The 36th Annual Margaret Mead Film Festival was held in New York City at the American Museum of Natural History this year from November 29 through December 2. The longest-running showcase for international documentaries in the United States, the festival encompasses a broad spectrum of work from indigenous community media to experimental non-fiction.
Each year the festival presents the Margaret Mead Filmmaker Award, which “recognizes documentary filmmakers who embody the spirit, energy, and innovation demonstrated by anthropologist Margaret Mead in her research, fieldwork, films, and writings. The award is given to a filmmaker whose feature documentary displays artistic excellence and originality of storytelling technique while offering a new perspective on a culture or community remote from the majority of our audiences’ experience.”
I’m delighted to be able to report that this year one of two Special Commendations for the Award went to Miyarrka Media for their film Manapanmirr.
According to its website, “Miyarrka Media is a media collective based in the community of Gapuwiyak in northeast Arnhem Land, Northern Territory, Australia. It was formed to enable Yolngu to creatively use new media technologies at a community level. Working under Yolngu direction, Miyarrka’s goal is to use media to respond to contemporary Yolngu concerns and in the process, open up new possibilities and spaces for cultural expression and exhibition. Miyarrka Media was founded in 2009 by Paul Gurrumuruwuy, Fiona Yangathu, Jennifer Deger and David Mackenzie. It operates under the auspices of Gapuwiyak Culture and Arts Aboriginal Corporation.”
Just a year ago, Miyarrka Media presented the premier of a closely related work, Christmas Birrimbirr, at the Chan Contemporary Art Space in Darwin. Where that work was a three-channel video installation augmented by the construction of forest of Christmas tree sculptures, photographs and other video, Manapanmirr presents the story on a single screen with English subtitles. If Christmas Birrimbirr was made to allow art gallery audiences to share the experience of both the grief and the joys associated with the Christmas season in Gapuwiyak, Manapanmirr makes that experience accessible to wider audiences through its use of subtitles and a streamlined narrative presentation.
Watch the Manapanmirr trailer here.
Some additional information from the Film Festival’s site:
The complex sorrows and joys of Christmas in northeast Arnhem Land, one of the largest and most isolated tracts of Aboriginal land in Australia, are imbued with the transformative cycle of life, death, and rebirth. This film examines how stories first brought by missionaries in the mid-20th century have become the basis for celebrating the enduring place of the ancestral in the modern world. Manapanmirr, an expression that refers to a state of being joined or brought together, is a theme that pervades this moving film, which grew out of the filmmakers’ ongoing explorations of Yolngu image-making and aesthetics, a two-decade project of creative collaboration with Yolngu artists and performers.
“’Manapanmirr’ means to ‘come together’. All of us were drawn together to tell this story. It belongs to the places and the people of Miyarrka, to each and every person you see in this project, and to the spirit of Manapanmirr.”
– David Mackenzie | Miyarrka Media
“Our stories come from the old people, they belong to the land itself.”
– Paul Gurrumuruwuy | Miyarrka Media
“It’s only our story if we tell it our way. That means refusing to explain everything away in other people’s terms, risking misunderstanding for truths that matter.”
– Jennifer Deger | Miyarrka Media