ITW with Martin Butler about « 1st footprints… »
‘First Footprints’: new revelations at the heart of humanity
Australia’s Real History
‘First Footprints’ is the start of a new history Australia: a unique patrimony, crucial for comprehending the Aboriginal people. Through the depths of humanity, directors Martin Butler and Bentley Dean recount the history of the first men who migrated from Africa about 800,000 years ago, to arrive, 50,000 years ago, in a hostile 7,692,024 km2 continent. This series of four documentaries contains a wealth of new discoveries. From ‘Mungo Man’ aged 42,000 years, to the first human face depicted at the amazing site Murujuga, bearing witness to a complex 30,000 year old art, this Mother Earth still has millions of hidden patrimonial treasures. We follow the celebrated or made up path beneath the stars, according to interpretation, to discover exceptional archaeological sites like Gabarnumg with its open galleries dug into the rock thousands of years ago. Proof of the power of those who built these first dwellings, of their incredible ability to perpetrate traditional know how. Indeed a descendant of the Aboriginal tribe that occupied these galleries for generations showed us this place. A new chapter is being written: the incredible history of the Aborigines: a people that has remained connected with its ancestors.
Martin Butler up close:
Of English origin, Martin Butler studied politics and economics at Oxford University before settling in Australia in 1981, where he produced television news bulletins. Passionate about history and an archivist at heart, this Francophone spent his life in the tracks of the duty of remembrance, looking for new history to explore. For 6 years, he worked on the ABC TV programme ‘Four Corners.’ He directed and produced the film ‘Antarctica.’ Won two ‘Walkley’ awards (New York Film and Television best documentary award), two UN Media Peace Awards, and two George Munster awards for independent journalism. In 2009 he won the Documentary Prize at the Sydney Festival with the film ‘Contact,’ that also won the FIFO Grand Prix in 2011.
Interview with fiendish director Martin Butler:
FIFO: ‘How long did you need to produce this 4 part film?’
Martin Butler: ‘One year’s research, three years work, six months filming and eighteen months editing. We knew that it was an ambitious piece of work, it was an important project for the whole of Australia. There was a huge amount of research to check allegations.’
FIFO: ‘Mungo Man has a special place in the film. Why is his discovery so important?
Martin Butler: ‘Work by Australians, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, instead support the hypothesis of a development of homo sapiens in several regions of the world from an older ancestor, homo erectus, who is from Africa and would have emigrated about 1.5 million years ago. This is what Mungo has proved since his discovery, even if his dating has fluctuated. And then he was discovered with red ochre covering him and we know that the quarry where the ochre is found is 200 km away. It was therefore someone important. In addition he was buried in a sacred position with his arms crossed. That is why we assume that it is the first proof of a religious life in the world.’
FIFO: ‘Is the Aboriginal myth of Yingara, mother of creation, the starting point of the film, shared by all Aboriginal tribes?’
Martin Butler: ‘There are over 200 Aboriginal tribes, they all have a different language and their beliefs are different too. It was not therefore possible to find a shared myth to explain Aboriginal history. We looked for a myth that had a connection with the scientific explanations. We know that the first men in Australia came from the north across the sea. We looked for a story that narrated that. The story of Yingara corresponded. We really wanted to start from an Aboriginal base, to explain the scientific discoveries. The real difficulty with this film was to win the confidence of the Aborigines. It was them, who introduced us to their site and to their art.’
FIFO: ‘Is the patrimony of Australian Aborigines, as is understood in the film, yet to be discovered?’
Martin Butler: ‘Yes and it is very important as it is the history of a reconciled nation. We estimate that 10 million archaeological pieces are yet to be discovered. It is fantastic for archaeology, as the Aborigines live with their culture. They have the same beliefs as their ancestors: an awareness that does not exist elsewhere.’
FIFO: ’How is it that this Australian prehistoric history is so little known even in Australia?’
Martin Butler: ‘I do not know, what I do know is that it is the first time that this history will be told and broadcast on television. Archaeologists and scientists know these historic facts, but they have never been revealed to the general public.’
FIFO: ‘How was this film received in Australia?’
Martin Butler: ‘Many people told me that it was fantastic to discover this history, that they understood ‘Australian’ differently. And above all the Aborigines are very proud to have shown their skills. Feedback was very good, it is really encouraging as a new history of Australia is in progress.’