Waiting for Harry

Kim Mc Kenzie
55 minutes


Set in Arnhem Land, east of Maningrida, we witness Frank Gurrmanamana as he prepares the final mortuary ceremonies for his deceased classificatory brother.

It was made with the Anberra peole in the Blyth River-area close to Manigrida on the Northern coast of Australia. In 1978 the funeral rites of Les Angabarabara, who had died several years before, were performed. The initiative was taken by Frank Gurrmanamana. He was a 'brother' of the deceased and so was the anthropologist Les Hiatt. Les Hiatt has worked as anthropologist with the Anbarras since the late 1950s, and Angabarabara and Gurrmanamana were his closest informants in this period.

Harry is the dead man's maternal uncle and a leader in the community of Maningrida. He is vital for the mortuary ritual because his appearance authorizes the use of motifs on the coffin and bones. Frank, who is the instigator and narrator for the film, needs important people such as Harry to give the rites validity and a proper respect for the dead man. The men build a shade structure and prepare a hollow log coffin for the necessary painting. They wait three weeks, but still no Harry.

Part of what makes this film intriguing is the triangular involvement of the audience, the filmmakers and the filmed. It is as much a film about filmmaking as it is about a ceremony. The anthropologist and Frank negotiate to have the ceremony performed during the day so they can film and we see Frank telling various people who are participating in the ceremony about the film and its purpose

Les Hiatt
Suggested readings: 
Arguments about aborigines : Australia and the evolution of social anthropology / L.R. Hiatt. Cambridge : Cambridge University Press, 1996. XIV, 225 s. : ill.
Loizos, P. "Admissible Evidence? Film in anthropology." i P. I. Crawford & D. Turton (eds.), Film as Ethnography, Manchester University Press, Manchester 1992:50-65 (16 s)