DER Documentary

Kurtal – Snake Spirit

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by Nicole Ma and Michelle Mahrer
color, 28 min, 2003

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Kurtal – Snake Spirit tells the story of Spider, a sprightly 80 year old Aboriginal elder who travels from Fitzroy Crossing into the Great Sandy Desert of Western Australia to visit a jila - a sacred waterhole. Spider is one of the main custodians responsible for the practices that take place there. For the first time, he is taking his family and community elders back to his birthplace, where he will communicate with their ancestors through Kurtal, the Snake Spirit in an ancient ritual.

This unique documentary examines the ongoing change faced by a remote Aboriginal community and their determination to maintain their close links to birthplace and country. It shows the passing on of traditional knowledge from father to son and grandson, and the vital and sustained connection to ancestry and customs. It is a celebration of strong tradition and culture thriving through the spirit and willingness of the next generation.

To Spider and his community, Kurtal is not only a snake spirit but also their dreaming song. It has powerful and mysterious forces at work. Water in the desert means life and Kurtal is a "living water". When people who were born at Kurtal die, their spirit returns to the waterhole. Spider is one of the remaining elders born at Kurtal and a key custodian responsible for the practices that take place there. For the first time, Spider is taking his family back to Kurtal to visit their ancestors' spirits.

Kurtal – Snake Spirit explores the evolution of the Aboriginal culture. It shows not the dying out of these ancient ceremonies but the need for them to be carried on by the younger generations. The spirit is strong in the elders to pass on their traditions and the spirit is strong in the younger generations to take these traditions and keep them alive and vital.

This poetic documentary provides a rare and moving insight into a community intent on maintaining its strong cultural links with the past.

Kurtal – Snake Spirit is co-directed by Nicole Ma and Michelle Mahrer, two multi award-winning filmmakers renown for their dance films with indigenous communities throughout the world. Beautifully photographed by Warwick Thornton, Michelle Mahrer and Cameron McGrath, this film takes a stunning look at a resilient group of people practicing ancient traditions in a contemporary society, and the immense impact this is having on their culture.

Kurtal – Snake Spirit is a unique documentary, providing an unprecedented insight into the private ceremonies and practices of a community intent on maintaining it's strong cultural and spiritual links with the past.

Film Festivals, Screenings, Awards
Australian Teacher’s of Media awards (Best Indigenous Resource, Best Short Form Documentary) 2002
Australian Broadcasting Corporation broadcast, 2003
Best Documentary, Religion Today, International Festival of Cinema & Religion, Italy, 2003
Documentary & Ethnographic Film Festival of Belo Horizonte, Brazil, 2003
DC Independent Film Festival, Washington DC, 2004
The Archaeology Channel International Film and Video Festival, Oregon, 2004
Athens International Film & Video Festival, Athens, Ohio, 2004
UCLA Vitas Film and Folklore Festival, 2004
Pärnu International Documentary and Anthropology Film Festival, Estonia, 2004

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