Film as Text: Ten Canoes

3 June 2009

[UPDATE: 14 June 2010 – This article is now available online in full here.]

Yolngu storytelling in Ten Canoes

NOTE: This article discusses the theatrical version of Ten Canoes containing Yolngu language with English subtitles and English narration by David Gulpilil.

Group%20Canoes%203567 smallTen Canoes is an extraordinarily unique film about the Indigenous Australian Yolngu people, who live in Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory. Under the combined direction of acclaimed Australian filmmaker Rolf de Heer (The Tracker, Bad Boy Bubby) and Peter Djigirr, a local man from the Arafura Swamp region where the film was shot, Ten Canoes combines Yolngu storytelling traditions with a Western approach to narrative cinema. It is not so much the story itself that is of interest in Ten Canoes but the way the story is presented. While conventional filmic techniques are used to indicate different time periods and the division between subjective occurrences and objective occurrences, the way these boundaries are collapsed and the way the story is layered reflects the importance of storytelling to the Yolngu people. As the unseen Storyteller (David Gulpilil) tells us, ‘It’s not a story like your story, but it’s a good story’.

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