Desert Metal Dreaming

Click on image to watch video

The most isolated metal band in the world, Southeast Desert Metal, and their Aunty Kathleen, share ancient Arrernte culture with the world through song and painting. Click on photo to watch on ABC iView.

About the filmmaker

Mara Jean Quinn is a filmmaker, actor, and artist who recently returned to Brisbane after 5 years of honing her craft in Sydney and Alice Springs. Desert Metal Dreaming is her first foray into documentary.

Tell us about Desert Metal Dreaming and what inspired you to make it?

Desert Metal Dreaming is about a four-piece heavy metal Ltyentye Apurte (Santa Teresa) near Mparntwe (Alice Springs) and how they marry Western heavy metal music culture with their indigenous Arrernte culture, sharing their stories through song. It has a parallel narrative with their Aunty/Nanna, Kathleen Kemarre Wallace, who tells her stories through paintings. She taught the guys a lot of the culture that they know.

The idea came from the co-creator who has been managing the band for over 10 years. I was working with him on some other film projects and helping him manage the band, I also grew a great passion for the story. The story was definitely there wanting to be made. One of us saw the funding come up under Darwin International Film Festival in collaboration with the ABC, and went bang, yes, that’s due tomorrow. Let’s apply. It’s perfect.

What was your experience in getting the funding for this initiative and what advice you would give yourself in hindsight?

Be really clear on roles from the beginning. We had Chris (the frontman) and Kathleen both on as associate producers. They were there from the start with the concept, and even with our submission for the grant. They’re passionate about sharing their culture and preserving their culture, by inspiring younger people to embrace it and learn about it. As a white person, you’ll always be criticised for making any work with another culture, particularly by other white people. But from the start, these people were family to me, and they really wanted to tell this story. They were stoked when we got the funding and are really happy with the outcome.  

I’d also say engage with the ABC much earlier on, they were incredible resources when we needed them at the end to help us get it over the line. I’ve got a bit of funding over the years for different things and I think the most important thing is: don’t look for the funding, look for the idea and be really clear on your idea, then you’ll know what you want to do. You might have to tweak it here and there to fit a brief.

It’s been on iView for about five months now and lots of people have seen it on there. They wanted to screen it with Old People’s Homes for Four-Year-Olds. It is a difficult dynamic to control because of distribution, most film festivals don’t want to play a film that is already on iView.

This is your first documentary, but you’ve worked on a variety of productions before.  What have you done before, and why you are interested in documentaries?

I first got into films and performances when I was nine because my mum won kid’s drama lessons from a raffle. I just got really hooked on acting and that led to film acting when I was about 16. In the last five years, I’ve been behind the camera too, mostly writing, producing, and directing. Two years ago, I wrote, produced, directed, and acted in a feature, which is currently called Andamooka. It was sort of a docudrama, and in a way, it’s a narrative film. It’s based pretty closely on some personal experiences of mine and it follows a woman as she leaves her broken Sydney life and embarks on a long road trip through the desert to turn 30 with her best friend in a tiny little town called Andamooka. The nature of the film was micro-budget and micro-crew. We had to cast people that we met along the way, and they weren’t actors. It was just sort of real life, but I’d be teasing a performance out of them. It is a major goal of mine to finish that project, it’s currently needing to be edited.

Documentaries are a pretty new thing for me. Desert Metal Dreaming was my first documentary, but I’ve always had a passion for documentaries. The education side is really important. It’s a way of getting people to care about something that they might not otherwise even know about. And inspiring people to do something about the issue, or at least appreciate whatever it is you’re making a documentary about, whether, that’s indigenous culture, or metal music, or the environment.

How do you describe your connection to West End?

I discovered West End when I was 19. I had always gone to Woodford as a teenager and I wondered where did all those people go? Then I came to West End and I saw all these faces that I’d been seeing on stage for years at Woodford. That was a huge turning point for me in terms of finding my people outside of the festival context. I was very lucky to be so warmly embraced and held by West End for the following seven years. It’s just an amazing community, and even though I live in Annerley, this is where a lot of my friends live, like it still feels like my community.

Any recommendations or inspirations?

Honeyland is a documentary set in Bulgaria. I watched it at Sydney Film Festival a couple of years ago. The whole time I thought it was narrative because it was so smooth. The story was told so naturally that it just seemed like it couldn’t be a documentary, it blew my mind.

If you are interested in knowing more about Mara’s work – follow her on Instagram or check out her webpage.

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