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Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Ten Canoes


This film came about partly as an act of remembering. David Gulpilil, who worked with director Rolf de Heer on "The Tracker" invited de Heer to visit his home in Arnhem Land.

While there, he suggested they should make a film about this place. Gulpilil told him they would need ten canoes. He then showed de Heer a photograph, taken by anthropologist Donald Thomson during the 1930s, showing ten men in canoes on the Arafura Swamp, collecting magpie-goose eggs.


"The Goose Hunters of the Arafura Swamp" (1937), photo by Donald Thomson, showing Ramingining men on the Arafura Swamp


The Ramingining community were keen to dramatise this traditional food gathering, but it required skills that had almost died out. Only a few of the senior men knew how to construct bark canoes, so the sequence in the film where they do this is partly an exercise in renewal.

"Ten Canoes" is a strange beast, both ethnographic document and high-spirited flight of whimsy: a curious mixture of entertainment and anthropology. Any notion that this is “high” or “low” art can be quickly dispelled; this is quintessentially a film about people and storytelling.

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