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Ablaze: behind the scenes

Co-writer and co-director Tiriki Onus takes a personal journey through his family’s past in the documentary Ablaze.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are warned this article and its accompanying video contains the names, images and voices of deceased persons.

Former opera singer Tiriki Onus never met his influential grandfather, William Onus, who was a First Nations activist. However a phone call from filmmaker Alec Morgan set him on a path of discovery about his family and their role in pursuing Aboriginal rights.

“Alec said to me, ‘Do you know that your grandfather, Bill was the first Aboriginal filmmaker?’” recalls Onus.

Thus began a near seven-year journey of connecting with people who knew his grandfather and trawling through the National Film & Sound Archives to uncover not only discoveries about William, but of the nation and their attitudes toward First Nations people in the 1940s.

In this behind-the-scenes video, Onus discusses finding William’s suitcase which contained many clues to his family’s history and how he hopes the documentary will continue to aid the conversation for First Nations rights.

Ablaze is released in cinemas nationally from 26 May 2022.