An official selection of this 20th FIFO, Ablaze is the intimate portrait of an Aboriginal man. Bill Onus was a cultural leader but also an actor and an activist. With this film, the director Alec Morgan tells the story of this amazing personality through the quest of his grandson Tiriki. A film where we can discover unpublished images and a life of struggle.
It is a bit like a police investigation, it all started with the discovery of some old films from the 1940s in the national archives. On some of these silent films, one man in particular appears regularly, we see him playing boomerang or backstage of a theatre where a play with aboriginal actors is being performed… But who is he and what was he doing there?
At the National Archives, a specialist in Aboriginal history recognized him: he is Bill Onus. Director Alec Morgan and producer Tom Zubrycki became interested in these films and decided to contact Bill’s grandson, Tiriki. “He knew that his grandfather had made Super 8 films, most of which were burned and therefore lost, but he didn’t know that Bill had also filmed in 35 millimetre. When Tiriki saw the films, he was amazed, fascinated and surprised by what he saw. He wanted to know more,” says Tom Zubrycki, producer of Ablaze. So Alec Morgan, the director, and Tiriki went fishing for information and discovered a charismatic man who wrote and directed plays with strong messages. His purpose: to denounce his people’s situation and promote aboriginal culture. He himself was a boomerang champion. “He did it to communicate the importance of culture to the Australian public. It was his political act. You could say he was the first indigenous filmmaker. Bill was a hero, he had to face a lot of difficulties to get his message to the aboriginal people and he was even considered a dangerous man by the authorities“.
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As time went on, it became clear that this man’s story needed to be brought to the screen, so Alec Morgan filmed Bill’s grandson in his quest: Following him for 5 years, 5 years of searching to discover the full importance of this man’s message, the full importance of what he left behind. “His legacy is very important. That was the main reason for making this documentary. We don’t have a lot of data from those years so it’s valuable. Bill’s role was really to show how disenfranchised his people were. It was a huge challenge and his role should not be forgotten“, says the producer who made it a point of honour to have the documentary shown on Australian television channels, in Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities and of course in schools. “This film permits us to provide information. For Tiriki and his family, it was important to show the truth and pass it on. Documentaries have an important place in education and for today’s and tomorrow’s generations”. Purchased by ABC, Ablaze has been available on demand for the past eight months, it’s a great success and after the FIFO, it will continue its journey to other countries.
Suliane Favennec– FIFO