Djali (Hunter Page-Lochard) stands by the rocky sea shore in Australia, surveying the land and seascape as he is approached by a collection of people determined to summon up the spirits of the ancestors and bring him into contact with the native roots he has lost touch with. They anoint him with bowls of water, and begin to paint his body with tribal daubs: could this connect Djali to his past, when there is so much the indigenous people he belongs to have been forced to abandon, either through the pressure of the white man or their own failings exacerbated by the proximity of the white culture? Is it possible for him to return to those days before his lands were stolen?
Compare Australian New Wave cinema of the nineteen-seventies to where the medium was in the twenty-first century, and it was clear that a collective guilt in the nation about the treatment of the aborigine people over the previous centuries was a pressing matter, and more than ever was being portrayed in the culture. Not that something like director and choreographer Stephen Page was making anything other than an art film here, essentially just under an hour and a half of modern dance under the presumption that he, as an indigenous artist, was getting in touch himself with his creative roots by demonstrating it in theatre and, in this case, on film to bring to wider society.
The trouble with that is, you can be as sincere as you like, but if only a minority, if that, are interested in what you have to say then there is a danger you are shouting into an echo chamber of your own devising. Therefore while Spear was given a welcome in some areas, it remained a specialist subject as far as film went, and no matter how dedicated it was to bringing Page's culture and deeply held beliefs to the screen and then to the world, this was not exactly a blockbuster and there was a mere niche audience who were enthusiastic about this material. When the wider world was presented with a modern dance film, the reaction was one of mild tolerance, really.
However, despite the feeling of playing to the gallery, Australian culture was given a boost in a manner that you imagine they both were keen to capitalise on and could have done without, as climate change began to wage a war on the population and wildlife, bringing the country into the headlines. This increased interest like never before, be it the natural monument formerly known as Ayer's Rock being closed to the public to the wildfires that caused enormous devastation, and against that backdrop, assuming you could grasp what Page was going on about, Spear grew in stature. Now it was not simply the fate of the indigenous that was on the table, the whole fate of everything on the continent had been put into question and there was a need to preserve what could be lost.
This could be applied to local cultures across the world as the Westernisation of the globe continued apace, leaving an air of desperation around works like this. Nevertheless, though some would remain baffled by what Page was trying to put across through his choreography, even the least perceptive could understand there was a masculinity in crisis being pictured here as well as the aborigine way of life which, according to this, had been all but wiped out by alcoholism and other addictions that bastardised a once noble race. It was not all po-faced doom and gloom, there was a certain optimism that as long as artists like the director were able to represent their background on a bigger stage then there was hope for many, and a cheeky reverse-cultural appropriation of the Charlie Drake novelty hit My Boomerang Won't Come Back showed off a sense of humour that may have been lacking elsewhere. You could tell there was a lot of intelligence here, which made it a bit of a shame that it ended up being a lot of shots of buff male bodies smeared with paint: it stopped progressing about the halfway mark. But if you liked dance, then this was for you. Music by David Page (Stephen's brother, Hunter's uncle).