Interview: John Hughes, member of the jury Australian director

Producer, scriptwriter and director for more than 40 years, John Hughes’ work explores Australian art, culture, politics and history. His films have received many honours, at home, as well as abroad. Creative and committed, with pertinence John Hughes’ films accurately reveal a reality which is often not obvious.

Had you already heard about FIFO before being invited?

Yes, I had heard about FIFO through friends who have had the pleasure of attending in past years. Otherwise, I really discovered FIFO through its website, which is very helpful. The selection of films seems particularly rich and interesting.

You are a scriptwriter, director and producer: how did you achieve this?

I “learnt on the job” as it were; I did not go to film school, but I have been producing, writing and directing now since the late 1970s.

Is it, according to you, a vocation to make documentaries?

Yes, I think there is a particular desire to work in the documentary tradition; it is a way of being engaged with the world, and I love the creative challenges of documentary storytelling.

Have you already thought about fiction?

Some of my work has explored the borders of fiction/non-fiction in its methods. And, yes, I made a drama feature in 1995 ‘What I Have Written,’ (selected for Competition at the Berlin Film Festival and Best Film ‘Mystfest’ winner, Italy 1996).

Aborigine life seems to be your ‘favourite’ subject at the moment. How did you develop this sensibility?

Yes, I have been very fortunate in having the opportunity to work with Australian indigenous people on a number of projects involving land rights, (“Moments Like These” 1989, “After Mabo”, 1996, “River of Dreams”, 2000) and Australian indigenous history in general.

What do you think of Oceania documentary production?

I’m very excited about the opportunity to learn, thanks to FIFO, about new documentary work from Oceania; there are so many globally significant themes and concerns common to the diverse people from Oceania, there are so many intriguing stories and unbelievable ideas… I’m interested to learn more about the development of public broadcasting in Oceania too, particularly with TNT.

What do you expect from FIFO as a member of the jury?

I’m very much looking forward to meeting my fellow jury members, filmmakers and other guests, and keen to be able to watch so many new films! Lastly, visiting Tahiti delights me. I would like to know more about the French Polynesian environment…

What are your forthcoming projects?

My new projects are at a very early stage. One concerns an Australian poet Judith Wright, and her work, and relationship with a very influential political advisor ‘Nugget’ Coombs; they worked together on a crucial project about environmental and indigenous rights. The other is a film project about the ‘1970’s cooperative movement.’ Towards the end of the 1960s and 1970s, independent film directors gathered throughout the world to deal with the distribution of their films, but also sometimes to direct them. This union permitted them to work together, as well as with different social movements (ecologists, feminists, etc.).

Today, these co-operatives have become rare, as directors are more likely to be in competition against each other, rather than working for a common cause.

Some of John Hughes’ documentaries

Indonesia Calling: Joris Ivens in Australia – Australia – 2009 – 90 min

Producer: John Hughes

Two weeks after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Indonesian Independence leaders proclaimed “Indonesia Merdeka!” freedom for a new Indonesian Republic and an end to Dutch colonial rule. Internationally renowned Dutch filmmaker Joris Ivens, here in Australia as Film Commissioner for the Netherlands East Indies government in exile, resigned from his position and in collaboration with Indonesian, Chinese and Indian activists and Australian trade unionists, local artists and filmmakers, made Indonesia Calling a film documenting the crucial role of Australian trade union support in the establishment of the new Indonesian Republic.

River Of Dreams – Australia – 1998 – 52 min

Director: John Hughes

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

After Mabo – Australia – 1997 – 84 min

Director: John Hughes

After Mabo was filmed during 1996 and 1997. It provides the most relevant ‘snapshot’ from that period of the land justice issue as it unravelled over an eighteen month period. It dispels many of the myths about native title and exposes the real political and economic agenda behind John Howard’s ‘Ten Point Plan’. The film takes us behind the doors as indigenous representatives attempt to fight the amendments in the media, in the bush and in the halls of Parliament House, Canberra.