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International Day of the World’s Indigenous People is a time to celebrate and acknowledge indigenous stories – and what better way is there than through documentary film?
The International Day of the World’s Indigenous People commemorates the first meeting, in 1982, of the UN Working Group on Indigenous Populations of the Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights. Reflecting the purpose of the first meeting, it celebrates the diversity of the world’s indigenous peoples, while also aspiring to the larger goal of recognising, promoting, and protecting the rights of all indigenous people everywhere.
Documentaries are a meaningful way to celebrate and educate about traditional cultures around the world, with filmmakers preserving on film powerful stories that might otherwise be lost or overlooked. One such person is Australian-born director Charlie Hill-Smith. After straying from the tourist-beaten track in Indonesia in 1999, director Hill-Smith blithely stumbled into West Papua from New Guinea. Here was a massive province that barely any traveller had mentioned before, despite being the second-largest island on Earth, in close proximity to Australia, and home to a huge array of human languages. Hill-Smith quickly came to realise that what they were encountering was neo-colonial tyranny writ large: the ruined landscape of a secret and undeclared war, where the indigenous population were being killed in the name of politics and resources by an Indonesian-backed armed force. And yet Hill-Smith also encountered a thriving culture of art and music, carried by the people most affected by the violence. Inspired to share their story, he made Strange Birds in Paradise, a film that seeks to engage with its audience through the lens of art, music, and story. Bringing together four friends and music, the stories of West Papua’s indigenous peoples, with experiences spanning over 50 years, begin to be told.
This UN International Day of the World’s Indigenous People, spread the message by engaging with indigenous stories through film.
Written by Tara Janus