One of the greatest-ever Central Australian stories will soon be told at the Melbourne Film Festival (MIFF).
The feature documentary is about the Central Australian Aboriginal Women’s Choir, whose magnificent voices have taken them from singing in the Ntaria (Hermannsburg), Utju (Areyonga) and Kaltukatjara (Docker River) Lutheran churches to packed concert halls and churches in Germany and back again. Their ‘Boomerang Tour’ in 2015 took them to the homeland of the missionaries who had brought them the gospel; they wanted to say ‘thank you’ through their singing.
Marion Swift from Ntaria said, ‘It was amazing to take back the songs that the German people had given us so long ago, but in our own languages of Arrarnta and Pitjantjatjara’.
As a gesture of thankfulness and a tribute to the sacrifice and commitment made by the early missionaries, Areyonga parish worker Daphne Puntjina presented a unique painting to the bishop of 20 million Protestants in Germany. Donated by local Lutheran artist and politician Alison Anderson MLA, the stunning Aboriginal artwork depicts a local fire-dreaming story.
When he saw the painting, Bishop Bedford-Strohm exclaimed,
‘I cannot believe that you are giving this [painting] as a gift to us. It touches me very much and I thank you from all my heart … A long time ago, missionaries from Germany came to your country and brought the gospel to you … but today you are preaching the gospel to us through your songs.’
The bishop’s encounter with the choir left him deeply touched with a very personal experience of the global church of Jesus Christ, its beauty and power, and the hope that it brings.
On 6 August the choir’s story will take to the big screen when the MIFF premieres The Song Keepers. Two more screenings will follow: 8 August and 14 August. The choir will perform live at the 6 and 8 August screenings, and on 7 August they will also perform their full 90-minute Germany concert in association with the Melbourne Recital Centre.
Award-winning filmmaker Naina Sen was supported by the MIFF Premiere Fund to document the choir’s preparation for the tour of Germany, and the tour itself. According to the MIFF review, the documentary captures ‘the highs and lows as these remarkable women share their music and stories of cultural survival, identity and inclusive cross-cultural collaboration with the world. The resulting film is a joyous celebration’.
To purchase tickets for The Song Keepers, visit miff.com.au/program/film/the-song-keepers