Aboriginal movies & DVDs

Movies with Aboriginal content were rare before the mid-1990s. It wasn’t before the international success of the movie Rabbit-Proof Fence that the awareness for Aboriginal issues increased, even in Europe where this film was screened for almost half a year in Germany. Many of the films listed here are available on DVD or Blue-Ray.

Browse movies by Aboriginal directors

Movies by Aboriginal directors
These movies were all directed by an Aboriginal person. Their content might not relate to Aboriginal culture.

Browse movies by non-Aboriginal directors

Movies by non-Aboriginal directors
This section lists movies with Aboriginal topics which were directed by non-Aboriginal people.

Need help finding a film?

Browse the timeline: An Aboriginal film timeline lists all movies in chronological order.

List of suppliers: Can’t find a film? Check out my supplier list and tips on how to find Aboriginal films.

Buy DVDs: Browse for Aboriginal movie DVDs in my Aboriginal Book Store.

If you have heard of a movie not listed here, please contact me.

Cinema is performance, that's how us blackfellas have connected with it. It's where we come from, with our storytelling. A lot of dreaming stories are about moral stories and news and teaching… that's the way Indigenous filmmakers are thinking.—Warwick Thornton, Aboriginal director [1]

Selected statistics

Box office result of Bran Nue Dae in July 2010, which is the second best of the past 12 months [2].
Box office result of Samson And Delilah in July 2010, which puts the movie in sixth place [2].
Number of documentaries in the 1980s with Aboriginal credits [3].
The same number for 2000 - 2010 [3].
Number of TV viewers who watched Bran Nue Dae. Same number for Australia: 0.978 million [4].
Number of feature films/TV dramas with an Aboriginal Australian in a key role in the 1970s [5].
The same numbers for 2000 - 2010 [5].
Number of shorts directed by an Aboriginal director in the 1990s [3].
The same numbers for 2000 - 2010 [3].
Number of videos the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies needs to digitise before 2025 or their content will be lost [6].
Number of audiotape reels directly related to film material the Institute needs to preserve [6].

How can Aboriginal films support teaching?

The Aboriginal film industry has come a long way—Aboriginal directors shoot films with both traditional and contemporary content, and non-Aboriginal directors leave behind common stereotypes and realise the diversity of Aboriginal topics they can use for their movies.

Students and teachers can benefit from this rich array of films. You can use movies of the 1960s and 1970s to teach about blackface and why no Aboriginal actors were used, as well as stereotypes or racist legislation such as the White Australia policy. There are plenty of documentaries that can support teaching Aboriginal studies.

If time is short, the many Aboriginal shorts can be used. They can be humorous, stern, informative or highly critical and political. Many come as a set on DVD compilations, for example Bit of Black Business.

Aboriginal films also allow to investigate how different - or alike - Aboriginal directors and non-Aboriginal directors cover topics.

With quite a few films freely available on YouTube they can become part of assignments and student essays, or even part of an online test:

  • Should Aboriginal stories only be told by Aboriginal writers and film makers?
  • What are some of the social and political reasons for why it has taken so long for positive Aboriginal films to be made in Australia?
  • How has Aboriginal representation changed in films over time?
  • What are some of the core political messages and demands found in films by Aboriginal writers and directors?
  • What are some of the Aboriginal issues, inherent in Australian society, that are yet to be told on film?

Study guides

Take advantage of the study guides that accompany many films. The following companies offer teacher’s notes or study guides for download on their websites:

Aboriginal film festivals offer opportunities to watch contemporary works and engage with actors and directors in Q&A sessions. It allows students to get up and close and ask the questions they have prepared prior to visiting the festival.

Periods of Aboriginal film

Aboriginal film has changed significantly over the last 100 years. Here are the rough main periods [7]:

Uncivilised (1930s-1950s)

This period focuses on the conflict between white settlers and Aboriginal people who are portrayed as ‘black devils’, violent, uncivilised, murderers and an inferior race. Aboriginal Australians on film are often played by non-Aboriginal people in blackface.

Examples:  Uncivilised (Chauvel 1936), Bitter Springs (Smart 1950), Jedda (Chauvel 1955)

Mysterious and misunderstood (1970s)

Aboriginal characters start playing a greater role in films. Films present them as helpful, kind and knowledge-keepers of the land. But they appear separated from both non-Aboriginal actors and audience, and presented as mysterious and misunderstood.

During this period the first films appear shot by Aboriginal directors (who are often young and fiery activists), discussing social and political Aboriginal issues.

Examples: Walkabout (Roeg 1971), Ningla A-Na (Cavadini 1972), Blackfire (McGuiness 1972), Stormboy (Safran 1976), Backroads (Noyce 1977), My Survival as an Aboriginal (Coffey 1979)

White Australia’s black history (1980s)

In the 1980s the Australian public - and with them non-Aboriginal directors - started to wake up to the fact that Aboriginal history since white settlement was more complicated and shocking than they had acknowledged: Stolen land, stolen wages, stolen children, massacres, deliberate poisoning, abuse and discrimination in all forms.

Examples: Lousy Little Sixpence (Morgan 1982), Crocodile Dundee (Cornell 1985),  Always Was, Always Will Be (McGrady 1987), Australia Daze (Fiske 1988)

Terra Populus (1990s)

The struggle of Torres Strait Islander Eddie Mabo to have his rights to ancestral land recognised, and the subsequent 1992 Mabo ruling of the High Court exposed the myth of ‘terra nullius’, and recognised the rights of Aboriginal people to land. The Mabo Case influenced the portrayal of land in many films that followed.

Other films assert the impact of activists on government policy and the Australian public’s perception of Aboriginal issues.

Examples: Night Cries: A Rural Tragedy (Moffat 1990), Tent Embassy (Peters-Little 1992), Vacant Possession (Nash 1994), The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert (Elliot 1994), Mabo: Life of an Island Man (Graham 1997), Radiance (Perkins 1998)

Reconciliation efforts (2000s)

Mainstream television, notably ABC and SBS, broadcast or help produce more films that address Aboriginal issues and experiences and what it means to be Aboriginal in contemporary Australia. Some have become classics of this time.

It is also a time where films start laying bare Australia’s racist past and the abuse of Aboriginal people, making audiences identify with Aboriginal characters, even if this meant siding against the white characters.

Aboriginal directors use film and television to document their cultures, promote social change and to entertain.

Examples: Land Of The Little Kings (Kootji Rayond 2000), Yolngu Boy (Johnson 2000), Australian Rules (Goldman 2002), The Tracker (de Heer 2002), Beneath Clouds (Sen 2002), Rabbit Proof Fence (Noyce 2002), Ten Canoes (de Heer 2006), Samson and Delilah (Thornton 2009), Bran Nue Dae (Perkins 2009)

Aboriginal film festivals

Check out the following pages to find the program of the Message Sticks Indigenous Film Festivals in Sydney:
2013 Message Sticks Indigenous Film Festival program
2012 Message Sticks Indigenous Film Festival program
2011 Message Sticks Indigenous Film Festival program
2010 Message Sticks Indigenous Film Festival program
2009 Message Sticks Indigenous Film Festival program
2008 Message Sticks Indigenous Film Festival program
2007 Message Sticks Indigenous Film Festival program

A lot of whitefellas in the press put shit on Aboriginal communities. That's one of the reasons why I make films.—Adrian Wills, Aboriginal director [8]

From traditional dreamtime tales to the challenges of contemporary Indigenous life, our film-makers give an insiders' view of what it means to be a Black Australian in the 21st century.—Rachel Perkins, Aboriginal director [9]

We’re not trying to educate people; we’re just trying to give them access to a life that they might not have ever seen before. That for me, is the beauty of what we do as filmmakers; that special thing of showing people a different world, and helping them one screening at a time.—Warwick Thornton, Aboriginal director [10]

Movies listed for research

Many more films are out there. I’ve created a list of movies waiting for research where you might find a film not listed here.

Fact: The original versions of more than 90% of all Australian films made during the pre-1930 silent era are missing.

We've had plenty of so-called Aboriginal content created by non-Aboriginal producers, writers and directors. But the issue of Aboriginal control is paramount. Now is the time to invest in genuine Aboriginal screen culture as the unique film sector of tomorrow.—Michael Coughlan, director of an Aboriginal film skills training company [11]

Aboriginal actors eager

“People have to start from somewhere and you would be surprised how many Aboriginal people have a desire to be on the screen and give it a go,” says Aboriginal director Beck Cole. “If people keep casting the same people over and over again, we’re not going to build up that body of skills and people to draw on.” [12]

Fact Aboriginal actor Steve Dodd played a blind man in the movie The Matrix.


View article sources (12)

1. ^ 'Shot from the heart', Deadly Vibe 147, 5/2009 p.5
2. ^ a b SMH, 17/7/2010
3. ^ a b c d The Black List: Film and TV projects since 1970 with Indigenous Australians in key creative roles
4. ^ 'Networks hit movies', MX News 2/5/2011 p.2
5. ^ a b 'Filmmakers celebrated', Koori Mail 486 p.19
6. ^ a b 'Samson and Delilah-Director's cut', Reconciliation News 8/2009 p.7
7. ^ ‘Indigenous film’, Australian government 22/7/2008, http://www.australia.gov.au/about-australia/australian-story/indigenous-film, retrieved 28/9/2015
8. ^ 'Tears, laughs and plenty more', Koori Mail 476 p.28
9. ^ 'Networks hit movies', MX News 2/5/2011 p.2
10. ^ 'Samson and Delilah-Director's cut', Reconciliation News 8/2009 p.7
11. ^ 'Film strategy', Koori Mail 487 p.40
12. ^ ‘Cole’s debut feature film a part of Message Sticks’, Koori Mail 499 p.6

Cite this article

An appropriate citation for this document is:

www.CreativeSpirits.info, Aboriginal culture, retrieved 25 November 2015