Arts & Entertainment

Review: Ablaze

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The documentary “Ablaze” is a paean to Aboriginal rights activist William Onus, and a fascinating tour of suppressed Australian history. Filmmakers Tiriki Onus and Alec Morgan have created a gripping film exploring the life and times of William Onus, Tiriki’s grandfather.

It’s something of a mysterious treasure trail. Tiriki discovers a suitcase in his mother’s house containing William’s photographs and memorabilia. Puzzled by these unlabeled mementos, he embarks on a journey to trace the details of his grandfather’s life and times. What follows is an immersive, fully engrossing tale that intertwines his “Uncle Bill” with Australian history.

Starting with a “lost” film in an Australian archive, Tiriki pieces together his grandfather’s life, and it’s a wild story concerning activism, displacement, government surveillance, union rights and theatre and more.

Supporting the evident research are interviews with relatives and historians, and plentiful archival footage.

There are many insights into the fight for culture in the film. A striking one is possum-skin cloaks traditionally given to a child, their life story told in fire engravings on the pelt. As they age into adulthood and elder status, they are buried in their life cloak. At one time, Aboriginals were forbidden to wear these cloaks, whilst socialites wore furs and donated blankets. The doco opens with Tiriki wrapping his newborn in possum skins.

The life of William Onus, as depicted in “Ablaze,” is one that reflected and created his time. His legacy is shouting everywhere in Australia. And maybe his grandson’s film is the one he was meant to make.

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★★★★ ½

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