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Malcolm Douglas Documentaries

October 13, 2023

They aren't very well known, but the indie documentaries produced by Malcolm Douglas, beginning in the late 1960s, up to into the 2000s, serve as a remarkable time capsule on Australia's Indigenous peoples. His debut work, Across The Top (1969), fascinated me as it demonstrated what life would have looked like for most humans living in tropical regions until the stone age ended (4000 BC - 2000 BC). As stated in multiple films, the children he meets have already gotten used to living in the modern world. They eat white bread and canned food delivered to Indigenous settlements where they live; and they much prefer it to the past culinary staples -- witchetty grubs, lizards, turtles, snakes, and other bush meat. The recordings capturing the older Indigenous men hunting crocodiles, building bark canoes, touching-up cave paintings, carving boomerangs, constructing fishing rafts, all with primitive tools, are invaluable now.

I highly recommend watching Malcolm's work released prior to the 1990s. As time went on, the adventures became less exciting -- Malcolm's early Indigenous friends ceased joining him on trips due to old age; Malcolm, also aging, and spent more time fishing and speaking directly to the camera, which removed the thrill, and the unique, immersive quality the earlier documentaries had.

It was noticed these documentaries don't feature the Indigenous people speaking much. Malcolm speaks on their behalf in almost all cases. Verbal communication between him and the Indigenous people is also sort of rare. If I had to guess, this decision was probably made to "streamline" the documentaries, to deliver clear, brief snippets of information to the audience.

Most Malcolm Douglas films are available on YouTube. You can also torrent them.