Animating country

Students from Griffith Film School and Falmouth University have created a stunning dreamtime film with Indigenous Elders from outback Queensland, using stop-motion animation to tell ancient stories.

The three minute stop-motion film, Butterfly Dreaming, was created by Bachelor of Animation students for the recent Vision Splendid Outback Film Festival in Winton.

Since 2015, Griffith Film School has been taking Australian and international students on field trips 1,100 km northwest of Brisbane to the heart of the state’s outback.

Griffith Bachelor of Animation students and their counterparts from Falmouth University in the UK worked with Koa elders Minnie and Michael Mace on the project, which was completed in four days and screened on the closing night of the film festival.

The brief was to work exclusively with materials in the landscape, responding to the concept of ‘country’.

Cultural connections

Animation Program Director Dr Peter Moyes said the collaboration with Indigenous Elders was a vital part of the Outback Filmmaking Bootcamp.

“The bootcamp is designed to instil resilience and teamwork in these young filmmakers, and to develop an ongoing connection to the Australian outback,” he said.

“We started working with Aboriginal Elders from the Koa mob last year. We wanted to nurture a respect and understanding of Aboriginal culture within the broader national context of reconciliation.”

An ‘awe-inspiring’ experience

Second year Bachelor of Animation student Maya Westbury said the trip had been “awe-inspiring”.

“We spent the first few days hanging out with the Koa mob. They took us up to the hilltops out in the national park and did a smoking ceremony, and asked the spirits to let us into their country,” she said.

“They do a lot of work reconnecting people with their land, and it is such a special place for them.

“It’s a beautiful landscape, it’s really something else. It’s so empty, but so vibrant – everyone was so inspired.

“We wanted to make something that was really specific to the time, place and people we were with.”

A race against time

Maya said the film, narrated by Elder Minnie Mace, was a collaborative effort, with everyone pitching in to meet the intense deadlines.

“We had three days to complete the stop motion and a day to edit,” she said.

“It’s definitely the fastest I’ve ever worked and there were a lot of late nights.

“But it was a great kickstart to the system – I came back to uni ready and rearing to go.

“I feel more confident in my ability to work under pressure, and produce something beautiful in a short amount of time.”

‘They’re learning and we’re learning’

Koa Elder Michael Mace said it had been a two-way learning experience.

“This is my grandmother’s country,” he said.

Koa Elder Michael Mace

“When I was born, they were still transporting our people off this country and taking them to missions. It took us more than a century to get back.

“It’s great to go back a couple of weeks a year and spend time in our country with these up and coming filmmakers – they’re learning and we’re learning.

“It was pretty impressive seeing the dedication of the students involved – they were out working on the film until all hours of the night.

“I think it was a revelation to us that the students were able to get our story out there in that amount of time.

“Most of our stories are oral histories, and now there is a concrete example of what can be done.”

‘The film blew me away’

Koa Elder Minnie Mace

Elder Minnie Mace said the animation had captured the dreaming story in a powerful way.

“The film blew me away,” she said.

“The butterfly is one of our dreaming totems, and projects like these help keep our stories alive.

“This is my passion in life – if we can understand each other’s cultures, the world will be a much better place.”

The film was animated by Griffith Film School animation students Nathanael Moore, Samantha Zaleski, Tabby Caton-Rose, Yo’el Hill, Maya Westbury, Louise Harris, Jack Sutherland, Dom Harlow, James Huen, Rebecca Hardess and Jelena Priebbenow.