River of Dreams - screener

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River of Dreams

Film by John Hughes

Year: 1999, 52 mins
Code: JH-River
ISBN: 978-1-921895-14-2

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River of Dreams explores the radically divergent approaches to ‘country’ between indigenous and non-indigenous people, conservationists and developers at Fitzroy River, in the ‘remote’ Kimberley region of northwest Australia.

River of Dreams shows the implications for Indigenous people as developers seek to dam the river and develop huge cotton plantations. Aboriginal performance artist Ningali Lawford, who was born in Fitzroy Crossing, narrates this imaginative and rich account of differing visions for the future of ‘landscape’ and ‘country’ in contemporary Australia.

Writer / Director: John Hughes
Producers: Donna Cameron, John Hughes

John Hughes is one of Australia’s most respected documentary (and drama) film directors, his work having won many awards. The films are usually Australian in orientation, examining art, cultural politics and history.  The work is often intensely research driven; the films are serious investigations into their material. Also they have cinematic creative flair.  His credits are numerous, starting in the early ‘70s with short films such as Nowhere Game, through to acclaimed documentaries in the ‘80s such as Film-Work, to the narrative feature What I Have Written in the ‘90s, and onto the recent award-winning documentaries The Archive Project (2006) and Indonesia Calling: Joris Ivens In Australia (2009).

Hughes was honored with Film Australia’s coveted Stanley Hawes Award, for Achievement In Documentary in 2006, and the inaugural Joan Long Award from the Australian and New Zealand Film History Association (2006).

Winner, United Nations Award for ‘Best TV Environmental Reporting’.
Winner, Best Indigenous Resource, 2000 ATOM Awards.
Finalist, Best Secondary School Education Production, 2000 ATOM Awards.
Selected for screening, BANFF Television Festival, 2000.

“River of Dreams is ostensibly about local response to plans to dam the Fitzroy River in the Kimberley region, though curiously the viewer is not told until well into the film that those plans have been abandoned – in part due to pressure from Aboriginal interests and environmentalists.  It is a great subject for a documentary: it is about land and wealth, dispossession and belonging; history and passion; and two very different ways of seeing the country.” - Asa Wahlquist, The Australian, October 14, 1999.

This fascinating documentary tells the story of the clash between indigenous and white man’s values and attitudes to “land”, narrated by the Aboriginal performance artist Ningali Lawford in a bitingly acerbic style.

The film uses a lyrical blend of filmic styles and montages as well as archival footage (including one darkly funny old newsreel footage from the ‘60s extolling the virtues of the white man coming in to take over the big, “empty” northwest).

While there’s a minor victory in the resolution, developers are still busy draining water from subterranean basins. The battle goes on.” - Jane Freeman, The Sydney Morning Herald, October 11, 1999.

John Hughes has a unique film style.He layers images and texts using a Dadaist technique to provoke a critical reading of the film.  This makes his films complex to watch because they work outside a familiar film language and do not meet our expectations.  Hughes likes to challenge the viewer on all levels.” – Catherine Gough-Brady, Dox Magazine, Winter 2009.


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