Please note, this story contains the names of people who have passed away. 

Australian film and theatre icon, Kelton Pell, has been presented with the CinefestOZ Screen Legend Award for 2019.

A talent on stage and screen, Mr Pell is being celebrated during the CinefestOZ festival taking place across Western Australia’s southwest region.

Mr Pell received the news days after attending the Helpmann Awards and during the filming of Buckley’s Chance in Broken Hill with actor, Bill Nighy.

“Going to Helpmann’s, seeing Uncle Jack Charles and seeing Uncle Kev Carmody getting his lifetime achievement award. It was very special – then a couple of weeks later I get the phone call from CinefestOZ,” Mr Pell said.

“Isn’t it odd how stars start to align?”

The Western Australian actor has spent over 30 years in theatre, working with The Playhouse Theatre Company, The Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust under Wendy Blacklock, the Yirra Yaakin Noongar Theatre, Black Swan Theatre Company and Belvoir Street Theatre.

His onscreen career includes starring in television series, The Circuit, Redfern Now and The Heights, and films such as, Blackfellas, Australian Rules, September, Bran Nue Dae, Mad Bastards, Red Dog: True Blue, Three Summers and the soon-to-be-released Buckley’s Chance.

 Mr Pell will be accepting the award in his family’s hometown of Margaret River, WA.

“It was a great honour to be offered this award, and be given it at Busselton, [Margaret River/Busselton is] my Dad’s country, Wadandi country,” Mr Pell said.

Sparking a passion for acting on the stage, then moving into film, Mr Pell has nothing but thanks for those who helped his journey.

“I must really pay respect, not only to my Elders, past and present, but also to the two people who inspired me to be who I am now … Mr T.E. Lewis and David Gulpilil,” Mr Pell said.

“They were the two people I watched on television when I was little.”

“We fast forward to a decade later, and meet Uncle Jack Charles. He is a living legend still with us today, who inspires me every day – seeing him riding around Melbourne and Collingwood on his little electric yellow scooter.”

“I like to also give praise to other people who have helped me along the way, and those who aren’t with us anymore, particularly, Brother David Ngoombujarra.”

Mr Pell commends the power and support of the community of black artists in the industry.

“We are different than the white industry because we are a close family – I respect every man and woman who is telling their stories. We are caretakers of each other.”

Mr Pell believes that there is a need for acknowledgment of country and cultural awareness during the creation of film on Aboriginal land.

“It’s extremely important, for every project, that we have an acknowledgement for the non-Aboriginal people and a welcome for the Aboriginal people in the cast and crew,” Mr Pell said.

“We must also, have a smoking ceremony and that means a smoking ceremony on every place we go that is a significant site for our people. This is needed to cleanse and clear and to give everyone permission to be on that place.”

Working in Broken Hill, Mr Pell tapped into the sadness that breathes under the red dirt.

“All around Broken Hill is massacre country, I tried to research but there’s nothing. Google doesn’t tell us, it’s in your spirit, I can feel sadness all the way through that place.”

“It’s important we [First Nations artists] get taken care of, we have someone to talk to, that’s where the caretakers come in. We are out there to do the best we can with whatever story we have.”

“Mining companies need to get on-board too – they’re not going to stop raping our country and destroying our sacred sites. They need to start taking care of the Traditional Owners and the displaced people who have been pushed off their homelands during the Stolen Generations.”

“It is a chain reaction but it’s something that needs to be addressed.”

This reaction is shown right now, right in the heart of the nation.

“Look at what is happening at the centre – at our sacred place Uluru. Tourists from all over the world are travelling, rushing to the rock.”

“Why aren’t we all climbing heritage buildings? Buildings that have been here for only two-hundred years. It’s about acknowledging.”

The understanding of belonging is something so sacred to Mr Pell, and something he hopes the young generation will remember.

“Our song lines are all over the world – we are the first. Aboriginal people in Australia stretch back to the beginning of time.”

“Our people sing to the stars, and have songs for trees, animals, the country, the waterholes, for the ranges – we did not come out of Africa. But if we did, it was only to get back to where we belong.”

“We belong to this country – sit down and listen, connect with the old people. I hope the younger generations be proud of who they are, where they come from and respect the old people.”

Mr Pell, with the wisdom of his old people and the knowledge collected during his life on his shoulders, is excited for the future.

“I want to thank … everyone in the industry I’ve had the pleasure to work with during my career, it has been so special. But, I know, there’s plenty more to come.”

CinefestOZ is supported by the WA State Government, Tourism WA’s Regional Events Program and Premium Partner Rio Tinto.

The festival acknowledges its strong partnership with Screenwest, Western Australia’s screen funding and development agency and will run from August 28 to September 1.

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By Rachael Knowles