From Sand to Celluloid - No Way to Forget: No future
Night-time. White lines disappear into the darkness as a solitary car drives along a lonely stretch of country road. Files stacked beside the driver tell us that he is a field officer for the Royal Commission into Deaths in Custody. He is an Indigenous man (David Ngoombujarra). Flashback: a young boy (Geoff Tye) sits beside a parked car, cradling himself. Tears stream down his face. He tells us the reason why he drinks and smokes yarndi (marijuana) – because he looked into the future and realised he didn’t have one. Francis turns to take the boy’s outstretched hand. Suddenly we are back in the present, and Francis’s hand is extending towards his own vehicle in the present tense, and the illusion of the boy is no more. The car speeds off into the night.
Summary by Romaine Moreton
A strong opening sequence that discloses the sole driver Shane Francis’s objective, and what it is that haunts him on his solitary journey. This sequence establishes the loneliness Francis feels, but importantly the futility of the people with whom he is interacting as a field officer for the Royal Commission into Deaths in Custody. The Royal Commission into Deaths in Custody in real life unlocked much pain experienced by those people who lost loved ones in this way.
The Royal Commission was established in 1987 and published its recommendations in 1991. The issue is still current. Most recently, on 19 November 2004, the death of Palm Islander Mulrunji Doomadgee while in custody fuelled a riot when his community protested his death. In October 2006, Queensland’s Acting State Coroner found that police were responsible for Mulrunji Doomadgee’s death. No Way To Forget addresses the degree of emotional and spiritual disturbance caused by deaths in custody, and makes this issue available for discussion.
No Way to Forget Synopsis
A short film that uses flashback to tell the story of Shane Francis’ (David Ngoombujarra) close encounters with the spirit and secular worlds during his work as a field officer for the Royal Commission into Deaths in Custody, haunted by the spirits of the past and tortured.
No Way to Forget Curator's Notes
At the age of 25, Richard J Frankland was employed as a senior field officer for the Royal Commission into Deaths in Custody established in 1987, and it is this experience that Frankland calls upon to compose the narrative of this story. It is a glimpse into Frankland’s experience while working for the Commission – the incredible intrusion of death into the main character’s life, the constant isolation that results from location – as well as the things he has learned.
No Way to Forget is a story told while lead character Shane Francis (David Ngoombujarra) is travelling from one town to the next, the story unfolding in flashback. The characters’ whose deaths he has had to investigate, he tells us, he gets to know well – where they were born and what they were like – and death is the intruder in his once light life. The journey of Shane Francis – a solitary car along a desolate road – externalises the isolation Francis feels as a result of having to constantly engage with death. One scene where a boy (Geoff Tye) tells him that he looked for a future and couldn’t find one powerfully sums up the emotion of the story. In No Way to Forget, like Francis, we are introduced to characters whose lives are tumultuous and chaotic and, like Francis, we should be haunted by the realities of some folk within this country, and the ever-present spirits who watch over the work we are or are not doing.
No Way To Forget won Best Short Film at the Australian Film Institute Awards in 1996 and was selected for Un Certain Regard at the 1996 Cannes International Film Festival. Frankland’s other films include Harry’s War (1999), Who Killed Malcolm Smith (1992), After Mabo (1997) and theatre production Conversations with the Dead (2002).
Notes by Romaine Moreton
This clip shows Shane Francis (David Ngoombujarra), an Indigenous Australian field officer for the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (RCIADIC), driving between Swan Hill and Melbourne on a country road at night. In voice-over he says he is haunted by the deaths he has been investigating and can feel the spirits of those who have died. He gets out of the car and, in an eerie dreamlike sequence also on a country road but during the daytime, a young man (Geoff Tye) tearfully tells Francis that he looked into his future and saw that he did not have one. The scene reverts to the present and a disturbed Francis drives on into the night.
Educational value points
- Francis says that while working as a field officer for RCIADIC ‘you get to know everything’ about those who have died, and this clip dramatically shows that he is haunted by his experiences. His voice-over and the vivid challenging sequence in which he is confronted by a ‘ghost’ allow the audience to experience the pain and helplessness he feels about the deaths he has been investigating.
- The memories that Francis has been desperately trying to avoid come to life in a vivid sequence that both highlights and increases his sense of helplessness. This scene confronts the audience with the reality of deaths in custody as a distressed and tearful young man, whose death Francis has been investigating, tells Francis that he cannot see any future but the cycle of drink, drugs and jail. His tears and his direct appeal to Francis present the issue in a personal way, dramatising with the outstretched hand Francis’s anguish that it is too late to help those whose deaths he has researched.
- Richard Frankland, the writer and director of this short film No Way to Forget, is a Gunditjmara man from western Victoria. The film was adapted from his play of the same name and is based on his experiences as a field officer for RCIADIC. No Way to Forget is part of the series From Sand to Celluloid, which aims to stimulate and inform debate about Indigenous cultural representation. Frankland wrote the plays Who Killed Malcolm Smith? and Conversations with the Dead, which were also based on his experiences as a field officer for RCIADIC.
- Frankland uses a range of film techniques such as shot selection, editing, music, sound effects and lighting to powerfully convey the field officer’s experiences. The up-beat country music that Francis is playing to distract himself from his thoughts is replaced by sounds of the night – crickets and the wind – as he stands in the dark, feeling the presence of ghosts. Tight sound editing swiftly changes the mood again. A boy’s voice calls out ‘Uncle’ and a prison door slams, jolting Francis into the distressing reality of one young man’s death.
- RCIADIC (1987–91) was originally established because of concerns about the disproportionate number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people dying in custody between 1980 and 1988. The subsequent report blamed the deaths on the disproportionate rate of incarceration of Indigenous Australians, as well as institutional and policy failure and wider issues related to the social and economic circumstances of Indigenous people.
Education notes provided by The Learning Federation and Education Services Australia