Interview with Jazz Money at MWFF: WINHANGANHA ‘is for mob’

Amidst the gathering smell of smoke WINHANGANHA unfixes a history from the hallowed archive wall. So it goes, like a dreamscape: Warwick Thornton’s Samson rocks his body to music in a fluorescent midnight (Samson and Delilah, 2009), Cathy Freeman pelts down a striped red track, David Gulpilil dances across fine coastal sands, and activists stream along highways marching for the ‘67 referendum. Among pangs of recognition stir new feelings – new stories spoken in colours of the old. 

Commissioned by the National Film and Sound Archive, the film is Jazz Money’s response to the archive’s collection of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander content. I had the opportunity to meet with Money before WINHANGANHA opened Melbourne Women in Film Festival’s programme. The Wiradjuri artist is hoping WINHANGANHA is the first of many films like it.  

“There’s an infinite amount of stories that are sitting in the archive … so by opening it up, even just a fraction, just a tiny little bit – if that means that someone else can come through and make something else in that space, then we’re going to be better off… It was a tremendous privilege, but it was also really, really awful. There’s this sort of balance in the film of looking at these hard pasts but not dwelling in them. It’s important to me not to get lost in the heartache.”

In the first of the film’s five incorporated poems, Money describes those who are filed away in archives as ‘rippled with seen and unseen, Held and hidden’. WINHANGANHA unmistakably embraces these coexisting truths. Found in the archive, the paradox of remembering, at once of hurt and in hope. 

Money is charged as she describes who the film is really for: mob. Although she lightly held white settler audiences in mind when piecing the film together, she recognised what “speaking directly to Blakfellas” through WINHANGANHA could do to the selected footage: reanimate it. 

WINHANGANHA is edited by Money herself. In her grasp, the archival material feels like a stream of thought tapped into. The film reflects a kind of inner logic – a close, colloquial, intimate way of living out identity reflective of Money’s practice as a poet, but also of the footage’s own trajectory of wanting. The film reveals editing to be a radical and inherently political part of the cinematic process. As Money shows us, a stirred archive can keep and become kept by different bodies. We observe that footage can be mercurial and adopt the qualities of the hands it is held in. To exhibit footage of bodies on screen is to speak to the bodies that watch. 

In Money’s words, “no matter who is telling the story, no matter who held the lens, the body is sovereign, the body is dignified, the body is a whole person.” 

Just as physical bodies need connection with others’, so too do the bodies kept fixed in the archive, unable to consent to be tethered to these moments in time.In visiting the blatantly racist pioneering silent films of the 1920s, Money offers care to the bodies that are suspended in that space of violence. Placing them in new contexts prises away the undeniable grip of crooked myth.

Although the project doesn’t try to rescue those catalogued within the colonial perspective in history; they are reached for by Money, and the viewer, and offered the chance to evolve through contact with those who seek to understand them better. 

“These renders that were given so often by really racist white filmmakers are not the truth. And I wanted to acknowledge the honour of these people where the archive had attempted to render them without those things. Because I do think, I do really think these films affect our daily lives.”

Money excavates a fidelity in the clips by placing them in sequences that speak to each other to tell a bigger story. In this way, the bodies depicted reverberate with the present, and come alive for it. For Money, “grappling with these archives as things that hold document of the body and document a past, but not the past”meansintertwining the “joy and abundance and celebration of our community.” 

The act of dipping into the past animates the “abundance of joy” inherent in Blak Australian history:“This is why our acts of resistance, our acts of love, our acts of joy are so radical and so powerful – because we have this legacy of violence and this legacy of dispossession that has been so extreme. I didn’t feel like I could tell the story without acknowledging where we’ve come from.” The film is studded with these moments of embodied Blak joy shown in clips of embracing and dance and shared laughter. 

The Wiradjuri word ‘Winhanganha’ roughly translates as to think / to know / to remember.

When considering how the archive continues to inflict a colonial gaze on the First Nations bodies it holds a record of, this word takes on a new kind of gravity. For many, the modern archive is a site of liminality that is kept alive in remembering the violence perpetrated by the colony onto Indigenous Australians. Money feels “we can’t navigate these legacies unless we actually look at them.”

The archive is bursting with Money’s ‘spectres’ – but the ghosts inside do not seek to haunt. They seek to be witnessed, to dance and light fires, and sing and hug and move freely. Giving them room to do this is Winhanganha – thinking and knowing and remembering. It brings them forth into the present, just as the viewer is invited to visit the past. It is a dialogue, vital and going on all around – a ‘gathering for the big ceremony’, as Money puts it in the film’s fifth poem, ‘the one that’s been here since always.’ WINHANGANHA is a place comprised of threshold. Threshold as a site of constant to-and-fro, of connection between stories that have been fixed and stories that are still being written.

WINHANGANHA shows a history of resistance. The political tension of the past re-enacted in the present throws 2023’s referendum into sharp relief. Officially released in November 2023, the film premiered a month after Australia voted against an Indigenous Voice to Parliament.

“I had just experienced this incredible education by sifting through hundreds of hours of footage and listening to these iconic speeches and activists through various points in time… I was sitting at the feet of my ancestors and people [who] have pioneered protest on this continent for hundreds of years now. 

“… In some ways, the whole Voice to Parliament referendum was like deja vu. I was thinking, I’ve seen this all before, like I’ve seen how this plays out….We’ve never needed parliamentary permission to have a voice. That’s absurd. This whole fucking edifice of government on this place is a lie – this is stolen land; this is an illegal government. Why on earth would we need your permission? So, I took a lot of strength fromWINHANGANHA in those moments.”

In the film’s fifth poem, Money asks ‘did they not know how long fire can burn in the root?’ The archive smoulders in reply. Fire is featured prominently in WINHANGANHA. A cinematic “burning the house down”, as Money terms it. These sequences reference ancient practices: “Blak ways of being and knowing and caring for country involve fire. And that, that is a language of care and that is a language of regeneration.”

WINHANGANHA holds space for contradiction, for rejuvenation because of and despite destruction. Money seeks out the complexity inherent in these stories and in doing so, sets the category and index of the archive alight. 

Jazz Money is a multi-disciplinary artist, working within mediums such as visual art, film, performance, audio and print.

Ruby O’Sullivan-Belfrage

Through film editing and writing, Ruby holds a space for ideas that explore the universal in the personal. She gleans creative energy from the synergy produced at the intersection of disciplines, particularly that of film, sound design and writing. Ruby’s screen work has been featured in Iceland's RVK Feminist Film Festival. She is the founding editor of Deco Radio, an audio journal that places sonic and literary artworks in conversation. Ruby has a background in film production and cinema studies. She works and plays on unceded Wurundjeri land

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