Midway through 2007, at the Garma festival near Yirrkala, some short, experimental films made by young Yolngu film workers were premiered. A year later, a clip made by the same team to illustrate the story of a new bark painting was submitted as part of an entry to the Telstra Indigenous Art Award and won a prize. By this stage, the Mulka Project was attracting attention not just as a spin-off from Yirrkala’s Buku-Larrnggay art centre but as a cultural venture in its own right. It had funding; it was supplying footage for exhibitions and commercial film productions; it was beginning to function as an archive of cultural heritage footage, films taken by anthropologists during previous decades and available for viewing in a special public booth in a new extension of the centre.
The Mulka Project is being guided by its co-director Wukun Wanambi, one of the most admired artists of Buku-Larrnggay and a leader of the Marrakulu clan. In its initial phase, Randin Graves, a Californian Fulbright scholar researching the yidaki (didgeridoo), helped shape the venture and its ambitious aims. But Mulka’s energy comes from the young. During its first year it had 15 youthful casual staff drawn from various Yolngu communities and 40 senior Yolngu working intermittently as film crew, translators or research consultants.
As other Aboriginal organisations are glumly cutting back, Mulka hopes “to build a larger permanent staff as more Yolngu get experience with us, see the products of the work so far and learn the potential of digital media”, the centre says. That early promise has already been fulfilled in the form of a pacy show reel DVD of the first Mulka clips. Some of the material can be viewed on the art centre’s website or on YouTube, the communication portal of choice these days in Arnhem Land.
Nhama! Short films from Yirrkala, volume1 collects an intriguing range of Yolngu-directed dramas and mini-documentaries, including a look at the new women’s healing centre in Yirrkala; a rap video on the charms of the country; re-enactments of ancestral legend; and a long clip of the Chooky Dancers, the teenage ensemble from nearby Elcho Island, going through their up-tempo steps at Yirrkala basketball court, while camp dogs wander in and out of shot. Plans for further cultural video projects are well advanced in the wake of song cycle recording sessions that have captured the voices of three generations of singers from one clan.
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