Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers, please be advised that this film contains themes of violence and oppression against Indigenous Australians and images and videos of deceased persons.
Introducing Ablaze, a feature-length documentary that looks back at the true story of the first Indigenous filmmaker, Bill Onus. It all begins when Tiriki Onus, an opera singer, finds a box of photos taken by his grandfather, Bill, and makes a significant discovery about his family. Inside the box are photos of Bill with a large video camera and hints that perhaps Bill once made a film. As Tiriki investigates further, he finds Bill’s film, which had been dumped into some archives. Upon discovery, it seemed as though no one knew how the film came to be in the archives in the first place.
For Tiriki, watching the old film isn’t enough to fully understand everything, including why the film was made in the first place, nor does it help that the film has no audio attached to it. Now Tiriki sets out to find the truth about this mysterious film and obtain a greater understanding of his grandfather, including Bill’s passion for doing everything he could to stand up for Aboriginal rights within Australia. As an audience, we go on this journey with Tiriki as he seeks answers and makes significant discoveries that changed cinema and Australia forever.
Ablaze is a powerful and touching story about the massive impact one man had when it came to standing up for himself and his passionate desire to save others just like him. It’s not long until we learn that Bill Onus is a man who changed history forever by becoming a strong political figure and speaking out often. He also found a way to deliver powerful messages through the big screen and impact audiences.
Not only great for those who love film and cinema, this documentary includes educational aspects about Australia’s past. I feel more people should watch this documentary for the insights given into Australian history, culture, and cinema. Granted, some moments are disturbing or perhaps a little hard to watch given some of the themes on display, but viewers who watch this film won’t regret the journey they are taken on. Plus, we need to understand major aspects of the past.
The pacing of this film is truly wonderful. With a quick introduction to Tiriki, it’s not long until he makes a huge discovery, and viewers go on what feels like a mysterious journey with him. His journey combines exciting and heartbreaking moments that are dramatic to witness. Watching Tiriki unpack the truth about his grandfather is engaging, and it’s easy for viewers to support him as he tries to discover anything and everything about his family.
Visually, this film is highly pleasing. The documentary features archive footage, photos and images that have been completely restored. I appreciated seeing the restoration process on the older photographs and was surprised by the results. The story and message are easy to follow and understand, especially regarding important or in-depth details. Helping make this feature more engaging for audiences are creative effects and visually pleasing animation.
Overall, this is a powerful and insightful documentary that I feel should be watched by everyone and not just those who love cinema. It’s a touching story that includes interesting mysteries along the way and moments that are heartbreaking and sad to experience. I feel this is a highly educational feature, and I appreciated the level of detail and insight. Witnessing rare videos and photos be completely restored to a premium quality helped deliver a powerful and memorable investigation into Australian history. Ablaze (2021) is Available in Australian Cinemas from May 26th!