Artists of the First Sunrise showcases a soulful expression of culture that has been passed down through the ages. Artists express and share their traditional culture through vulnerable, spellbinding presentations of dance, theater and music. The light, color and rhythm of the dances is rich in cultural and tribal connections. Musical performances reveal poignant, modern lyrics as well as traditional cries of their ancestors; the sounds combine traditional rhythms and haunting power. And theatre performance passages display captivating messages, striking costumes, and body art to draw on inspiring experiences as well as heartrending Aboriginal story and cultural traditions. These elements are interwoven and explored throughout the course of the documentary. Viewers will connect with this culture on a most personal level.
Interviews and performance footage with indigenous artists reveal their history, life in the bush, traditions—and how art and music play major roles in daily life. It also shed light on the suffering of more than two hundred years of human rights indignities and their daily fight for survival. Through firsthand accounts, the documentary explores how Indigenous Australians have endured, the importance of the Dreaming and synergy with the living land, and how Aboriginal peoples have fought or embraced change. Thus, the film illustrates the indigenous peoples’ lives outside their art – their schools, homes, families and friends—showing urbanized, modernized activities, the culture that inspires them, and how they influence the culture.
For example, we hear the story of Letty Scott, as told by her sister, Rhubee Neale. Letty’s husband was arrested for using indecent language and was jailed for 60 days. He was found hanging in his cell. The authorities deemed it a suicide. Letty spent two decades fighting for her husband’s vindication when, in 2005, after getting his body exhumed, his death was declared a murder by prison authorities. Letty’s aim before she died in 2009 was, as she put it, “to paint my way out of hell, dispossession and poverty, as an Aboriginal artist, to hold my head up with dignity and pay my way in society.”
In the end, a documentary of this type—framed as a conversation between indigenous and mainstreaming cultures—forms a powerful resource to examine the relationship between mainstream culture and life in the Bush, as well as what it means to be Australian, in ways that are transferrable to conversations between indigenous and mainstream cultures globally. This conversation between global mainstream homogenization through digital media and an increasing respect for fusion art and multiculturalism is dynamic, contemporary, and engaging enough to have a major impact in enlightening viewers about the quality of life of indigenous Australians.