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A dog called Wanja

Screened outside at night, on The Block in Redfern, Wanja cast light on a community which is often overshadowed and overlooked. Writer Angie Abdilla, who is of Tasmanian Aboriginal descent, says that she wanted the film to challenge people’s thoughts on how communities live on The Block and who they are, showing a different side to a neighbourhood that is often misrepresented as negative reports Tara Clifford in the South Sydney Herald of November 2008.

The short film is based around a dog called Wanja who was owned by a popular local known as Aunty Barb Stacy. Stories about the dog (that died three years ago) are recounted. Not only was she famous among locals, but also with the police.

During the film, residents of The Block talk movingly about their memories of Wanja. One of the most amusing recollections is of a time when Wanja jumped onto the front seat of a paddy wagon, barking at the police as if to say they couldn’t get in. Stories are told about Wanja chasing police officers, barking to warn locals of their presence, and even an instance where a gun was cocked and pointed at her.

But the stories of the blue heeler are not simply to amuse and entertain. The interviews are cleverly separated by confronting images of the run-down surroundings and sounds from the railway line across the street, which act as a commentary on the alienation between local residents and those in authority. An audience is reminded of more serious issues to be dealt with in this community – such as neglect, violence and substance abuse – and also what it means to be an Aboriginal Australian.

According to Ms Abdilla, there is a really strong sense of a community of people who stick together, which is represented by Wanja as the spirit of The Block.

The idea for the half- hour film was found in a storybook called Wanja, and Ms Abdilla regards it as her first serious film. It took five years to complete, a testament to the challenge it was to make. The controversial issues explored meant the film faced resistance and problems in getting funds. In the end, it was made on half the budget, but this allowed Ms Abdilla to examine the situation in a totally creative way.

Wanja was officially selected for the Sydney Film Festival and will be screened at Parliament House in November and at the 2008 International Documentary Film Festival in Amsterdam.

Source: South Sydney Herald November 2008