Academic journal article Framework

Re-Staging Two Laws: An Interview with Alessandro Cavadini and Carolyn Strachan

Academic journal article Framework

Re-Staging Two Laws: An Interview with Alessandro Cavadini and Carolyn Strachan

Article excerpt

The collaborative ethnographic film Two Laws (AU, 1981) was and still is a groundbreaking work of documentary cinema, even though more people have heard or read about the film than have seen it. Made by two white filmmakers, Alessandro Cavadini and Carolyn Strachan, at the behest (and with the participation) of four Aboriginal language groups who were involved in a prolonged land claim struggle with the Australian government, Two Laws was many things at once: a collaborative work of advocacy filmmaking in the political tradition of film collectives like Frontier Films, the Dziga Vertov Group, or Ogawa Productions; an experiment in reflexive anthropology inspired by recent theoretical developments in the academic world, but with little investment in the codes and institutions of that world; a legal document, designed to enter and influence the formal spaces of what the film's subjects called "white" or "European" law; a work of radical theater with roots in Brecht and other European modernists; an inscription of collective memory, meant not only to provide its subjects with an opportunity to perform for themselves sacred rites, but to provide as well a lasting image of these rites, one that could also remind others in a similar struggle with the state to stake a claim to their ancestral lands. For such an important work of filmmaking, the film has received relatively little attention from critics and scholars, an oversight due in no small part to the film's erratic public life, limited by the insistence of everyone involved with the project-both white and Aboriginal participants-that videotape and the small screen that has been the native environment of video would degrade the testimonial and memorial aspects of the film no less than its aesthetic ones. The advent of DVD, large-screen televisions, and high-quality video projection in private and public spaces convinced the film's makers that the time had finally come to make it available in forms other than the faded 16mm prints (or worse, the blurry bootleg VHS tapes) in which viewers had experienced the film for over twenty years. On the occasion of this long-delayed and long-anticipated DVD release, the filmmakers took part in a series of public conversations about the film in 2008, culminating in this written interview, which focuses-unlike other writings and interviews on the film-on the social and cinematic techniques of reenactment that make it a distinctive work of art, of history, and of culture.

Jonathan Kahana: The two of you regularly open screenings of Two Laws with a message from the Aboriginal people who commissioned the film, and who collaborated on it. I wonder whether you have any qualms about us conducting this interview in their absence, or whether it would be appropriate to invoke or address them from the beginning of what we say here?

Carolyn Strachan: Whenever we discuss the film, we always emphasize the collaborative nature of the filmmaking; it is this quality that makes the film valuable after all these years. Additionally, promoting the film is our job as filmmakers, but more importantly is our assigned job as tribal members to preserve, maintain, and honor this piece of tribal law and history.

Alessandro Cavadini: Since parking ourselves in New York in 1982, we have always kept in touch with the community of Borroloola. We have kept the community informed of our involvement with and the status of the film. In 2006, Facets Multimedia, with Jill Godmilow and the two of us, began the production of a DVD for Two Laws. (It was released in September 2008.) In 2006 a new situation arose in Borroloola: some of the land that was requested in their original land claim would finally be returned to them officially. We went back to Borroloola for the first time since completing Two Laws to record this historical event. The intention was to integrate this moment into the DVD, via the "extras" that format allows. We are in touch with the new generation of Borroloola people who were very young in 1979. …

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