Zach's Ceremony
R0 - Australia - Umbrella Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (15th July 2017).
The Film

“Zach’s Ceremony” (2016)

Interviewed at the start of the documentary is 10 year old Zachariah Doomadgee, a young seemingly normal boy who likes normal things as any child would. But he is growing up. As a boy of Aboriginal descent, he will take part in the coming of age ceremony when he turns 16. This documentary chronicles the life of Zach and those around him for the next six years of his life. Growing up in the city environment, he still has close ties to his native roots as his father Alec Doomadgee has been instilling the native culture he had grown up with into the minds of his children and making sure to take them back to their ancestral home village of Doomadgee whenever possible. An amateur boxer who did not have a formal education, he was a hard working single father that did everything he could to make sure his children could have what he didn’t.

As years go by, Zach starts to become a young man. But not all is a road to greatness as he starts experimenting with drugs and getting into trouble, bullying continuing due to his fair skin not fitting in with other Aboriginal kids and being darker than the white kids. In addition, growing up in a broken household where the mother had left it leaves a hole unfilled in his heart. Even though his father remarries and his step mother is very loving and caring, it is not the same in his mind. He must overcome all the emotional issues as he tries to stay strong in spirit. This is the story of Zach and his journey to spiritual manhood.

While filming took a full six years, preparation and post production was a full decade long journey for the filmmakers and the family. Director Aaron Petersen worked closely with the family and the Aboriginal people in Domadgee to gain their trust and have them feel comfortable to share their thoughts, feelings, and history on camera over the years, even to have them share portions of the coming of age ceremony which is rarely seen by outsiders. The film’s initial purpose was to follow one boy’s journey growing up but there was so much more to add to the story as circumstances had it. The suicide of his close cousin who was to take part in the ceremony with him, the upbringing of Alec and how distant he became from his own father, the step mother’s role in the family even though she is white, the Aboriginee mistreatment and segregation. All of these issues are heavily part of the main story and shows there are issues more than that of a simple “boy meets adulthood” documentary. Especially impressive is the animated montage sequence chronicling the history of Aboriginee mistreatment in Australia in a quick two minutes, graphically but not violently showing the effects of the white controlled Australia slowly pushing away the older culture to near extinction. With the mass westernization that continues to grow in Australia, many Aboriginals were erased of their heritage, language, customs, culture, and basic history. The film does not bash the viewers’ heads in with “hate the white man” but instead shows acceptance that culture and history must be preserved rather than wasting time on hate and anger. Though not all can be straightforwardly forgiving - as Domadgee villagers show some of the absurdities of white laws that are still in effect.

Aboriginal cultural awareness is a massively important part of Australian history and it’s films like “Zach’s Ceremony” which show a light into traditions not commonly seen by non-Aboriginal Australians and also for the rest of the world. Growing up is complex in any place in the world and what Zach goes through in the six years of his life chronicled in the film is not at all a foreign concept. There are no major surprises as every kid from every culture can lash out, try to seek their own independence, have peer pressure, or start going down the wrong paths. “Zach’s Ceremony” does not take any particularly new steps or unusual left turns, but as for an effective documentary on growing up and honoring one’s own culture, it certainly hits its marks.

Note this is a region ALL DVD in the PAL format which can be played back on any DVD or Blu-ray player with PAL capability

Video

Umbrella Entertainment presents the film in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement in the PAL format. With footage being shot over a six year period using various digital video cameras, the footage can look inconsistent. The earlier footage does have some drawbacks in definition and depth, some of the mini DV cams used for casual self interviews or stationary shots in the household also lacks in clarity. But much of the later portions when Zach is a teen look quite good with slightly pale colors for the image.

The film’s runtime on the disc is 92:26















Audio

English Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo
The original English audio track is presented in stereo. Dialogue is mostly center based while left and right separation is used primarily for background music. Considering how the dialogue was captured there are some parts where the voices echo or have low volume but that is to be expected. Music is well balanced and there are no major issues with the audio track.

Some of the harder to understand accents in Domadgee or the low volume portions are given burned-in English subtitles, but that only accounts for a very small portion of the film.

Extras

"What People Are Saying About Zach's Ceremony" featurette (1:05)
This promotional featurette has theater patrons on their thoughts post screening, along with a message from Alec about the film.
in anamorphic 2.35:1 and 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles

Filmink Interview with Zach and Alec Doomadgee and director Aaron Peterson (14:48)
Featuring clips from the film along with interviews, the director and the subjects talk about the 10 year journey, about the importance of the history sequence, and more. Alec and Peterson are interviewed together while Zach is interviewed separately. Alec and Peterson’s audio is a bit echoey, while Zach’s is a little louder and a bit distorted.
in anamorphic 2.35:1 and 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles

Q&A at Dendy Newtown Sydney (19:25)
This Q&A features Zach and Alec Doomadgee along with Aaron Peterson on stage after the film’s screening. Unfortunately Alec’s microphone songs awful, making it very hard to hear his thoughts.
in anamorphic 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles

History Animation Sequence (2:17)
The animated sequence from the film is presented here on its own, with the only difference being the film’s title being watermarked in the corner.
in anamorphic 2.35:1, Dolby Digital 2.0 with English text

Opening Title Animation Sequence (0:58)
The animated sequence from the beginning is also presented here on its own, with the only difference being the film’s title being watermarked in the corner.
in anamorphic 2.35:1, Dolby Digital 2.0 with English text

A trailer is not available on the disc but it has been embedded here below:

Packaging

The rear cover states “region 4” but this is in fact a region ALL disc. It also states there are “English HoH” subtitles but as stated in the audio section, there are burned-in English for difficult to understand portions and not English HoH for the full film.

Overall

“Zach’s Ceremony” showcases both the struggles of growing up and the importance of preserving one’s own culture for the future. Strength in mind and strength in body, we all wish the best for the Doomadgee family while also acknowledging the difficulties they or others around the world face in the world of mass westernization. The Umbrella Entertainment disc features a good transfer with video and audio along with good extras making this a recommended release.

The Film: B Video: B Audio: B Extras: B- Overall: B

 


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