Etched in Bone

2019 - Shortlisted


Judges' comments 

This documentary film chronicles the theft of human bones from an Aboriginal community in Arnhem Land by an American and Australian scientific expedition in 1948 and the return of those bones seventy years later. The story of this particular theft is made especially shocking using archival footage from the National Geographic Society film archive showing the bones being stolen. Martin Thomas has read closely the diary of the bone taker, leaving no room for doubt that the contemporary documentation was conscious and deliberate.

As the film moves beyond the theft to consider the obligation of respect for those stolen remains, Thomas and Bijon keep the narrative focus always on Jacob Nayinggul and Nayinggul and his fellow Gunbulunya elders who led this Arnhem Land community’s campaign to have the bones repatriated from the Smithsonian.  The considerable power of the film comes from the portrayal of Jacob Nayinggul’s leadership role in determining a contemporary culturally appropriate process for the ceremonial burial of the repatriated remains.