12 Canoes showcased at the NFSA

The world premiere of 12 Canoes is being presented at the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia celebrating the creation of the NFSA as a statutory authority on 1 July 2008. 

In the wake of the hit feature 10 Canoes, director Rolf de Heer and digital media practitioner Molly Reynolds have collaborated with the Yolngu people of the Arafura swamp to create 12 Canoes.

12 Canoes is a web based multimedia project of twelve linked short subjects that together paint a visual and audio portrait of the people, history culture and place of the Yolngu people whose homeland is the Arafura Swamp of north-central Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory.

When Rolf de Heer was collaborating with the Indigenous Yolngu people of Ramingining to create 10 Canoes, there was too much material on the entirety of their lives, culture and history to include in one film.

“Working with the people of Ramingining, there were so many details about this unique culture and community that they were proud of and wanted recorded, that the idea of a website, which could embrace any aspect they wished, was born. The community felt it was an opportunity to showcase their history, their land and their culture to the outside world,” Rolf de Heer said.

Media practitioners Molly Reynolds and Marshall Heald agreed to collaborate to create this multi-media web project in a lattice-like framework, to better reflect the Indigenous history, lifestyle and worldview.

The Executive Director of the National Film and Sound Archive, Dr Paolo Cherchi Usai said he was so impressed with the first two completed modules of the web based project, he immediately saw the potential to convert them into a cinematic presentation.

“What emerged was a powerful, lyrical portrait of a people and place, something that cannot be experienced from the average website visit of between two and ten minutes. 12 Canoes is essentially a cinematic poem; as such, it also deserves to be seen on the big screen,” Dr Paolo Cherchi Usai said.

Ramingining is an isolated town about 500 kilometres east of Darwin with a population of about 1,500 people, mainly Indigenous, in the township and surrounding districts. Set up by the government in 1972 to bring together the different peoples of the region, Ramingining is consequently a mixed settlement of primarily Yolngu people. Many are close to or on their traditional tribal lands; others are some distance removed from them.

The community is one of contrasts. Most people know six or seven languages, but English is spoken only out of necessity, and often in rudimentary fashion. Hunting, fishing and gathering are still practised, in both traditional and non-traditional ways, but at the same time people turn to the internet to do their banking.

This cinematic release of 12 Canoes offers a more fluidly integrated soundtrack mixed specifically for the cinema and has been prepared as a gift to NFSA by its creators, Rolf de Heer and Molly Reynolds and offers a preview of the upcoming website, which is to be launched later this year.

The world premiere and one time screening of 12 Canoes is screening at 6.30pm tonight, 1 July 2008 at the National Film and Sound Archive. Tickets are limited.

Tickets: $20 general, $15 concession. 
Contact Gail Sauer Ph: 6248 2162 or email

More information and breathtaking images from 12 Canoes is available on the NFSA website

[Release by Avviso]