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2nd Australian Video Festival - Aboriginal Programming



The following transpired between Lester Bostock and Arinmarie Chandler as a lead in to the Aboriginal Television forum at the Festival. Lester Bostock is an executive of Koori Productions, an Aboriginal Film Unit. He has worked as a consultant and advisor across the board on Aboriginal issues.

Annmarie: Lester, can you tell us something about the objectives of the newly formed Australian Independent Indigenous Film and Television Producers Association?

Lester: A couple of us had got together, there were people like Tracey Moffat, Charlie Fisher, Chris Peacock, Jerry Bostock and myself. We were very concerned about the ABC setting up this Aboriginal Unit within the ABC for Aboriginal Television and we always have to talk to them as individuals, and every time you talk to the television companies, or institutions, or even film production companies, you always have to talk to them as individual film makers, so we thought the way to overcome this was to form ourselves as an Indigenous Association because as a group we could speak as one voice.

There are a lot of Aboriginal people now involved in filmmaking and television and when I say television I mean video as well and community video programming and there was no cohesive organisation for them to come under, especially independent film makers as a lobby group.
The idea of setting up this organisation was to become a lobby group and to help in formulating an attitude to organisations like the ABC and SBS and what kinds of Aboriginal programming should be produced by these stations. And we were also trying to get commercial stations to approach Aboriginal programming from an Aboriginal perspective.

If these organisations only talk to people as individuals, they can take the attitude of "divide and conquer" because with twenty individuals you have twenty points of view, and some of them would be violently opposed to each other but if you have an organisation, you're speaking as a group from that organisation. At this point the organisation is not an official organisation and it won't be until we've got a number of the Aboriginal Producers and Directors together to come to an understanding of whether such an organisation should exist. At the moment its an idea of a handful of people and this handful have had dealings in the past with the Film Commission, the ABC, the SBS and other organisations like the Film School, the Department of Communications and other government departments as well.

Annmarie: What kinds of problems do Indigenous People face when they want to make a film or video program?

Lester: Well the main problem is artistic control of their works and having white film makers make programs about Aboriginal people
There are two things I'm saying here.
Firstly there are films made for Aborigines, by Aborigines and about Aborigines, which in my mind is an Aborigine produced film. Then you have films that are produced by non-Aborigines about an Aboriginal subject and so that is not an Aboriginal film. I think people get confused about the difference because a film is only Aboriginal when Aboriginal people conceive the idea and make it themselves.

Annmarie: What do you see happening at CAAMA? [1]

Lester: Current Affairs, I believe is one of the main type of programs people will be starting out to produce and documentaries. Nobody is in the position yet to be doing dramas but that is a long-term ideal and will happen after things get underway. This has happened in other countries in the world with Indigenous television in North America and places like New Zealand. I think in Canada with the Indian people, they started off in the early 70's with the CBC having a program called Challenge for Change. Now Challenge for Change is a real milestone in Indigenous television and it's used quite a lot even now as a watershed of what can be done and the people who work for Challenge for Change went on from there to become independent film makers and TV producers. Out of it came a whole series of programs for satellite broadcasting in Canada. I think because of that program you got the Inuit Broadcasting Corporation which now has satellite through the whole North West Territories of Canada and the Polar Arctic areas through North America.

The Challenge for Change program started off by asking what were the needs of Indigenous people and what did they have to say and I think when the satellite starts here, that’s what’s got to happen here. The difference between Canada and Australia is that Canada was prepared to put in a lot of money to start with, not asking for very much in return. In the late 1970's and early 80's the Canadian Government had put something like 40 million dollars to research and develop indigenous broadcasting in Canada but Australian governments are not prepared to do that.

The Canadian equivalent to the Broadcasting Tribunal has now got policies from their organisation and the Department of Communications to broadcast 20 hours of indigenous radio programming and five hours of television broadcasting for each statutory authority and what the Australian government needs is similar policies of x number of hours of compulsory Aboriginal programming.
I think there's one other point that I'd like to make too, I believe very strongly in this. Information for Aboriginal people is a right not a privilege. Its the right to have knowledge and that is linked up with the training aspect and the whole question of making programs from an Aboriginal perspective.

Some programs may be made by Aboriginals for white audiences. An example would be special programs about "deaths in custody' [2]. Now this would be made as a documentary series aimed at the white audience about the problems, reasons and situations of deaths in custody. The Aboriginal audience would know, from first hand what the situation is, but the white audience wouldn't. There would also be programs of cultural interest like the meaning of Aboriginal sites which would be for a white audience.

I think when we talk about the satellite we are also talking about the notion of "embedded" [3] programming which came up a lot during the CAAMA licencing hearing. What do we mean by embedding? Embedding to me means where you get an Aboriginal image on camera of just an ordinary day-to-day person and not a special person who's out there breaking furniture in the community or staggering around drunk. There has been some attempts by programs like A Country Practice and one or two others which have had Aboriginal characters in them as ordinary people, but they somehow miss the point because they didn't have Aboriginal people working on the program as Assistant Directors to give the Aboriginal feel and point of view. Most of these sorts of programs show what a white community think an Aboriginal lifestyle is, and it misses the point because it doesn't have the insight of Aboriginals themselves.

The other area for input is crewing and getting Aboriginals as directors and editors on the production side in influential parts of the production. If you're going to do Aboriginal programs you have got to have Aboriginal crewing.

Annmarie: There are obviously a lot of concerns from Aboriginal people about the policy areas in Communications in relation to program making. How effective do you think our present structures are for representation in these areas?

Lester: They're not. The short answer is they're not. There's never much emphasis given to having Aboriginal people in these decision making positions who have the skills.

When you're talking about Communications, they will have Aboriginal people who are in government departments who have no media skills whatsoever and then say they do have input into the decision making. But these people often have no idea about the media and don't even know what a camera or microphone looks like; have never seen inside a radio studio or a television studio; have never seen a television production team at work and don't know the language. The media has a completely different language and when people are being interviewed for positions in the media they are talking in the language of the media. And so what needs to happen is that people with media skills should sit on those Councils, but they are never called.

Annmarie: Why not?

Lester: Because we are not working in the higher echelons of government departments so we don't have an input and because we are not senior or middle management in the Department of Aboriginal Affairs or the Aboriginal Ads Board, they think we don't have any.

Yet our skills are being ripped off all the time by white media con. sultants who are bought in to advise them, who have come to the Aboriginal people who are working in the media to get the information oft us for nothing. The same could be said for importing overseas consultants to research Aboriginal issues in the media.

[from page 51 of the catalogue]



(1) CAAMA is the Central Aboriginal Media Association, who with their subsidiary Imparja have been granted a Remote Commercial Television licence and are expected to begin satellite transmissions in late 1988. Most of the programming will be purchased from Commercial networks. Between 10-20% will be made by Aboriginal people for Aboriginal audiences.

(2) On average, an Aborigine dies in prison every 11 days.

(3) Embedded programming occurs when Aboriginal characters or issues arise within otherwise European formats and narratives.