Namatjira Project
R0 - Australia - Umbrella Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (17th March 2018).
The Film

"Namatjira Project" (2017)

Albert Namatjira was born on July 28th 1902 in the Hermannsburg Lutheran Mission outside of Alice Springs, Australia. His life took a turning point in 1934 through the meeting of Australian landscape painter Rex Battarbee, who introduced the 32 year old Namatjira to watercolor painting. Already interested in art, Namatjira's hobby turned into a passion, and eventually captured the hearts of the entire Australian nation, becoming the first Aboriginal artist to achieve recognition. Reproductions of his artwork of landscapes would be displayed in exhibitions as well as schools and homes. At a time when Aboriginals were not considered Australian citizens, Namatjira was even given special citizenship which allowed him to vote and also buy alcohol - white privileges of the era.

Though he may have risen to a positive image for Aboriginals and Aboriginal rights, struggles in his later years from alcohol related incidents, wrongful incarceration for two months, poverty due to his limited income with the government taxing him as a "citizen", and death at the fairly young age of 57 on August 8th 1959 - Namatjira's life was with excess and in-excess. He may have met Queen Elizabeth II but he lived in harsh conditions. His name was known to all in the country but Aboriginal rights movements were slowmoving.

The largest issue that came after his death was the copyright status of his work of thousands of paintings. Though he left all his assets to his family in his will, the copyright of his artwork was sold two years before his death. For years his descendants have fought to have the royalties from his work return to the rightful hands of Namatjira's blood. In 2009 the Namatjira Project was formed by art group Big hART in conjunction with Namatjira's descendants to cement the legacy of the late artist and for future generations to see. The project runs art workshops for rural areas for children to learn about art and Aboriginal culture, as well as a theater group that runs the award-winning play "Namatjira" which is a stylized story of the life of Albert Namatjira with song, dance, and art. While the main goal for the Namatjira Project is to continue renewed interest in the public and to educate the youth, the other major goal was to have the legal issues of copyright to be reverted back to the family.

The film "Namatjira Project" looks at everything related to Albert Namatjira - his life and his death as seen through vintage film footage, photographs, plus interviews with his descendants and people that knew him. In addition the film features the cast and crew of the play "Namatjira" with behind the scenes footage, rehearsals, performances, and interviews with the creators and with the family. The issue of the copyright status is also touched upon and what the people behind the Namatjira Project were doing to continue the legal battle, with exhibitions domestically and abroad. The story is a fascinating one in the world of art and in modern Aboriginal history, and while the film tries to capture as much as possible, structurally the documentary does suffer from an inconsistent tone and pacing. The introductions of each subject seem to breeze through fairly quickly rather than establishing what the project was about and who the man was and what he became. Granted many Australians may not need an introduction, it would have been welcome to start at ground zero to cover the story from start to finish.

Speaking of "finish", a major milestone happened after the completion and screenings of the film. In October 2017 the copyright status was finally reverted to the descendants of Albert Namatjira. It took more than half a century, but justice has been applied, with the money legally moving to the family as well as the community. Documentaries do have the power to cause change. "Dear Zachary" caused change to Canadian law protecting children. "The Thin Blue Line" freed a man from prison. "Blackfish" saw a significant reform in the treatment of killer whales at Sea World, to an extent. "Namatijra Project" can also be gratefully added to the list.

Note this is a region 0 PAL DVD which can be played back on any Blu-ray or DVD player with PAL capability

Video

Umbrella Entertainment presents the film in 1.78:1 with anamorphic enhancement in the PAL format. For the vintage footage, it is windowboxed at 1.33:1 in the frame. The interview footage, behind the scenes footage, and all newly shot footage looks fairly good color reproduction and depth for the standard definition transfer. Depending on some scenes it could look a little blurry such as the footage at Buckingham Palace, most likely due to the cameras used. The vintage footage has its share of problems with blurriness, scratches, and other damage inherent to the original materials. Overall it looks very good and should have no complaints from audiences.

The runtime is 86:09.



















Audio

English/Western Aranda Dolby Digital 5.1
The original audio is presented in 5.1. It is a mostly interview heavy audio track so there is not much workout in terms of the surround channels. Most of the dialogue is fairly good, but depending on the environment. Music does use the left and right surround channels when necessary but do not expect a well enveloped audio track but more for a basic documentary work where the voices are the key. The vintage newsreel audio sounds much weaker, but there are subtitles to caption the hard-to-hear portions.

There are burned-in English subtitles for the main feature for the Western Aranda portions and some harder-to-hear or hard-to-understand English portions. The subtitles are well timed and free of major errors.

Extras

"Namatjira Legacy Trust iTalk" short film (6:41)
An animated short film of an elder explaining to a child the importance of culture, watercolor painting, and about Albert Namatjira's contribution to the people.
in anamorphic 1.78:1, in Western Aranda Dolby Digital 2.0 with burned-in English subtitles

"On Country" short film (1:58)
A watercolor painted animated short with a spoken word poem. There are no subtitled for the spoken portion, but during the credits the poem is repeated with scrolling text in Western Aranda and in English.
in anamorphic 1.78:1, in Western Aranda Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles

"Namatjira Legacy Trust Launch Video" featurette (2:08)
This promotional video includes short interviews with family, museum curators, artists, and others who give their thoughts and support for the Namatijra copyright issue to be resolved and the importance of people working together to make it happen.
in anamorphic 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles

Interview with descendants of Albert Namatjira (4:11)
Additional interviews with the descendants that did not make it to the film, as deleted scenes,
in non-anamorphic 1.33:1, in English and Western Aranda Dolby Digital 2.0 with burned-in English subtitles


The extras are few but welcome, but there are some missed opportunities. The 1947 documentary short "Namatjira the Painter" could have been added in full in the extras, rather than just clips in the film. Also there is no news on the copyright return. A news report or even a text article would have been a welcome addition to the DVD. The theatrical trailer has not been put on the disc, but is embedded below, courtesy of Umbrella Entertainment.

Overall

"Namatjira Project" tells a fascinating story of the influential artist and the struggles faced for decades on, with a very positive message on culture and art. There may be some structural missteps but the message is the important one, and thankfully there is a happy ending to it all. The Umbrella Entertainment release has good video and audio with fair extras.

The Film: B Video: B+ Audio: B- Extras: C Overall: B-

 


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