Name: Nicole Ma
Nicole Ma - Mentoring and filming for the project [ORAL HISTORY]
Synopsis: Nicole talks about becoming involved in the Canning Stock Route Project, the challenges of the six week Canning Stock Route trip, and finding a film crew who could handle the work and film in a fresh way. Nicole also talks about working with emerging filmmakers and the way young people act as role models. She also discusses her favourite painting.
Language spoken: English
Catalogue number: CSROH_193_Nicole_Ma
Interviewed By: Clint Dixon
Location Recorded: Old Masonic Hall, Nedlands
Cultural Protocols: Public Access - Verbal Consent
Full transcript: Clint Dixon: Can you introduce yourself?
Nicole Ma: OK, my name is Nicole Ma and I’m Chinese. I live in Melbourne. I’m a documentary filmmaker. And … I’ve been working in film for over twenty years
CD: How did you get involved with the CSR project?
NM: Um … the Canning Stock Route … originally I was asked to film the trip, the six-week trip from Wiluna to Halls Creek, and at the time they were talking about an exhibition and they wanted media for the exhibition, so they said could you come along and bring a crew and film sort of a … whatever happened on the stock route. And when we started we didn’t really have much of an idea what it was all going to be about so I had to just think through, well, what would we need on the trip and how can I film … I knew there would be painting camps along the trip, so I was thinking to myself how … what can I bring, because it’s a six week journey in a very remote area, I had to bring all the equipment and think through how to film paintings in particular in a way so that could have different looks, you know, so that it wasn’t all the same way of recording a painting – because it was a long trip. So it was quite an exercise in thinking through what equipment to bring and also crew-wise, who to bring, because they needed to be people who could have the stamina to do a six-week trip up the stock route.
CD: How many were in the film crew?
NM: In the crew there were three of us. I was the producer/director, we had a director of photography and a sound man who was also … he was also the grip as well which meant that he could rig … we brought a little mini crane as well so that we could do moves along the canvases and we also brought a steady cam, so that we could do, sort of, flowing walks along the sand and film tracks and film the paintings, you know, as they’re lying on the ground.
CD: Do you know much about the CSR?
NM: Not when I started, I knew nothing about the Canning Stock Route. Prior to going I read a book about it, but … the Canning Stock Route is … and when I said to people in Melbourne I’m going on the Canning Stock Route, we’re going on a trip and we’re filming it, most people had no idea where the Canning Stock Route was, so they were like me, we had no idea what the Canning Stock Route was, had no idea that it had a history. I didn’t really, in particular, know that there was any Aboriginal history associated with it.
CD: What has it been like working with the emerging filmmakers?
NM: It’s been fantastic for me to work with the three emerging filmmakers. Originally it was not something that was planned. When we … when the Canning Stock Route Project was initiated they said we’re going to have some emerging filmmakers come along, but they didn’t have one filmmaker come – I think Morika came for her Country with her art centre and you yourself came at the end, so you were at the Late Stretch section and KJ came for about three quarters of the way, he was probably there the most. Initially it wasn’t an emerging filmmakers program, initially it was just having interns come along and watch us as the crew, as a professional crew work and have them help us and then maybe, you know, do some work with the professional crew. But then as we were going along the stock route we also brought with us a little computer so that we could edit stuff as we went along and I thought it might be a good idea to have the curators … the young filmmakers make their own film about the stock route, because we had the cameras and we had the editing and we could, you know, do it pretty quickly. So everyone made their own film on the route and I think that’s what started the thought process about including an emerging filmmakers program within the whole scope of the project. And as the project has gone along it’s just gotten bigger and bigger, you know, more programs have been added in and the importance of having, of … allowing young people the experience to head this project has emerged as being one of the most important components of the whole thing.
CD: Have you worked with young filmmakers before?
NM: I have gone to remote communities to do filmmaking workshops, so it’s very different. So they were people who might have an interest in it but have never done it before, so I would have to teach them, you know, filmmaking from the very beginning - they didn’t know how to use the camera, they didn’t know how to use a computer. But the people who came on the Canning Stock Route were on a level above that, they had some experience, in your case quite a bit of experience, in the field so they knew how to operate a camera and they knew about editing and understood the process of filmmaking. And so as professionals we could take them and we could mentor them on a much more sophisticated level. So that, by making it … I think, personally, the only real way you learn anything in film is to make them yourself. So by them watching what we were doing and then having a chance to make their own film, they could … we could guide them in the process and supervise their needs. So if they needed … if they wanted to know something they had the opportunity to have someone support them in the project, but in fact do the films themselves – and I think that was the best way to learn for most people.
CD: Can you tell me about the movie nights?
NM: Yeah, we had … not every night, but when we stopped at a camp for a few days we’d set up this bush edit suite under the trees and we’d have two computers going and at night after we’d had dinner we’d sit down and start editing the footage of the emerging filmmakers. And we cut two films, which once they were finished we hung up a painting, back to front, on a car, and screen the films. So we’d have film nights along the stock route as well. Not only footage that Morika and KJ had made, the films they’d made, but we’d also show people the footage that we were taking – you know of Country, and of the people painting and whatever else was happening because we not only filmed the landscape, the paintings, we were also filming the reality of the journey and what was happening along the way. So we’d screen those as well, in the evening.
CD: How are you feeling about the project as it progresses?
NM: Well, as it’s going along … as the project has progressed I have gradually started to feel more and more excited about it, because I feel that it’s not just the project anymore, it’s more … it’s the ramifications of what we’re doing is much broader. It’s moving into the whole of the Kimberly, into the Northern Territory, it feels like the waves of what we’re doing because of the emerging curator’s program and because of the emerging filmmaker’s program is going to reverberate through the whole of the North of Australia because it means that these young people are going to become known for what they do, they’re going to act as role models for young people in remote communities who can say well, if they can do it I can do it too. So we need to … the opportunity for the emerging … these emerging young people to actually be a voice for the project, which I think is what’s happening - they’ve become the voice of the project, it’s going to encourage a lot of other young people in remote communities to want to do something too and … and that it’s not that difficult, as difficult as they imagine, to do something that they really love. And if we can find a way to get that across to the young people, that these young people, this is what they’ve done you can do it to, I think would be the greatest achievement of the Canning Stock Route Project.
CD: Do you have a favourite painting or artist?
NM: My favourite artist comes from, and I’m probably saying this really badly, the Ngurra claim because since I’ve been working in the Kimberly, you know it’s been seven years now that I’ve been actually going up there and filming a lot, I have started to learn more and more about what the old people’s stories are and what the stories are for the canvas and I like … because I feel close to them, I feel like they’re my friends and because I feel like they’re my friends I feel like their paintings are my friends and their paintings … I just love them all because I actually like them all very much and that’s why I like … well, any painting from that area I feel close to, I feel a relationship to and I feel that it speaks to me, the stories, because of what they’ve been teaching me, the old people from there.
CD: Anything else to add?
NM: Lets stop it, I’ll think about that.
Video recording: Tape 13
Rights: © FORM, transcript only
Provenance: This material is sourced from Ngurra Kuju Walyja — the Canning Stock Route Project, which was initiated in 2006 by FORM and developed in partnership with Birriliburu, Kayili, KALACC, Mangkaja, Martumili, Ngurra, Papunya Tula, Paruku IPA, Warlayirti and Yulparija artists and art centres.