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Message Sticks Festival 2011

Media release: Wednesday 06 April 2011

Film Festival, Live Music, Performance and Discussion
12-15 May, Sydney Opera House
Presented in association with Blackfella Films and Screen Australia

Message Sticks returns to Sydney Opera House from 12-15 May 2011, showcasing the best of Indigenous cinema from Australia and around the world.   Launching at Sydney Opera House, the festival then tours nationally from May to August.

Message Sticks is an integral part of the cultural calendar and reflects Sydney Opera House’s commitment to support Indigenous art and culture. Now in its 12th year the festival will present free screenings of feature, documentary and short films along with filmmaker Q&A sessions, performances for children aged 2-5 years, musical cabaret featuring Ursula Yovich and a panel discussion examining Indigenous storytelling in the performing arts.

Head of Public Programs at Sydney Opera House Ann Mossop said, “This year we are delighted to bring back a variety of artforms to the Message Sticks festival. Powerful films are complemented by music and vibrant discussion with the leading figures in Indigenous arts.  Young audiences are catered for as well with performances from our Babies Proms series which this year celebrates its 30th anniversary.”

Curators Rachel Perkins and Darren Dale from Blackfella Films added,  “Indigenous storytellers continue to surprise and move us with extraordinary stories from the cities and the bush. From traditional dreamtime tales to the challenges of contemporary Indigenous life, our filmmakers give an insider view of what it means to be a black Australian in the twenty first century.”

Opening the festival is the Sydney premiere of Beck Cole’s debut feature Here I Am.  It tells the story of Karen, a young woman with a dark past and a burning desire to turn her life around.  When released from prison she begins the difficult journey of reconnecting with her mother and daughter. Soon she has to face the difficult truth that shame is a powerful force and sometimes the most important person to forgive is yourself.  Shot by Warwick Thornton (Samson and Delilah), the film marks the return of Professor Marcia Langton to the screen.

Fresh from the Berlin Film Festival, where it was awarded the Crystal Bear and best first feature, On The Ice, an engrossing and suspenseful feature film debut by Andrew Okpeaha MacLean from the Inuit nation.  The first of six Australian premieres, it follows two teenage boys who go about their lives in the comfortable claustrophobia of an isolated Alaskan town. Early one morning, on a seal hunt with another teenager, an argument quickly escalates into a tragic accident. Bonded by their dark secret, the two best friends are forced to create one fabrication after another in order to survive.

The Australian premiere of Grab by Native American director Billy Luther, is an intimate portrayal of Grab Day in the villages of the Laguna Pueblo tribe in New Mexico. An annual community-wide prayer of abundance, thanks and renewal where water and food is thrown from the rooftops, Grab Day exists at the intersection of traditional Native and contemporary Western cultures.   Luther's film follows three families as they prepare for the event, chronicling their lives leading up to the big day.

In another Australian premiere, And The River Flows On, Mexican director Carlos Pérez Rojas examines the conflict between the Mexican government and the Indigenous communities threatened by the creation of the La Parato hydro-electric dam in Guerroro.  Since 2003 the government has been pushing to build the dam which would flood several communities south of Acapulco. As the people rise up in opposition, tensions run high in the communities and violence escalates.

Shifting Shelter 4 is the premiere screening of the latest instalment in a documentary series by Australian director Ivan Sen which follows the lives of four young Aboriginal people living in rural New South Wales.  From the teenagers full of hopes and dreams in the first Shifting Shelter in 1995 to today’s adults dealing with the harsher realities of life and raising their own families, Shifting Shelter charts the lives of Aboriginal people in a way that no other documentary program ever has. 

In celebration of Nganampa Anwernekenhe (Our Stories), Australia’s longest running Aboriginal television series (now in its 21st year of broadcasting) is a double header premiere of films inspired by the series. 

Tales From The Daly is a journey into the lives of the traditional owners who call the Daly River region home.   Directed by Steve McGregor the film tells the story of The Wabuymem, the grey spirit that lives in the Banyan Tree lying in wait for curious children.   Crookhat And The Kulunada from Australian director David Tranter explores the Dreamtime stories and culture of his Alyawarra heritage - stories of the Rainbow Serpent, Kulunada, and of the violent past of the white settlement of the area.

This year’s shorts program features five of the best new films from Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the USA.  Two Worlds (AUS) shows a young boy caught between two cultures, Wappaweka (CAN) explores an inter-generational rift between a young Cree man and his traditional father.  In Stones (USA) a forlorn woman living in isolation with her husband meets a child and contemplates whether to bring her into her mystical world, Ebony Society (NZ) sees two boys learn a lesson when out stealing and in the comedy The Biggest Port (AUS), two Murri old girls get caught off guard.

This year Message Sticks expands beyond film to include more artforms and artists.  Taking over The Studio for a three night residency is singer and actress Ursula Yovich performing the musical cabaret Magpie Blues.  The story of growing up in Darwin with an Aboriginal mother from Arnhem Land and a father born in Serbia, Magpie Blues is a rich, complex and engaging experience that reveals the depth of Yovich’s extraordinary talent.

Offering something for younger audiences is I See (Ngarrany Nhama Dätiwuy Ngath I Man) presented by NAISDA Dance College in association with Sydney Opera House.  This Babies Prom  promises to be a fun and engaging way for children aged between 2 and 5 years to be introduced to some of the music, dance and storytelling from Indigenous nations around Australia.

In the panel discussion hosted by Rachel Perkins, Telling Indigenous Stories, Bangarra artistic director Stephen Page, Art Gallery of New South Wales curator Hetti Perkins, theatre maker Wesley Enoch and film directors Warwick Thornton and Andrew Okpeaha MacLean will share their experiences of Indigenous storytelling.  The discussion examines how traditional storytelling evolves and how artforms and audiences shape the stories that emerge.

Members of the public also have the opportunity to see how the filmmaking process begins at the AFTRS Pitch It! session.  Ten aspiring Indigenous filmmakers can pitch their idea to a panel of broadcasters LIVE in front of an audience, with the winner receiving $4,000 in prize money.

Screenings will be followed by Q&A sessions with the subjects and directors of the films.  Visit for more information.

Steven Reilly, Sydney Opera House / 9250 7411 / 0434 148 504 /

Thursday 12 May
7.15pm                   Gala opening night – Here I Am  (AUS) - The Playhouse

Friday 13 May
10am, 11am,12pm  I See (Ngarrany Nhama Dätiwuy Ngath I Man) - Utzon Room
7pm                        On The Ice (USA) - The Playhouse
8.15pm                   Magpie Blues featuring Ursula Yovich - The Studio

Saturday 14 May
10am, 11am,12pm     I See (Ngarrany Nhama Dätiwuy Ngath I Man) - Utzon Room
11am                         Here I Am (AUS) - The Playhouse
2pm                          Grab (USA) - The Playhouse
4pm                          Shifting Shelter 4 (USA) - The Playhouse
6pm                          And The River Flows On (MEX) - The Playhouse
8pm                          Tales From The Daly (AUS) - The Playhouse
                                 Crookhat And The Kulunada (AUS) - The Playhouse
8.15pm                     Magpie Blues featuring Ursuala Yovich - The Studio

Sunday 15 May
10am,11am,12pm     I See (Ngarrany Nhama Dätiwuy Ngath I Man) - Utzon Room
11am                        AFTRS Pitch It! session - The Playhouse
2pm                          Shorts program: Wappaweka (CAN)  - The Playhouse
                                                          Two Worlds (AUS)
                                                          Stones (USA)
                                                          Ebony Society (NZ)
                                                          The Biggest Port (AUS)
4pm                          Panel discussion - The Playhouse
7.15pm                     Magpie Blues featuring Ursuala Yovich - The Studio

• All sessions except opening night and performances of I See and Magpie Blues are free. 
• Tickets can be collected from the Playhouse foyer one hour before each session starts.  Tickets to film screenings are limited to two per person.
• Tickets for I See and Magpie Blues can be purchased online at, in person at the box office or by calling 9250 7777.  Limited tickets for the opening night screening are also available to purchase via these channels.

Message Sticks will tour nationally between May and August to Blacktown, Brisbane, Canberra, Melbourne, Broome, Perth, Townsville, Alice Springs, Yirrkala, Cairns and Darwin.  For national tour details visit


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