We Are Still Here (82 mins) (Rating: mature audiences)
Screening in cinemas
The first person to bring an image or hard copy of this review to Starlight Cinema Taupō qualifies for a free ticket to We Are Still Here.
Eight directors from both sides of the Tasman, supported by Screen Australia, the New Zealand Film Commission and Te Mangae Paho, are behind We Are Still Here, a standout post-colonial anthology about power, strength and survival which opened last year’s Sydney Film Festival.
The main concept of this important film is that power, strength and survival mean something completely different to indigenous people than they did, and do, to people in positions of authority.
Made as a response to the 250th anniversary of Captain Cook’s arrival in Australia and New Zealand, the film begins with a beautifully animated sequence of a Māori mother and daughter fishing from a kayak in a vast ocean, pulling up fish until the sky becomes threatening and something huge takes the mother’s line: a massive whale-like galleon emerges, a symbol of colonial disruption, destruction and impending disaster.
The sequencing of the ensuing eight stories begins chronologically. In 1862, in Central Australia’s Arrente Country, a trigger-happy British settler on horseback confronts a spear-wielding Aborigine tribe. The settler wordlessly communicates that he’s lost. A tribesman compassionately uses his tracking skills to locate the man’s family, camped in the outback. His kindness backfires on him, but his spirit survives.
Essentially, We Are Still Here is a series of stories about the price the indigenous people of Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific have had to pay for their survival after being colonised. On the one hand, the film shows how their good intentions have been abused over the decades and how hopeless it seems for them to regain their lost freedoms. On the other, it shows how something bigger than any of us has enabled them to preserve their inner beings.
With clever interweaving, the film shows eight ugly, brutal, desperate situations: the 1864 Te Urewera story of courageous Tūhoe wāhine toa Te Mauniko (Tioreore Ngatai-Melbourne) going into battle for the pā at Ōrākau, coming back broken; Villa Lemanu giving a startlingly memorable and deeply personal insight into going crazy in the trenches of Gallipoli in 1915; the Springbok Tour protest of 1981, with the 28th Māori Battalion song featuring during a horrific scene of police brutality; the 2021 Invasion Day protest by graffiti artists in Naarm Melbourne; and chillingly, a koro passing to his moko his treasured pounamu in post-apocalyptic environmentally devastated Tāmaki Makaurau/Auckland in 2274.
Unforgettably, Aborigine Ken (Clarence Ryan) tries to buy alcohol in the Northern Territory’s Mparntwe, only to be confronted day after day by an officious black-lives-don’t-matter sort of cop. Sassy Ruby (Megan Lilly Wilding), flirting outrageously with Ken, says, “Sorry you had to go through that yesterday, and the day before that, and the day before that.” Ken replies, with a happy little swagger, “It’s all right. I have thick skin.” Sure Ken, many will want to say, thick skin is necessary, but hardly sufficient to ensure meaningful survival.
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