Big Boss: The urgent need to preserve the knowledge of Aboriginal culture

3. big bossThis is a new feature for FIFO 2015. ‘Inside the Doc’ offers meetings between the public and film protagonists. On Tuesday 3rd February, the producer of the Australian documentary Big Boss responded to questions from Caroline Lafargue, from ABC Australia, then to those from the public.


In the middle of the FIFO village, beneath the huge Maison de la Culture tree, the only spot of shade in the vicinity, Thomas Zubricky faces a small gathering, visibly enchanted to listen to him speak about his film. The Australian is the producer of Big Boss, a 26 min documentary directed by Paul Sinclair that tells the story of a 95-year-old female chief, Baymarrwangga, linchpin to the knowledge and culture of her Aboriginal community. ‘It is vital and primordial to show this type of subject,’ explains the producer before continuing. ‘If we do not, the culture and the language are at risk of disappearing.’ For Big Boss, as she is known in her village on Murrunga Island off Australia, is one of the last four speakers of her language: Yan-nhangu. ‘There is a real feeling of urgency, Baymarrwangga sought to bring her community a codified language that was until now an oral dialect.’ In the film, the old lady is seen with an anthropologist and a linguist who are working together to construct a dictionary so as to preserve this language. ‘The success is extraordinary. From 20 to 30 words, the dictionary now contains thousands,’ enthuses Thomas Zubricky who commends the collaboration between the Aborigines and the film crew. An understanding made possible notably thanks to the kindness of Baymarrwangga who, unable to travel in view of her advanced age, asked her community to cooperate.


Aboriginal filmmakers keen to tell their story


In fact it is a young native, originally from this island, who brought the story to the producer. ‘Today, there are young Aboriginal filmmakers who are emerging, and it is important,’ emphasises Thomas Zubricky who, having understood the importance of this film, provided the filmmaker with a team of professionals for the filming and the editing. ‘Many are having a hard time at the moment, we have to help them because our history has been rewritten by non-native filmmakers too often. And there is a lot of abuse,’ objects the heroine of Black Panther Woman who, here to attend ‘Inside the Doc,’ rightly condemns the exploitation of the history of the Aborigines by non-natives. ‘Are you aware that many of them are suspicious of films produced about their lives?’ she questions in a serious tone. ‘Yes!’ retorts the producer who recalls that the documentary was shown to Baymarrwangga and her community before being finalised. ‘It was important to have their opinion and to know if anything essential had been left out.’ In the end there were few changes, the film was even deemed a resounding success by Big Boss who appreciated this coverage of an essential aspect of her culture. ‘I think that they understood the importance of this visual recording, it will leave a trace in this community.’


An Educational Documentary


It is no coincidence that this documentary attracted the attention of the Australian education system. Broadcast in the land of kangaroos and seen by over 100,000 people, Big Boss serves as an educational tool. ‘Many schools have purchased the rights to broadcast it, there is real interest in this film. In addition an effort has been made to offer a shorter format for a younger audience.’ The interest is twofold, it deals both with the language and the transmission of knowledge but also on the place of women within Aboriginal communities. ‘Women have a well defined place in this indigenous society, just like the men. And each has a role to play,’ reveals Thomas Zubricky. Big Boss plays hers extremely well.