An interview with Richard Frankland
Holding the title as one of Australia's most experienced Aboriginal singer/songwriters, Richard Frankland wears many hats within his Aboriginal community as a leader, activist, comedian, father, and uncle.
I had the pleasure of meeting with Richard Frankland (or "Uncle Richard", as he prefers) to discuss his film Stone Bros and his role as a motivator for Aboriginal youth in Victoria.
Hi Uncle Richard, thanks for meeting with me today. Can you explain a little bit about yourself and why you chose to become an Indigenous film-maker?
Absolutely. I'm Richard Frankland, I'm Gunditjamara, which means "family of man" in my language and I've been a practising film-maker for nearly 20 years. I've been a soldier, a fisherman and an activist for a very long time.
I've made maybe 40-50 films. I made the first Indigenous feature comedy in the country, called Stone Bros, and was the first Indigenous person to win Best Director at the AFI Awards.
I've made some very sad films and lots of films about our [Aboriginal] heroes. I've been to a couple of war zones filming kids who have been shot.
I consider myself a human rights activist and have managed to help lots of our people. I've established Statewide Organisations and do lots of counselling with young people.
Sounds like you do a lot of great work for your Aboriginal community Uncle Rich!
Thank you, I try my best. (laughs)
Let's talk about your recent movie, Stone Bros, which has been a nationwide hit. Why did you choose to make an Indigenous comedy?
When I began making film there was 10,000 hours of film footage at the Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander studies and over 90% of that footage was written, directed and produced by white people. And most of it was about us being victims and the noble savage and that type of stuff.
Now I understand that this is important but we're also a bloody funny mob! I mean you look around at our mob [Aboriginal people] giggling around and it's absolutely hilarious! I love talking to people and teasing them!
In fact, my little girl, she's only 6, she looks at me and says, "I don't know whether to believe you anymore dad." (laughs)
Was the film Stone Bros hard or difficult to get off the ground?
It took me a long time to get a feature film off the ground. I'd won 30 awards around the world, yet still couldn't get a feature film up.
Were you nervous about how it would be received?
Oh yeah of course. But with every film you are. Even if you make a film that about great sadness you're always worried if you've offended or hurt someone or insulted someone.
The only reason I make film, is because when I started there was very few Aboriginal film-makers, and we needed to have our voice out there. Otherwise I would've been a park ranger or a fisherman, something down home, nice and quiet (laughs).
Well the film has been a huge hit with young people. Were they your target audience when you made the film?
Yeah I think so. What I'd like to see is see a heap of young actors grab the film and tour it through communities and get laughter our of the communities. Because everywhere I've gone people laugh at it and laughter is such a beautiful thing.
What advice can you give to aspiring young writers?
Just write. Observe, listen and write. Listen to the stories and don't be afraid to tell the stories yourself either.
The more you practise, the more you write, the better you'll be and one day you'll look back and think, "Who wrote that? That's absolutely wonderful!" and you'll realise that it was yourself.
The beautiful thing about writing is when you write something it stops belonging to you. It belongs to the world. I love when an actor or someone uses my poem and puts life into the words that I've written and makes them dance off the page. You can see the light coming into their eyes as they own the character. This is when you realise that you were just the vehicle, you just put it there and they bring it to life.
Writing becomes a gift. It's not just you anymore.
What sort of messages do you want the young people who listen to you to leave with?
I try to motivate Aboriginal young people because they are our future and when they walk on their country, they walk where 1500 generations of their grandmothers walked. They walk in the footsteps of great resistance fighters from the time that white man first came until now. They change the world, they are the world and they are warriors.
My clear message to young people is that "You are the past, you are the present and you are most importantly our future."
You speak a lot about your heroes. What's some helpful advice that was provided to you?
Well someone said once said to me: "Love with an open hand."
I remember talking to a woman of another culture whose son had been killed. She cried and even though I couldn't understand one word of her language, I understood everything she said. I remember thinking at that point that, fundamentally, "grief is love". The reason we grieve is because we love so much. My advice is to love freely and it will work, it will win in the end.
We're coming to the end of our interview, but before we finish, can you describe yourself in three words?
Naughty, naughty and naughty (laughs).
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