Imagine living in a world where you found it impossible to understand your bills, where you couldn’t text people and you had difficulty getting a driver’s licence because you couldn’t pass the Ls test. For around 40-65% of Indigenous Australians this is a reality because they are functionally illiterate. The documentary film, In My Own Words is an uplifting story about an excellent program that takes on this sobering statistic and works hard to bridge the gap.
Indigenous director, Erica Glynn (Black Comedy) filmed the 13-week course called “Yes, I Can” which is run by the Literacy for Life Foundation in Brewarrina in rural NSW. The town was the second community to implement this program (the first was in Wilcannia). Brewarrina is located in northern NSW and is home to 415 Indigenous Australians. A group of these people would meet and bond together over lessons in this adult literacy course, which was based on a Cuban model called, “Yo! Si Puedo.”
The course is facilitated by the radiant Mary Waites, a Brewarrina local and an inspiring woman. The film briefly touches on her own back story where she describes how she found Christianity and landed this job, which enables her to reach out to her people. Another local woman named Janelle Frail also teaches in this classroom along with a Cuban gentleman named Chala LeBlanch.
This film features some wonderful characters like Clarence Gibbs, a man who has worked hard jobs like sheep mustering, lawn mowing and other forms of employment involving intense manual labour. It is an absolute joy to watch him read his very first love letter, which was sent to him from his ex-wife, especially when you consider that in an earlier scene he had to take a letter from his electricity provider to a friend in order to decipher it. There is also Narelle Reynolds, an outspoken and strong woman with two sons in jail. She owns no telephone and hopes she can learn enough in order to write letters to her boys.
In Our Own Words is a raw rollercoaster of emotions- from the sadness at witnessing these marginalised individuals to the funny jokes that are shared in class, and the excitement and happiness at witnessing these people acquiring new skills and developing some level of mastery they never possessed. This documentary is ultimately a story made by an Indigenous Australian and is about Indigenous Australians but it is also a universal tale that is well-told and one we should all help to support so that this good work can continue and be expanded to other communities and towns in need.
Review Score: FOUR AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
In Our Own Words screens on the 9th and the 14th as part of the Sydney Film Festival. Tickets and more details are available HERE.