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We Are Still Here—Film Review

13 February 2023
  • Written by
    Justine Sutton
  • Photographed by
Image from the film We Are Still Here shows men and women standing in a forest

Spanning centuries, from Captain James Cook’s arrival in Australia to a post-apocalyptic world 250 years in the future, We Are Still Here lays before the viewer a rich array of indigenous stories, told through eight interwoven short films by ten indigenous filmmakers. These stories reflect the systemic violence, both physical and cultural, inflicted upon the indigenous peoples of modern-day Australia, New Zealand and Samoa; but they do it with a grace and style that belie the often heart-wrenching subject matter.

The project began in response to the 250th anniversary celebrations in Australia marking Cook’s “discovery,” but eventually became the finished film, whose world premiere opened the 69th Sydney Film Festival on June 8, 2022.

The opening segment is gorgeously animated, with a mother and daughter on their small fishing boat, casting their lines into serene waters. The skies turn cloudy and what they eventually pull up is chilling—a huge English ship. These animated sequences eventually illustrate separation of generations as the daughter migrates to the city, but by the end, a simple reunion emphasizes the strength of family ties even in the face of oppression.

A recurring theme is that youth have the power of change as history marches forward— the 19th century chief’s daughter who urges her father to take her people into battle rather than acquiesce to their colonizers… the modern-day graffiti artist whose anger over her mother’s death at the hands of white anti-aboriginal demonstrators fuels her activism… the young girl in a bleak future who has to choose between retaining her culture and a more tangible salvation. 

There are some refreshingly light-hearted moments, even against the backdrop of war and violence. A lone, desperate aboriginal soldier on the WWI battlefields of Gallipoli finds an unlikely source of comfort and camaraderie when he and a soldier in a neighboring foxhole find a way to swap gifts.

An aboriginal man goes into a liquor store every day, hassled by police who demand to see ID. Even when he has it, his purchases are confiscated. But in the end, we see that his motive had nothing to do with beverages, but with love. We feel his joy when he emerges triumphantly with a phone number, and it is the cherry on top when he tells the officer outside, “I don’t even drink!”

We Are Still Here is a triumph of storytelling—gorgeously filmed, masterfully acted, and deftly directed. Against the sobering backdrop of colonial oppression, the gamut of human emotion is on display here. Still here.

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Santa Barbara International Film Festival photo from State Street