diasporas are creating global sodalities.
I was always very--I still am, kind of--political.
   But I wanted to make my own
   images, and not work on political documents.
   I always had my own stories to
   tell. I remember a few radical Aboriginal
   leader-types in the early days saying to
   me, 'Do what you want.' And I just
   needed to hear that. (qtd. in Smee 3)
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