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Twelve Canoes cover photo

Twelve Canoes 2009

Highly Recommended

Distributed by Cinema Guild, 115 West 30th Street, Suite 800, New York, NY 10001; 212-685-6242
Produced by Rolf de Heer and Molly Reynolds
Directed by Rolf de Heer and Molly Reynolds
DVD , color, 88 min.

Sr. High - Adult
Art, Anthropology, Area Studies, Australia, Environmental Studies, Geography, History Storytelling

Date Entered: 07/02/2010

Reviewed by Linda Frederiksen, Washington State University, Vancouver, WA

In this beautifully conceived and produced experimental documentary, Australian writer and director Rolf de Heer returns to the site of his 2006 award-winning feature film, Ten Canoes, to further explore the area of Ramingining, located in Northern Territory, Australia. For the aboriginal people of the region, the ocean, forest, wetlands and swamps that surround their homeland form the foundation of an ancient, rich, and diverse history, customs and culture. Since the first encroachment of white people, however, this way of life has been under attack. The twelve chapters of the film (Creation, Our Ancestors, The Macassans, First White Men, ThomsonTime, The Swamp, Plants and Animals, Seasons, Kinship, Ceremony, Language, Nowadays) respectfully recount and preserve the story of the Yolngu, from early myths to the arrival of outsiders to the present day.

No longer in length than 5 minutes, each of the short video and oral history modules, also called tone poems, features traditional or modern artifacts, including art pieces, photographs, and music. Tribal storytellers provide background narration for most of the segments; while others simply use the sounds of nature, not spoken word, to convey meaning. Split screen, multi-screen along with other innovative editing techniques provide further visual impact. The film is part of a larger visual presence housed on the web that includes more details about the project and the subject matter. Accompanied by an excellent study guide, Twelve Canoes is an informative, educational, and thought-provoking gateway to a story and a people too few know.

Highly recommended.