INSPIRED BY THE UNTOLD HISTORY OF AUSTRALIA’S SUGAR SLAVES
‘Blackbird’ is a short narrative film written and directed by Australian Solomon Islander filmmaker Amie Batalibasi. Blackbird was completed in December 2015.
For news, screening dates, behind the scenes photos and updates go to: www.facebook.com/blackbirdfilmproject
‘Blackbird’ tells the story of Solomon Islander siblings, Rosa & Kiko, who were kidnapped from their island home to work on a sugar cane plantation in Queensland, Australia in the late 1800s. Rosa struggles to keep an eye on her young spirited brother who comes into conflict with their Overseer. And as Kiko journeys into adulthood amidst oppression and severe loss of culture and identity, he must find his will to survive.
This short film shines a light on a little known and dark part of Australia’s history.
“The Australian South Sea Islander community played a significant role in the development of Australia’s sugar and cotton industries. Between 1863 and 1904, an estimated 55,000 to 62,500 Islanders were brought to Australia to labour on sugar-cane and cotton farms in Queensland and northern New South Wales. These labourers were called ’Kanakas’ (a Hawaiian word meaning ’man’) and their recruitment often involved forced removal from their homes. This practice of kidnapping labour was known as ’blackbirding’ (’blackbird’ was another word for slave). They came from more than 80 Pacific Islands, including Vanuatu (then called the ’New Hebrides’) and the Solomon Islands, and to a lesser extent, from New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea, Kiribati and Tuvalu.” SOURCE: www.humanrights.gov.au
I have dedicated this film to three of my ancestors who were blackbirded (kidnapped) from the Solomon Islands to work on the cane fields and were never seen or heard from again. This story was inspired by thinking about what might have happened to my them. Furthermore, knowing that the history of Australia’s ‘Sugar Slaves’ is not taught in Australian schools and that it remains largely unknown throughout the world, gave me the passion and determination to embark on an interstate and international collaborative film project.
The community collaborative filmmaking approach was of paramount importance and was key to a successful shoot and maintaining relationships with Australian South Sea Islander (ASSI) communities who are descendants of those 60 000 Islanders who were blackbirded. Community consultation was vital and we drew on the local ASSI community for local knowledge, support and to appear as extras in the film. In this way we were able to link the actual history, to the telling of this narrative by directly involving the ancestors of those Islanders whom the film depicts. The main roles of Kiko and Rosa were sought in the Solomon Islander community with a young aspiring filmmaker travelling from the Solomon Islands to be in the film. I also drew on my own Solomon Islander family for support and consultation. We really fostered a collaborative environment during the making of this film with students, professionals and community working together. We came away feeling nourished and even changed by the experience.
Stylistically I wanted to juxtapose the beauty of the rainforest, beach and cane fields with the harshness of the story’s reality – the life of the protagonists as slaves, stolen from their homeland. I wanted to captivate audiences with this interplay of location and characters, with elements of dream sequences and Islander culture, accompanied by a very contemporary soundtrack for this period film set in the late 1800s. By telling the story of one young man and his loss, I hoped to evoke the darkness and the tragedy behind this period of Australian history.
AWARDS & GRANTS
• ‘Best of the Fest’ Award, Pasifika Film Fest, Sydney/ Brisbane, 2016.
• Moving Clickers ‘Kickalong’ Award for Postgraduate FTV (Narrative) Production Script Award, VCA School of Film and TV, Melbourne University, 2015.
• Recipient of the 2015 Panavision Script Production Award, VCA School of Film and TV, Melbourne University.
• Recipient of the Margaret Lawrence Social Justice Award 2015, VCA School of Film and TV, Melbourne University.
• Recipient of funding from Regional Arts Development Fund (RADF) – Mackay City Council, Queensland State Government, 2015.
• PBS 106.7 FM Radio Interview, ‘All Our Stories’ Program, Melbourne, 30 November 2015: https://.org.au/taxonomy/term/160/2015-11-30
• “Blackbird Interview with Amie Batalibasi” Greg King’s Film Reviews, Podcast, Melbourne, December 2015: http://filmreviews.net.au/blackbird-interview-with-amie-batalibasi/
• “Short Film Highlights the History of Blackbirding”, ABC Tropical North, Mackay, Qld, 28 July, 2015: http://www.abc.net.au/local/photos/2015/07/23/4279350.htm
• Radio New Zealand International, Radio Interview, 7 July 2015 with director Amie Batalibasi: http://www.radionz.co.nz/international/programmes/datelinepacific/audio/201761262/film-to-explore-blackbirding-of-solomon-islanders
• “Blackbird Takes Flight”, The Star Weekly, Melbourne, 24 June, 2015: http://www.starweekly.com.au/features/blackbird-takes-flight/
• “Bittersweet – sugar cane’s history exposed by Footscray filmmaker”, West Art Now, Blog, 17 June, 2015: http://www.westartnow.com.au/blog/2015/6/bittersweet-sugarcanes-dark-history-exposed-by-footscray-filmmaker
• “Blackbird’ the Film”, Solomon Star, Honiara, Solomon Islands, 10 June, 2015: http://www.solomonstarnews.com/news/national/7308-blackbird-the-film
• “Australian South Sea Islander history to be reflected in short film”, ABC Tropical North, Mackay, Queensland, 10 June, 2015: http://www.abc.net.au/local/photos/2015/06/10/4252329.htm
• “Filmmaker draws on family history in her documentary”, The Daily Mercury, Mackay, Queensland, 6 June, 2015: http://www.dailymercury.com.au/news/filmmaker-draws-on-family-history-in-her-documenta/2663013/
• Guest Speaker: Australian Association for Pacific Studies Inaugural Epeli Hau‘ofa Annual Public Lecture: ‘Black Australia: entangled histories on Queensland’s cane fields’, James Cook University, 29 May, 2015: http://pacificstudies.org.au/?tag=aaps-agm
Maoriland Film Festival, New Zealand, 2017
imagineNATIVE Film Festival, Toronto, Canada, 2016. Participant: 2016 imagineNATIVE Story Lab.
New Zealand International Film Festival, Auckland, New Zealand, 2016
WINDA Film Festival, Sydney, Australia, 2016
Skábmagovat Film Festival, Inari, Finland, 2016
Pasifika Film Fest, Sydney & Brisbane, Australia, 2016. Winner: Best of the Fest Award
Wairoa Maori Film Festival, New Zealand, 2016