Arts / Namatjira’s ‘moving’ story makes it on screen

Kevin and Lenie Namatjira ready to go into Buckingham Palace

“FROM the remote Australian desert to the opulence of Buckingham Palace” – it reads like a Hollywood promo, but every word behind the long-awaited film, “Namatjira Project”, is true.

The film is in part the story of a play made about the legendary Australian artist Albert Namatjira and his descendants, the Namatjira family, in their quest for justice, a decent life and the legal rights to his works.

Namatjira is one of the most revered figures in Australia’s art scene, considered by many to be the father of Australia’s contemporary Aboriginal art movement, and he is now also thought to have been the first contemporary dot painter.

An 87 minute documentary, the film, produced by Sophia Marinos and directed by Sera Davies with actor Trevor Jamieson as Namatjira himself, is the end-product of a significant project spearheaded by the arts and social change organisation Big hART and its director Scott Rankin, who worked with the late artist’s family to stage a nationally-touring play called simply, “Namatjira”.

Trevor Jamieson as Namatjira. Photo by Oliver Eclipse

“Namatjira Project” had its world premiere at the Melbourne International Film Festival, where it was described by festival audiences as a “game-changer”, “moving” and “triumphant”.

It follows the Namatjira family’s plight to regain the copyright, sold unwittingly by the NT government in 1983 to a private art dealer for just $8500. The family’s quest sees them teaming up Big hART to tour the theatre production about Albert’s life, raising awareness, calling for support, and for a return of the copyright.

Albert Namatjira, artist Rex Battarbee and Namatjira family. Photo courtesy of Gayle Qarmby

Then — and this did happen —Big hART took the show to London. Queen Elizabeth invited the Namatjiras to Buckingham Palace, and the UK media picked up the story of this famous family’s struggle.

But although the recently-formed Namatjira Legacy Trust now has leading law firm Arnold Bloch Leibler engaged to recover the copyright, there’s not a happy ending. The Namatjiras returned home powerless and back in Australia, the silence was deafening.

“Namatjira Project” is currently screening at Palace Electric Cinemas, NewActon, at 7pm on Tuesday September 12, with a Q&A Event following the film featuring by Sophia Marinos, Trevor Jamieson and senior curator of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art at the NGA, Franchesca Cubillo. Bookings to palacecinemas.com.au

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