Screened as part of NZIFF 2006
The Balanda and the Bark Canoes is one of the more fascinating ‘making of’ documentaries you’ll ever see – just as Ten Canoes is one of the more unusual features. Responding to an invitation to transcribe aboriginal story-telling to the cinema screen, director Rolf de Heer found himself learning on the job. The concept of rehearsal – or any feigned action, it seems – is a violation of basic principles for many of the Aboriginal actors. Stories must be told in the correct order, and not chopped up to suit a location schedule. No man and woman who couldn’t be married in life can be cast as husband and wife. No woman who isn’t playing a wife should be permitted to see the naked men on set – even actual wives are excluded. Second takes are interpreted failure. Ironically the infusion of Aboriginal culture is two-way, with the Aboriginal collaborators reabsorbing much of their own culture – learning how to fashion a bark canoe, no less – from what their forebears revealed to the 30s ethnographic photographer Donald Thompson. His photographs are the model for de Heer’s film.
“Centered on cross-cultural issues tackled by writer-director de Heer, co-director Peter Djigirr and their Aboriginal collaborators, the documentary gracefully illustrates storytelling methodology on both sides of the cultural divide... Taking misunderstandings and near-disasters in its stride, this heartfelt documentary emerges as an uplifting account of how a free-for-all discussion topic evolved into a viable cinematic entity.” – Richard Kuipiers, Variety