Musical theatre / “Evita”. Director Hal Prince. At Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House, until November 3. Reviewed by HELEN MUSA
“Namatjira Project” was part of an eight year fight for justice by Big hART alongside the Namatjira family, which saw copyright to Albert Namatjira’s works finally returned in October 2017.
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 – achievement now won.
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. But he was never fully accepted by white Australia, and after being wrongfully imprisoned in 1959, he soon died, despondent and broken. Then, in 1983, the Australian Government sold the rights to his work to a white art dealer – despite Namatjira having left his art to his wife and children.
The 87-minute documentary, produced by Sophia Marinos and directed by Sera Davies, sees actor Trevor Jamieson playing Namatjira. It was the end-product of a 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”.“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”.
Made with their input, the film 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.
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.
Since copyright was won last year, with the support of philanthropist Dick Smith, the interest in Namatjira’s work and the film continues to grow nationally and internationally. The film premiered recently in London, Paris and New York and ATOM has developed a study guide to accompany the film (available at namatjiratrust.org).
“Namatjira Project” will screen on ABC TV in Naidoc Week, at 9.30pm on Sunday, July 8 and will be available on iview for 1 month online.