Written and Directed by: Paul Damien Williams
Produced by: Shannon Swan
Co-producers: Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu, Mark T Grose, Michael Hohnen
Score by: Michael Hohnen, Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu, Erkki Veltheim
Indigenous Liaisons: Susan Dhangal Gurruwiwi, Johnathon Yunupingu, Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu
Interviewees: Susan Dhangal Gurruwiwi, Michael Hohnen, Mark T Grose, Daisy Yunupingu (dec), Djuŋa Djuŋa Yunupingu, Terry Nyambi Yunupingu (dec), Erkki Veltheim, Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu.
On the 25th of July 2017, Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu passed away, aged 46.
In Yolngu lore the name, image and voice of the recently departed is retired from all public use. A very rare exception has been made by Gumatj and Gälpu clan leaders for this film.
Three days before his death, Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu approved this film. It remains unchanged since this time.
All I could feel watching the life of Gurrumul was thankfulness. To have a door opened into his world was an experience full of wonder; like a light was shone on a culture unseen or misunderstood.
Gurrumul is more than a documentary about music or a musician – the film gives insight into the Yolugu culture.
Growing up in the Galiwin’ku community on Elcho Island off the coast of Arnhem Land, Gurrumul became the highest selling Indigenous artist in history. Gurrumul is a documentary about his rise to fame and how the meek was able to travel and reach out with his music to touch people around the world.
Gurrumul was born blind. Living in a community filled with music and ceremony, Gurrumul embraced singing and the guitar (beautifully played even though held up-side-down), because it made him happy.
His family felt bad for him because they thought he could never travel far from home. But never underestimate.
With the help of Michael Hohnen and Mark Grose and their record label, Skinnyfish Music, Gurrumul became a household name. But it was more than the music that held Michael and Gurrumul together, they became close friends – they became brothers.
It was hard going for Skinnyfish Music, dealing with an artist who refused to speak, where English was his fourth language. It wasn’t about the fame or the money – it was about keeping the stories of his life alive. There had to be something to resonate, to have meaning, otherwise – what’s the point?
It’s so refreshing to see someone who values the land, the animals in it; family and keeping the knowledge of the world and why we’re in it, alive.
Gurrumul’s aunty speaks about death, about life – where does it start? Where does it end?
Watching Michael try to explain to the media in interviews what the saltwater crocodile means to Gurrumul – that it isn’t an animal to represent his people – that he is the saltwater crocodile, was amusing and fascinating.
It’s such a gentle unfolding I didn’t realise how strong the rising of emotion in response to the purity of his voice, the calling in the telling of his story in song. Even in a different language I could still feel the meaning. I’m getting teary writing about it. Not from sadness but the exposure to such honesty of feeling.
There’s a brilliance in showing Gurrumul within a world so different to his own: being away from family, not speaking about himself – always Michael speaking on his behalf – because the Indigenous don’t speak about ‘l’, it’s always, ‘we’. So, to leave on his own to go solo was a huge step. But his to take; his life to share.
To have the opportunity to experience the world of Gurrumul, to be allowed into his community; into the life of such a private man from such a secluded community was to have my eyes opened (including that saltwater croc second eyelid!).
And the warmth of Michael and the team who put the documentary together have shared of piece of themselves for others to also see and enjoy.
A truly rewarding experience.