DER Documentary

Mr. Patterns

A Film Australia National Interest Program. Directed by Catriona McKenzie
color, 55 min, 2003


The art of Papunya Tula, commonly known as “dot painting,” is internationally renowned.  Mr. Patterns tells the story of Geoff Bardon who, together with the Papunya artists, was a catalyst for what many consider one of the greatest art movements of the 20th century.

Posted as an art teacher to the government settlement at Papunya in Australia's Western Desert, the young Bardon found more than 1000 Aboriginal people living in a state of dislocation, their culture being systematically wiped out through 'assimilation'. He encouraged the people to paint their traditional designs using western materials rather than copy European imagery.

Starting with children's classroom projects in the early 1970s, he became increasingly involved with tribal elders whose designs told stories of their ancestral Dreamings. In defiance of white authorities, Bardon also encouraged the artists to value their work commercially as well as spiritually, believing that by selling paintings the people could become independent of welfare as well as bring indigenous art to the attention of the wider community.

By the time Bardon left Papunya in mid-1972, the Painting Men had formed their own company and the revolutionary Western Desert art movement had begun.  But for Bardon, the personal cost was enormous.  Bardon soon found himself at the center of a vitriolic character assassination engineered by the white population who thought the aborigines should be kept in their place.

Using fascinating archival footage shot by Bardon himself, the filmmakers present a compelling story of personal and political drama.  Mr. Patterns is a journey into the heart of an aboriginal commune and an exposé of racial division in modern Australia.

Film Festivals, Screenings, Awards
Jury Special Prize, Pacific International Documentary Film Festival, Tahiti, 2006
Finalist, Best Use of Footage in a History Factual Production, Focal Awards, UK, 2005
Society for Visual Anthropology/American Anthropological Association Conference, San Jose, California, 2006
Australian International Documentary Conference, February, 2005
London Australian Film Festival, March, 2005
International Festival of Films on Art, Montreal, Canada, 2005
International Festival of Films on Art, Montreal, Canada, 2004
Golden Maile Award, Hawaii International Film Festival, 2004
Margaret Mead International Film Festival, New York, 2004

TV Broadcasts
Australian Broadcasting Corporation, January, 2004

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Supported By Massachusetts Cultural Council National Endowment for the Humanities National Endowment for the Arts