Price: $310.00

    Code: 2365

    Directed by Rolf de Heer and Molly Reynolds
    2009, 90 minutes
    Purchase: $310 | Classroom Rental: $125

    A beautiful documentary from acclaimed Australian filmmaker Rolf de Heer, Twelve Canoes paints a compelling 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, Australia. The film is divided into twelve chapters, each dealing with a particular aspect of Yolngu culture, place, or history. The chapters, poetic in nature with strong, sometimes ethereal imagery are accompanied by words from different Ramingining storytellers:

    Creation, which tells of when the people of the area came into being. As there are many creation stories, this is the story of Dog Dreaming and his travels from the Swamp to the sea.

    Our Ancestors describes the way the Yolngu used to live, in the old times, before the arrival of any visitors from the outside world, and how this society used to operate.

    The Macassans, from the island of Sulawesi in Indonesia, were the first who came from another place. Long before the coming of the white man, the Macassans were trading partners of the Yolngu, who were introduced to cloth, metal, tobacco and sea-faring skills.

    First White Men tells of the various wars, ultimately won at great cost, fought by the Yolngu to protect their lands and people from the encroachment by the white man.

    ThomsonTime speaks of Dr Donald Thomson, the anthropologist who came to solve the turmoil in Arnhem Land in the 1930's. Kinship highlights the complexity and historical importance of family structure and ancestral relationships.

    The Swamp describes the World Heritage listed Arafura wetlands just south of Ramingining. The Swamp and its people have a historical, cultural, economic and spiritual relationship which is now threatened by a number of factors. Flora and Fauna is about the diversity of plant and animal life of the Arafura wetlands and surrounding areas, and their continuing but fragile existence in a changing world.

    Seasons is about how the blooming of a flower can tell you the sharks are being born in the sea; it is about the interactive description of the changing life cycles that punctuate the weather patterns of the Yolngu year.

    Kinship highlights the complexity and historical importance of family structure and ancestral relationships. The expression of kinship today has evolved, but its importance and complexity remain. Ceremony is about the rites and rituals that describe aspects of the Yolngu inner life, the ceremonies that bind the community together and keep the people and their traditions strong.

    Language tells the story of how the different languages were given to the different clans of people in the region and describes the relationship of the clan groups and the people as a whole to their languages.

    Nowadays captures a slice of the contemporary way of life for the Yolngu in the township of Ramingining.

    Subjects & Collections

    Festivals & Awards

    Winner, Audience Favorite Award, Archeology Channel Film Festival, 2011
    Official Selection, Telluride Film Festival, 2009
    Official Selection, Amsterdam International Documentary Festival, 2009


    Twelve Canoes is truly a remarkable work. This beautiful and clever film teaches the viewer something about Australian Aboriginal culture while giving the viewer a powerfully authentic experience of that culture. Students and scholars should study the film not only to learn about Aboriginal and other indigenous societies but about filmmaking and creating a cultural experience… And as if the film were not wonderful enough, it is strongly supported with a beautiful full-color study guide.” - Anthropology Review Database

    “Highly recommended. Beautifully conceived and produced… Accompanied by an excellent study guide, Twelve Canoes is an informative, educational, and thought-provoking gateway to a story and a people too few know.” - Educational Media Reviews Online