Arts / ‘Must-see’ doco comes to Canberra

Film still shows the choir performing

THE word around Canberra’s music traps is that a must-see documentary film is coming to Dendy Cinemas this week.

“The Song Keepers”, premiered at the 2017 Melbourne International Film Festival, will be released nationally this Thursday, April 19.

It’s a unique story that comes out of churches in remote Central Australia, where ancient Aboriginal languages, sacred poetry and baroque music are all being preserved by four generations of song women.

In 2015 “the unlikeliest band on earth”, the Central Australian Aboriginal Women’s Choir, helped by musical director Morris Stuart, a former pastor who was born in British Guyana in the Caribbean, embarked on an historical tour of Germany, singing the baroque Lutheran hymns brought to Australia by missionaries in their own Western Arrarnta and Pitjantjatjara languages.

Morris Stuart and Areyonga ladies in rehearsal

The doco shows how together they share their music and stories of cultural survival, identity and cross-cultural teamwork.

The writer and director of the 84-minute feature is Naina Sen, an Indian-born documentary filmmaker, creative producer and video installation/projection artist who now lives in Australia. Sen created and operated the visual projections that accompanied the late Gurrumul’s live show, touring with him nationally and internationally, also directing and filming a documentary on his life.

The Aboriginal Women’s Choir was formed in 2010 and is made up of choirs from six remote Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory, the Hermannsburg Ladies Choir (Ntaria) the Areyonga Ladies Choir (Utju), the Titjikala Choir, the Mutitjulu Choir, the Docker River Choir (Kaltukatjara) and the Mission Block Choir of Alice Springs.

The ensemble sings sacred music in the Western Arrarnta and Pitjantjatjara languages together with new music and its signature concert performance piece is “Arrkanala Lyilhitjika”, a meld of Baroque and Romantic choral arrangement with hymns.

“The Song Keepers”, Dendy Civic, opens April 19. Bookings to


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