U.S. actor and comedian Steve Martin and the state government of Australia’s Northern Territory have thrown their weight behind “Honey Ant Dreamers,” a feature film about the Indigenous art industry.
The film will portray the story behind the birth of the ‘Western Desert Art Movement’ told for the first time, through a First Nations lens. In the Western Desert outpost of Papunya, tribal groups fought to preserve their law, culture and identity by painting their Tjukurrpa, or things which were most precious to them. The sacred stories were once painted on their bodies and in the sand, but later migrated to boards and canvas. Propelled by the entrepreneurial efforts of traditional elder Kaapa Tjampitjinpa, these works have taken the global art world by storm.
“Honey Ant Dreamers” is the feature directorial debut of co-writers, Pitjantjara, Luritja and Warlpiri woman Anyupa Emily Napangarti Butcher, and Michael Cordell, who best known as a prolific producer through his company CJZ, and for whom this film has been a decade long passion project.
Maggie Miles (“High Ground,” “Paper Planes,” Indigenous Language versions – “Little J and Big Cuz” will produce the film through her company Savage Films NT, in collaboration with CJZ and the community representatives involved in the story.
Martin who is a noted collector of Australian Indigenous art, was involved in script development and serves as executive producer. “This exciting and valuable project presents a little known yet powerful story to a waiting world.” said Martin.
The story will be executive produced by Michael Cordell and co-executive produced by senior Traditional Owner and Papunya resident, Sammy Butcher. Sammy is a founder of the Warumpi Band.
The project has received A$450,000 of financial backing from the Northern Territory government through its Screen Territory Production Attraction Incentive Program. It will be filmed next year, entirely in the Northern Territory’s so-called Red Centre, with key locations including Papunya, the MacDonnell Ranges and Alice Springs.
Distribution of the completed movie will be handled by Icon Films in Australia and New Zealand.
“This story is both ancient and current. Local and global. Our art started in the sand, the rocks, the very formation of Australia. Contemporary Western Desert art was pioneered because of the innovative, radical, and entrepreneurial thinking of the Painting Men in Papunya who wanted to keep their culture alive in the era of assimilation. These painters had a vision of maintaining cultural laws while sharing our unique cultures of Papunya to the world,” said filmmaker, artist and campaigner Butcher.
Cordell said: “The birth of the Western Desert art movement is a triumphant and universal survival story. No other story I know better celebrates the extraordinary depth, richness and heritage of the world’s longest surviving culture. It is also a conciliation story about black and white Australia coming together. As such ‘Honey Ant Dreamers’ is a profoundly optimistic story.”
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