Whose Dreaming? Intercultural appropriation, representations of Aboriginality, and the process of filmmaking in Werner Herzoga's Where the Green Ants Dream

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Journal Article
Studies in Australasian Cinema, 2007, 1 (2), pp. 175 - 190
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In 1983, the German film-maker Werner Herzog realized a decade-long ambition to create a film thematizing the struggles of Aboriginal groups against mining companies in Northern Australia. Where the Green Ants Dream (1984) was ultimately reviled by Australian pundits and also disappointed international critics. However, the film and the story behind its making raise important issues, not only about the creative appropriation of Aboriginal mythology, and the filmic representation of Aboriginality and of the struggle for Aboriginal land rights, but also about the intricacies of cross-cultural collaboration. This article reveals how Herzog relied upon the first land rights court case (Milirrpum v Nabalco) in writing his film script. In doing so, he came up with a hybrid ambiguously situated between documentary and feature film, something which proved uncomfortable for the lead Aboriginal actors Wandjuk and Roy Marika, who had both been players in Milirrpum v Nabalco. This article analyses Herzog's mix of documentary and fiction, examines the film's receptionboth by white Australian critics and by Aboriginal Australiansand argues that, while the film may be flawed, it is valuable because it threw (and continues to throw) light on the processes and pitfalls of cross-cultural collaboration.
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