The Big Issue : Edition 532
THE BIG ISSUE 10 – 23 MAR 2017 33 Perkins seems to have another success story to add to her list. At the centre of Perkins’ illustrious career is Blackfella Films, the company she founded alongside the late Michael Riley (a pioneering Indigenous photographer and filmmaker). Since 1992, the enterprise has helped Aboriginal artists tell their stories on big and small screens. It was an important venture for this Arrernte and Kalkadoon woman, who now divides her time between Alice Springs and Bondi. In choosing a name for their company, Perkins and Riley wanted something that reflected their message. “We wanted to be very clear about who was running the company and where the motivation [came from] for the stories we were trying to tell,” Perkins recalls. “There wasn’t a lot of independent Indigenous media companies at that time... We wanted to put that stamp on our identity.” While she lists Australian cinema stalwarts such as Gillian Armstrong, Peter Weir and David Gulpilil as important influences, her biggest inspiration came from the other side of the globe: the Brooklyn-based African- American auteur Spike Lee (Do the Right Thing). “He had set up his own production company called 40 Acres and a Mule,” she explains. “He was really the first strong black filmmaker who had broken through and he seemed to do it on his own terms.” He provided a model for Blackfella Films in “trying to sell work that reached beyond what people expected of us, and define our own success”. What’s more, Perkins says it gave them hope that they could “put back those stories into the Australian narrative that had been denied us” – narratives that were never taught in school. Notably, the award- winning Jasper Jones novel is now included in high school curriculums. Like many women in the Australian film industry, Perkins started out as a producer. But when she saw Louis Nowra’s play Radiance performed in Redfern, Perkins decided to try her hand at filmmaking. Her 1998 adaptation found immediate success, launching not only her own career but also that of actor Deborah Mailman. She followed Radiance with the acclaimed Paul Kelly outback musical One Night the Moon (2001), then in 2008 with the groundbreaking documentary series First Australians, which tells Australian history from a long-overlooked Aboriginal perspective. Perkins describes it like a collage: “Making a film out of little pieces of paper and archival photographs...trying to bring these people to life through little scraps of information.” She then returned to film, adapting the beloved Jimmy Chi stage show Bran Nue Dae (2009), one of the most successful local films of the decade. Next came the telemovie Mabo (2012), about the landmark land rights court case, followed by the pioneering TV show Redfern Now, the first Indigenous drama series on Australian television, which took Indigenous representation into new, unseen territories. Unlike the rest of her eclectic resumé, Indigenous themes aren’t at the forefront of Jasper Jones. They do, nonetheless, haunt this story about a boy coming of age amid tumultuous family secrets – emerging periodically from the shadows like Jasper Jones himself. It’s a telling reminder of the terrible discriminatory mistreatment Aboriginal Australians faced then, and still face now. Perkins self-deprecatingly admits she struggles with writing, preferring to adapt. “It has to have something in it to motivate me to give over a few years of my life to it,” she says. With a hearty laugh, she adds that novelist Silvey is “complicit” in the adaptation of Jasper Jones, “so we’ll have to blame him as well as me in the making of the film”. Following on the heels of local box office hits The Dressmaker and Lion, Jasper Jones aims to be another crowd-pleaser. Like all of Perkins’ work, Jasper Jones strives toward that original goal of transforming Indigenous stories and experiences into mainstream fare, promising to cross the very racial and class divides that the film explores. by Glenn Dunks (@glenndunks) » Jasper Jones is in cinemas now. “SPIKE LEE WAS THE FIRST STRONG BLACK FILMMAKER.” – RACHEL PERKINS TOP AARON McGRATH, LEVI MILLER ABOVE TONI COLLETTE, DAN WYLLIE LEFT RACHEL PERKINS FILMSTILLSFROMMADMANFILMS.PHOTOGRAPHBYLEONMEAD.