What does it mean to be a man in an Aboriginal family when your brother is disabled and your father is cruel? And how do you reconcile your brother’s clear connections to land and spirit when your father wants him, and quite possibly you, dead?
Our Longmore Student Fellow Nathan Burns interviewed Nathan Mewett, Co-Director of this year's Superfest - Best of Festival Award, which will screen at #Superfest35 this October 15-17. Read on and make sure to reserve your pass to Superfest now.
NB: What inspired you to create Yulubidyi - Until the End?
NM: It was a combination of a couple of things. Firstly I was writing and researching a feature film script based on disabled perspectives (something that is still ongoing). Secondly I had met and become friends with Martu (Australian Aboriginal) filmmaker/artist Curtis Taylor who was from the an area of West Australian desert near where I grew up. We had wanted to work together, specifically back home in the Western Desert regions and thought we could combine those elements with some of the elements from the feature script I was working on. The film Yulubidyi became something else entirely unique, but this is the basic genesis for our collaboration and the film.
NB: What made you decide to bring disability into this story? Did you have any personal relationship with disability?
NM: I think myself and Curtis Taylor both looked to bring something to the screen that hasn’t been seen before. With Yulubidyi in particular we both really liked the idea of ‘shining a light on disability in remote Aboriginal communities’. I personally had an interest in disabled perspectives which has since led to me doing disability support work in between my film-making practice. I have been researching disability for over 10 years and wrote my Master's thesis at the Australian Film Television and Radio School on ‘creation of disabled and Indigenous characters through a co-authorship practice’.
NB: What’s the biggest take-away you hope audiences will get from your film?
NM: I think the biggest thing is to ‘not judge a book by its cover’. This speaks to disability but also culturally in the strength of protagonist Brianol who has a cultural connection and power that belies his initial appearance.
NB: At Superfest, we often talk about disability being a creative and generative force in filmmaking. Rather than the "in spite of your disability" stories, many of our filmmakers find that their disability impacted their filmmaking and led to the unique voice or aesthetic their film brings. Does that resonate with you at all? If so, how?
NM: Yes it totally resonates. This film is 100% created through the strength of our lead actor Trenton Samson and his perspective is ingrained in every frame and helped guide the creative process. Trenton is a huge film fan who lives in the small Aboriginal Community of Jiggalong where the whole family/community help him out with his disability, so his perspective is very unique. When we first started making Yulubidyi he sat myself and Co-Director Curtis Taylor down separately and basically auditioned us by making us show him our past films (to see if we were ‘real filmmakers’). He really helped drive the whole film.
NB: How do you think your film challenges and/or improves traditional filmmaking/storytelling about disability?
NM: When researching my Masters thesis on disabled representation I came across many representations and in some ways you could argue that the character Brianol falls into the ‘super-crip’ stereotype, but I think the film challenges this (or at least brings a new perspective) by incorporating the cultural strength he inhabits and the elements from Aboriginal culture, dreaming and spirituality. On top of this there are elements to the narrative that speak to historical pre-colonial Aboriginal culture and disability. Our Noongar (Australian Aboriginal) Producer and scholar Dr Glen Stasiuk taught me early on about disabled people’s role in nomadic tribes and how they were sometimes left behind. I think these idea’s can be grasped universally as a form of metaphor, yet in terms of Yulubidyi are unique in their connection to Aboriginal culture.
NB: Yulubidyi - Until the End highlights the intersection between Australian Aboriginal cultures and disability. Please discuss how that intersection shaped both the story and the filmmaking itself.
NM: I am myself not Aboriginal so it seem’s more appropriate that Co-Director Curtis Taylor and Producer Glen Stasiuk speak to this. I can personally say that leading up to filming we spent much time in the communities involved and with their input sought to make the most authentic representations possible and tell the story they wanted and were happy with.
NB: What surprised you while making this film?
NM: Personally I found the level of community involvement in Trenton Samsons care something I hadn’t experienced before. His family travelled with us whilst shooting (a large group of cousins) yet we also had to pitch in a lot and myself and Co-Director Curtis Taylor quickly learnt how to aid in the personal care of a disabled person. Trenton is truly inspiring and surprised me daily whilst shooting. Also, for myself as a non-Aboriginal person the level of acceptance and collaboration I felt from the community (knowing my background having grown up in the region) was humbling. There was a lot of trust needed in making this film and it’s hard to describe how we got there but it was surprising and very heart warming.
NB: What about your film are you most proud of?
NM: I’m most proud of being able to give Trenton Samson the opportunity to go down a red carpet when we were nominated for the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts Awards. Being able to take him to Sydney all the way from Jiggalong for the awards was a proud moment and I hope brought him a lot of joy.
NB: Film festivals like Superfest showcase those stories that Hollywood often leaves behind. What do you want to see happen next for disability in film, on both a large and small scale?
NM: I think more investment into disabled creatives and creating collaborative endeavors such as ours that put the disabled perspective at the forefront of the decision-making process is important and integral to telling authentic stories and I hope that this is adopted more. We were adamant with Yulubidyi that we used someone living with disability and not an ‘able bodied actor’ to portray the protagonist (against advice) and I would like to see this becoming the norm moving forward with disabled representations.
NB: What are you currently working on?
NM: Basically just developing lots of stuff and hoping to one day soon make a feature or long form series. I am still working on and finding disabled collaborators for the feature film script that first inspired Yulubidyi and continue my own research and support work in the disabled community whilst working on it (currently it’s called Gilding The Lily). Curtis Taylor and I have made a short ‘proof of concept’ short film called Jadai: The Broome Brawler which is currently doing festivals - It is a boxing film based on Curtis’ grandfather and we are developing a feature film version. I have also written a treatment for a feature film version of Yulubidyi that would be great to make someday but would take a great leap of faith and trust from investors to make correctly.