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Cinema for Nomads

Just as Nollywood is an example of cultural production reflective of and adding to the notion of “home”, a great number of culturally and geographically displaced peoples can find comfort in diasporic or inter-cultural cinema. People are dislocated for a variety of reasons: war and oppression, such as with the Jewish fleeing Babylon (the origins of the term, diaspora) , something we see now in the refugees fleeing Syria; or the acceleration of immigration to industrial worlds (Tölölyan 1996).

Daniela Berghahn (2006) discusses the notion of Heimat in the films of Fatih Akin, a Turkish-German filmmaker who reached critical and commercial success with Gegen die Wand/Head-On in 2004. Heimat is a German term with no direct translation in European languages. It essentially refers to “home” or “homeland” with social connotations beyond pure geography. It is a uniquely German cultural and cinematic tradition however Akin’s exploration is based around a homecoming journey more closely associated with accented cinema as opposed to the convention of protagonists rooted in one place found in most Heimatfilm (Berghahn 2006 155-156).

The preoccupation with the home space is one constantly thrown in flux by global media. Diasporic film attempts to remedy racial stereotyping found in dominant global media by reflecting the lived experiences of those who have been displaced. As an umteenth generation Australian, I can with some difficulty try to relate. Australia had a very emphatic push towards immigration throughout the 20th century, as well as the diasporic nature of all White Australians being three centuries new to the country.

A recent Australian film that explores some elements of diaspora and displacement is The Sapphires (2012). Four indigenous women form a singing group and perform for troops in Vietnam during the war. Aboriginal communities are portrayed, family relationships, reference to the White Australia policy and racism based on white-passing indigenous children. The film won a number of awards and reached 92% on Rotten Tomatoes, evidence of its cultural value. The following clip shows evidence of diaspora experienced by a white-passing Aboriginal woman during the 60s.

Academic references:

Berghahn, D 2006, ‘No place like home? Or impossible homecomings in the films of Fatih Akin’, New Cinemas: Journal of Contemporary Film, vol. 4, no. 3, pp. 141-157.

Tölölyan, K 1996, ‘Rethinking Diaspora(s): Stateless Power in the Transnational Moment’, Diaspora: A Journal of Transnational Studies, vol. 5, no. 1, pp. 3-36.

Keep Walking – MEDA101 Moving Image Project by Kae McKenzie

Building on my previous spatial portrait, I took the one image that seemed to be the strongest (pictured) and Emily Duncan’s audio snapshot and built a narrative based on the sense of claustrophobia and paranoia that fills a woman walking at night by herself. Sources say that 1 in 3 Australian women between the ages of 15 and 19 years old don’t feel safe in public spaces at night. This is a small improvement on a study conducted in March 2015 that found 40 per cent of women “do not feel safe when walking alone at night in the area where they currently live, compared to 17 per cent of men”.

The combination of darkly lit surroundings, female figure illuminated by sporadic street lights, the passing flash of head lights and the torch on her smart phone are my attempt at showing looming threat of darkness and what could be lurking within. I used camera angles associated with first person hand-cam filming techniques found in immersive horror films and low budget YouTube videos such as the Slenderman in Real Life video shown below. There is a real element of suspense and horror and I tried to play on that with different types of cutting and transition between images.

 

All the images were shot in Fairy Lane and Cabbage Tree Lane in Fairy Meadow. As scary as this place may be, this terrifying feeling can happen to women anywhere. That needs to change.

As the intensity in Emily’s audio builds, the sense of the figure’s panic rises and her hurried motion is shown in the blurriness of the figure as she tries to elude me. I have walked home late at night many times and one thing is always going through my head: keep walking.

 

Walking Alone – MEDA101 Spatial Portrait by Kae McKenzie

can be a dangerous thing to do…

Emily Duncan’s audio snapshot immediately unsettled me. Foreboding sat in my chest and formed a lump in my throat as I remembered walking through Fairy Meadow at night with nothing but a phone to illuminate my way. I wanted to create a series of images set in the walkway along the west side of Memorial Drive between Elliotts Road and Towradgi Road. Even during the day, it can be an aggressive landscape to behold with broken fences coated in graffiti and weeds poking through chainlink. Ed Rusha’s work was a big influence on my use of lighting and exposure in the night shots as well as his off-centre framing.  At night, the darkness closes in and threatens to swallow you. I tried to convey the experience of this walk, of how the space affects you as you move through it.

Cheating – MEDA101 Soundscape by Kae McKenzie

Fairy Meadow is a diverse suburb in Wollongong. In my section, I was lucky enough to have Towradgi Beach Hotel and Waves Nightclub contribute a lot of music to the soundscape. Grand Pacific Drive cuts right through the middle, playing host to a steady flow of traffic passing through, while Wollongong Surf Leisure Resort sprawls across the east between the road and the beach.

Between the gleeful shouts of children and distant thud of bass, I noticed this place was more an empty landscape for others to bring their own sound to. Yes, there was birdcall but in Australia that’s inescapable. Gail Priest’s focus on delicate sounds and simplistic approach to composition has been a big influence on this piece. I tried to focus on the sense of tranquility in the area found amongst the din of so much artificial and natural noise.

The Collector (First Draft)

Blond hair flashed as she ran into the bedroom. The door banged against the frame. When he tried to edge inside, just to finish the conversation, she threw something at him. It shattered against the door where his head had been only moments before.
“Christina!” he yelled. “Are you trying to kill me?”
Another object smashed as it hit the door.
Brad pounded on the door. “Christina, let me in!”
There was no reply, only the sound of drawers opening and closing and the occasional sniff. Moments later he heard something scraping against the wooden floor until it stopped on the other side of the door.
That was it for Brad. He’d had it.

“Have you seen Annie and Mark Matherson lately?” said Shontay in her typically obnoxious drawl.
The women she was standing with tittered their denials.
Shontay smirked. She had them hooked now. “Well, last night I heard,” she began with a grandiose gesture to herself, “their little boy screaming of hours and hours. You know I live just next door? It was the loudest thing; I nearly called the police! But I don’t want to tell anyone how to parent their own child. My Olivia is doing just fine though.”
Shontay gestured towards the swing set where an eight-year-old girl, tall for her age with syrup coloured hair, was kicking her white sandalled feet out in front of her, trying to touch the sky. She watched Olivia whoop with delight then returned her gaze to her audience, a smug smile on her face. They however were no longer tittering with delight.
“Why didn’t you?” said the one with the short brown hair, a serious, almost appalled, expression on her face.
Shontay felt her smile slip just a little. “Why didn’t I what?”
“Why didn’t you call the police?” piped up the blond one. A few of them nodded in agreement. The brunette simply stared at her.
Shontay crossed her arms, clearly uncomfortable.
“You know that family, they let the boy stay up until all hours, give him anything he wants. Ice cream for breakfast! Have you ever heard such a thing? I thought he was just overtired.” Her expressive voice regained its theatricality with each word. “When Olivia was that age, if you didn’t put her down at 2 PM on the dot every day she was a thorn in my side until goodness knows when! I learned that one straight away. I’m sure you all had the same experience.”
As she swept her hand around the group, a few of them nodded.
Later that afternoon, Shontay was helping Olivia with a homework problem when she noticed the silence coming from next door. She went to warm up some malt milk in the kitchen and set up Olivia in the study with a glass, taking the rest over to the Mathersons’ for their unscrupulous little boy but when she knocked on the front door, she found it ajar. Thinking that was odd, Shontay called out for Annie and Mark. No reply came from within the house, although their red Hiyundai was parked in the driveway and the soft murmur of daytime television hummed through the windows of the loungeroom.
Shontay nudged the door open a crack, set the jug of malt milk drink on the hall table and started to poke around. She switched off the television set and picked up the cushions on the ground. There was an upended water glass on the carpet, which she put on one of the Monet souvenir coasters resting on the wooden coffee table.
Thinking she should soak up the spillage to prevent any mould from growing, Shontay set about to find the kitchen. The house had an eerie feel to it: it wasn’t exactly cold but there was an absence of life to it that felt the same as coldness did, as though it had been vacated for a while. In the dining room, the highchair was on its side, pees sprinkled across the ground.
Shontay passed the chair, paused over the mess and decided to move on. A small ball of panic knotted in her stomach. When she arrived at the kitchen, it was thankfully undisturbed. Shontay turned on the tap and reached for the tea towels hanging from the oven door. It was only as she was leaving that she saw the knifeblock and the handle with smallest smear of red on its pale wooden surface.

Brad finished his beer and slammed it on the counter top of the pub. After an hour or two he was hoping Christina would had cooled off enough to talk calmly with him. She was obviously being unreasonable about the whole situation. It was just a few bad deals at the insurance company, a maxed out credit card from her outrageous shopping habits…

On the fourth floor of a relatively small apartment block, the curtains twitched open just a crack. It was late at night. Danny didn’t know how late but sky was dark outside, the stars winking in the spare patches between clouds. His window looked out over the parking lot across the street and a few warehouses either side. It wasn’t much to stare at but he liked to count the number of white lines painted on the black tarmac and watch for birds or bats or rabbits.
Car headlights lit up the street and an old tan Ford slid into view. Danny pressed his ear to the glass, the faint sound of guitars and drums carried through the Ford’s open windows. When the car was parked, a women with a red Fedora got out, carrying a paper bag in one hand and a box propped on her hip.
A man strolled into view, caught sight of the woman and sped up, his hands deep in the pockets of a billowing overcoat. His footsteps echoed off the warehouse walls and the woman finally noticed him. She broke into a run towards Danny’s building and the man raced after her, the blade of a knife flashing in the orange glow of the streetlights. Danny gasped.
“Mum!” he yelled. “Mum! Mum!”
Not hearing any movement from his mother’s room, Danny pressed his hand to the glass then ran to get her.
“Danny, what? What are you doing still up?” She sat up, rubbing her eyes. Her hair stuck up and she reached to smooth it down. Danny grabbed her hand and dragged her to his room, all the while she protested, too dazed to be angry.
Danny shoved the curtains aside and pointed into the parking lot. His mother squinted seeing nothing.
“Danny, darling, go back to sleep. I don’t know what you’re worried about but everything is fine. It’ll beautiful and sunny in the morning, you’ll see. Go back to bed, sweetheart.” She ushered him under the covers, pulled the curtains closed and switched on the nightlight.
“Mum, can you stay a while?”
She smiled. “Sure, honey.” Danny moved over and she lay down beside him.
And then they heard the scream.

The shortcut Brad had decided to take passed through the local reserve. There was a playground with a swing set and slides, a broad grassy field and a path bordered by rocks that divided the sand and water from everything else. The beer Brad had taken with him was nearly empty; he took the last swig and bent down to leave the bottle jammed in the rocks.
Just as he stood a tiny flash of light caught his eye. It was a knife, a long wicked think with a pale wooden handle and a dirty blade. Crude but it would do the job.
Brad picked it up and surveyed it.
No. It couldn’t be that easy. But it would solve all of his problems. Christina was an only child from a wealthy father who’d passed away only a year ago. Her mother had died in childbirth and she had no extended family to speak of. No one would miss her.
No one would suspect… Not if he did it right.

“I want my mummy.” This was the voice of a child.
“Oh sweetie, it’s ok. I don’t know where your mummy is but I’ll take care of you until we find her,” said another voice. It was high-pitched and female, nurturing.
“I’m not sure we will find her.” That was a new voice, a young woman, all husk.
“What are you saying?”
“Where do you think we are?”
“I… I can’t… I don’t know. I don’t see anything.”
“It’s because we’re dead.”
“What’s dead?”
“Sh, sweetie. Give me a minute…
“If we’re dead then what is this place?!”
“Hell if I know! Man came after me with a knife and I was in a hell of a lot of pain. And then nothing.”
“Oh no. Brad, he finally did it… He killed me… My husband killed me for my money… And I was pregnant.”
“What’s dead?!” screamed the child.

#iwishmyteacherknew how much this would have helped me 8 years ago

With the rise of the Internet and the reign of social media, the number of public spheres available to us as private citizens has multiplied. “What is a public sphere?” you may ask. A German guy called Jurgen Habermas fantasised about an 18th century coffee house where anyone could go for news and to debate about ideas. Hannah Arendt likened the public space to a Greek polis. Both examples are limited in the gender and class represented and, as a result, academics have disputed this theoretical framework on many levels. Nevertheless, I agree with Habermas and Arendt in that there are places available for anyone to speak their mind about “activities of the state, or issues of larger socio-political significance”.

If you want your opinion to be heard, just Tweet about it.

Kyle Schwartz is third grade teacher at an inner city school in Denver, Colorado. Every year she runs a writing exercise for her students, giving them an opportunity to tell her something they wish she would know. On March 27 this year, Kyle began sharing some of her students’ messages on her Twitter account. The social media trend has exposed some startling truths about the circumstances children are living in.

Many other teachers saw this and started running the same exercise in their classrooms. The hashtag #iwishmyteacherknew “caught fire”, with many news media websites publishing articles on the phenomena. Even the Sydney Morning Herald had something to say, showing how pervasive this topic of conversation has become.

Twitter has provided a public sphere in which these socio-political issues can be discussed and addressed. By trending on Twitter and catching the interest of news media websites, the discussion and awareness has spread beyond one classroom, a teacher and her students, to classrooms across the world. A Plus writer Mandy Valez is one of many writers using this as an opportunity to raise awareness about the state of living for children, citing statistics such as “one in five kids are supported by food stamps”.

In contemporary public spheres, there is always a level of mediation to be considered. There are certain gatekeepers who decide what does and doesn’t get to be discussed. In this example, the first gatekeeper would be Kyle Schwartz herself. She picked through her students’ responses and posted each individually over a period of a few weeks. Any ensuing discussion on Twitter would be mediated by certain formulas or algorithms built into the website code to scope out socially inappropriate content. Following that, the writers from various news media groups choosing to talk about this topic become mediators in sharing the information however they see fit, within the parameters of their editors.

From what I can see, this example of public discussion seems to be fairly unmediated in that most topics of discussion remain ongoing. I think this is because the subject matter was unexpected and garners sympathy from most viewers. A sympathetic topic of discussion is less likely to be silenced and, who knows, maybe some real change may come from this. At least these students’ secrets are finally out.

You Asked

Nine years ago, my grandmother stopped hearing from Stefan. My mother and I were vacationing with her other brother’s family in Shanghai at the time and my mother and Alex and his wife Louise sat me down and explained, my uncle was missing and I wasn’t to tell my cousins.

I said nothing.

Almost a full month later, my father picked me up from school and took me home to my mother’s. She was there waiting — unusual.

Then she told me he was dead.

As she broke down crying next to me, I let her hold me and I might have cried too. I was shocked and not shocked, at the same time.

Later, I watched a Dutch news report on my grandmother’s laptop about a John Doe with a mermaid tattoo. Parts of the story of my uncle’s demise were filled in. A stranger had been walking his dog through the park and found Stefan’s body three days after the incident. He’d been shot in the head by his neighbour from Thailand, a man who owed him over $100, 000 and who obviously didn’t want to pay it back.

He’s in jail now, I think.

Arabus

There is a sheep farm just outside of Mudgee. The owner is a family friend. He’s also vegetarian; he leaves the carcasses of dead sheep to do the “natural” thing. When I was younger I used to collect the various skulls and bones I found while wandering around his land.

My favourite thing about the farm was Arabus, though. He was a giant white horse with that perfect slow horse gaze. I was fascinated by how he could let flies wander around his big brown eyes, waiting long minutes before blinking them away.

He dispelled many horse myths, for his favourite food was bread and occasionally apples, definitely not carrots. In a torrential downpour I would still pull on my mother’s Gore-Tex coat (more a dress on me), apples in the zippered pocket because no one likes soggy bread, and traipse down to the dam where Arabus was grazing that day.

Arabus was a part of my life even when I wasn’t visiting the farm. If I had trouble falling asleep, which was often, my mother would come into my room and kneel by my bed, stroking my skin until it tingled while she told me stories of Arabus’s adventures on the farm.

He was the great protector of the sheep.