A new immersive documentary Star Dreaming is set to tell Indigenous sky stories through the perspectives of Yamaji artists from the Mid West region of Western Australia.

Prospero Productions has partnered with the Yamaji Art Centre and is working in consultation with internationally renowned astrophysicist, Professor Steven Tingay to produce the art-meets-science film.

The documentary explores the science behind sky stories with the assistance of the world’s largest radio telescope, the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) located on the land of the Yamaji people.

Milky Way overhead the Square Kilometre Array. Photo by Michael Goh, supplied by Prospero Productions.

At the helm of the production is Ngarlama/Bunuba man and director, Perun Bonser.

The unique documentary has been filmed for 180-degree dome-style cinemas and will include CGI animation of Indigenous artworks illustrated by local Yamaji artists.

Bonser said this means the projection happens “in front of you, to the side, above you and behind you”.

“Star Dreaming is an incredibly bold and authentic concept, telling a story that has never been told this way before,” Bonser told NIT.

The film follows the perspective of two children, young Yamaji girl Lucia Richardson, 13, and Max Winton, 12, who take a visit to the SKA and are introduced to the sky stories for the first time.

Max Winton and Lucia Richardson with Yamaji Arts artists Charmaine Green and Margaret Whitehurst. Photo supplied by Prospero Productions.

Chair and artist at the Yamaji Art Centre, Charmaine Green, features in the film and is shown introducing the children to each artist on Country.

“As we walk on Country, we meet up with the artists and the artists then explain their stories and their paintings to the two young people who go on this journey of discovery,” said Green.

Green said she is thrilled at the opportunity to share the art and stories of the Yamaji people.

“It’s a really exciting opportunity to share with the world stories from Yamaji region, because you don’t get to hear very many of our stories, cultural stories or sky stories in a contemporary setting,” she said. 

“That cultural knowledge transfer is really important.”

Yamaji artists including Margaret Whitehurst, Wendy Jackamarra, Barbara Merritt and Kevin Merritt will be featured in the film, alongside their artworks of famous constellations, including one of the most important star stories to the Yamaji people — the Emu in the Sky.

The Emu in the Sky is one of sky stories that will be projected onto the dome cinema.

The story explores how emus were creator spirits, with the position of the constellation directing when to collect emu eggs.

“I think the highlight of the documentary is seeing the Emu in the Sky stretched in the Milky Way and … the way that that will be portrayed in the dome. The full dome feature is one of the most exciting things,” said Green.

The project came about as a way to honour the decade-long relationship Yamaji Art has had with the SKA and the Ilgarijiri and Shared Sky projects.

The intent for these collaborations is to bring together the knowledge of scientists using the world’s leading astronomy equipment with the knowledge of Indigenous people who are some of the oldest astronomers on Earth.

Star Dreaming is scheduled to be completed halfway through 2021 and will be played inside a purpose-built dome cinema.

By Grace Crivellaro