Yamaji stars

Perun Bonser.

THE link between Aboriginal culture and the wonders of the universe are explored in the ground-breaking film Star Dreaming at CinefestOZ.

Featuring WA’s first mobile dome cinema, filmgoers will be immersed in the magical tale of two children exploring the cosmos through the world’s largest radio telescope and the ancient story-telling of Yamaji artists from mid-west WA, where the telescope is located.

The entertaining and educational 45-minute film was directed by Perun Bonser, who grew up in Broome and is a descendent of the Bununba Clan.

“I always get personal fulfilment making indigenous content, even just viewing indigenous films fills me with pride that our stories are being told and our culture is being celebrated,” he says.

“I consider myself pretty lucky being able to work on these films and need to remind myself every day how much of a privilege it is to not just be a filmmaker but also to tell a story you’re so passionate about telling. It’s a very special feeling.”

For the unique blend of science and art, the filmmakers consulted with renowned astrophysicist professor Steven Tingay and Yamaji Art Centre’s Charmaine Green, who features in the film.

Green introduces the two children to artists in the region like Margaret Whitehurst and Wendy Jackamarra, who explain their ‘sky stories’ including The Emu in the Sky which is projected onto the dome. 

A stunning blend of the Milky Way and Yamaji art, we get to see a spiritual Emu directed towards eggs by the constellations.

Star Dreaming also features CGI animation of Aboriginal artworks, illustrated by local Yamaji artists, and actors shrunk down to the sub-atomic level.

Bonser says making a 180 degree ‘dome’ movie presented lots of technical challenges, especially in the searing desert heat.

“Unfortunately there is no rule book so we did a lot of test shoots, made a short proof-of-concept, and made a lot of mistakes to learn from, because filming in the middle of the bush in 45-plus degree heat with every fly in the Pilbara dive-bombing into your mouth is not the time or place to channel your inner Michael Bay!” Bonser says.

Scientists from the Square Kilometre Array and Yamaji artists will attend the premier of Star Dreaming on August 25.

The construction of the Array, to be built 800km north of Perth on the ancestral lands of the Yamaji people, follows in the wake of the International Space Centre at UWA opening this year.

WA’s space legacy stretches back to 1962 when Perth residents were encouraged to turn on their lights so they could be seen by astronaut John Glenn during America’s first orbital spaceflight.

The event was famously fictionalised in The Right Stuff with Aboriginal elders telling visiting NASA staff they had knowledge of the universe, and lighting fires to signal Glenn in the Friendship 7 capsule.

“I’m not sure that’s exactly how the scientists and the Yamaji interacted, but I think there are similarities in how both viewed the universe but you could also say that about virtually every culture on the planet,” Bonser says.

“Utilising cutting-edge technology I am in awe at what humans can discover about the universe but I am absolutely astounded at how observant and ingenious we are without it.” 

Star Dreaming will screen everyday at CinefestOZ Film Festival from August 25-29. Tix at cinefestoz.com.

by STEPHEN POLLOCK

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