Indigenous Filmmaker Dylan River On The Value Of Stories Ahead Of Netflix Debut

Dylan River

Cinematography runs in the blood of Indigenous Australian filmmaker Dylan River. His father is award-winning director Warwick Thornton and his grandmother, Freda Glynn, is the co-founder of the Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association (CAAMA) – an organisation that plays a major role in preserving Indigenous language and culture.

In the third season of Australian docuseries Tales by Light, which will premiere on Netflix Australia this month, viewers will be taken on a stunning journey to the Northern Territory as River captures the stories of Australia’s First Nations people.

“Stories can change people’s views, they can better our world. Tales by Light is a great example of the power of imagery and the power of telling stories,” River told PEDESTRIAN.TV. 

In partnership with Canon Australiathe filmmaker was approached by the series’ director and producer Abraham Joffe who wanted River to step in front of the camera for a change.

“We wanted to come up with a storyline that was true to what I do,” River told us. “So I thought, maybe I could go back to places that I’ve been to before.” 

Together with the crew, River kicked off filming in Alice Springs before travelling to the Tablelands Region in Far North Queensland. He was determined to capture whatever the communities believed was precious – anything they wanted.

“We created this idea of documenting culture and preserving it through video and photography.” 

Credit: Canon Australia

For River, it was important to him to already have a relationship with the places he went to.

“There was no bullshitting, I wasn’t just creating that for the screen,” he said.

In Victoria River, near Katherine, River met with Bill Harney – Wardaman Elder, master storyteller, and artist. He is one of the last speakers of the Wardaman language.

“Bill doesn’t know how old he is,” River told us. “He kind of keeps forgetting how old he is.”

“He’s in his mid-80s and at his age, he’s definitely the oldest generation of his language group. He was born in the bush, his dad was white and his mum was an Aboriginal woman.”

But unlike Dylan’s grandmother and the Indigenous people of that region and generation, Harney wasn’t taken away from his family as part of the Stolen Generations. He was hidden by his mother.

“Bill has an extreme knowledge and sees the importance of culture, language, and storytelling and he’s preserved that because he wasn’t taken away.”

“I think going up there, I was definitely reflecting on my family’s fate. We can’t speak language and we don’t know our song lines and that’s probably because of what happened to my grandmother,” River said.

Credit: Canon Australia

For River, his life and art won’t always be defined by his background but right now “they’re the most important stories to tell.” 

“Seeing the changes that can still be made with Aboriginal people in this country, that’s why we tell these stories.” 

Tales by Light season three will land on Netflix February 22.