Documentary Month 1st - 31st July 2023

 Blak Douglas vs The Commonwealth

Blak Douglas vs The Commonwealth

Australian Documentary

Before winning the coveted Archibald Prize in 2022, Dhungatti artist Blak Douglas collaborated with filmmakers to document the preparation of his most emotionally charged work, a portrait of his Indigenous grandmother, revealed at the National Gallery of Australia’s Indigenous Art Triennial: Defying Empire.
Blak Douglas invites us into his painting studio in the back streets of Redfern, sharing intimate moments of an artist at work and glimpses into his exploration of creativity. With unflinching directness and courage, he discusses his experience growing up having to prove his Aboriginality to forge his identity as a working artist, attempting to reconcile with the intergenerational trauma he witnessed directly in his father and which he personally confronts.
As he prepares paint and canvas, he pores over archival records and family photographs in the search for context and meaning. His compelling narrative transcends the canvas and becomes a catalyst for mining deeper into the past.
At the film’s heart we bear witness to the searingly personal revelations Blak Douglas shares about his family history. A painful truth unfolds - his grandmother, torn from her family as a child, was taken away by the Aboriginal Protection Board and forced into servitude. He traces her life back to the haunting rooms of the Cootamundra Girls Home, a lonely property where she was stripped of her name, language, family and culture and moulded into a “domestic”. We witness the emotional gravity of this place and the effect it has on Blak Douglas as he comments on the decay and the refusal of those who choose not to acknowledge the devastating impacts of colonisation.
Deep in the belly of the State Archives, Blak Douglas later unearths the harrowing machinations of a system that deliberately imploded his family and culture in the chilling entries of archival ledgers and registers. With unswerving candour, he reads aloud the fate of his grandmother and her siblings revealed in the indifferent scrawl of historical meeting minutes.
Blak Douglas tells his story, his way, sharing every step of the process with every brushstroke and artistic choice weaving the past into his inimitable style, while negotiating a complex array of emotions that both inform and motivate him. In the studio we witness his powerful resilience as art and identity converge to consolidate his experience into potent commentary on Australian culture with a sense of irony and humour, in works that will become iconic – Domestic Violets, The Lucky Country and The Really Bins.
His work is transported from the back streets of Redfern to the most prestigious art gallery in the land, the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra, to debut as part of a glittering celebration to mark the anniversary of the 1967 Referendum alongside Australia’s most important Indigenous artists.
Blak Douglas vs The Commonwealth is a gripping testament to the spirit and transformative power of Blak Douglas’ iconic art to heal and address the injustices of the past. His reflections are powerful, brutally honest and disarming, establishing him as one of the most vital and authentic voices in the Australian arts landscape.

Back to films