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Working on Indigenous Country

All land in Australia is Indigenous land

  • When working in Australia, filmmakers need to understand and respect that Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander and Indigenous peoples are the traditional owners of the land. They have been connected to and caring for the land for over 60,000 years.
  • Indigenous peoples have cultural responsibilities and rights in relation to the land of which they are the traditional owners. This knowledge becomes critical for filmmakers who wish to film in areas within the state, particularly in regional or remote areas.
  • Establishing who the local traditional owners are prior to the film shoot and creating a working relationship with them, will assist greatly in knowing what areas are sacred and what the appropriate protocols are for access or filming.

Working with Indigenous Content

  • Screenwest requires that all funding applicants comply with protocols related to the treatment of Indigenous Cultural and Intellectual Property Rights (ICIP).
  • ICIP refers to the rights that Indigenous people have, and want to have, to protect their traditional arts and culture.
  • Filmmakers should identify any Indigenous content, concepts or cultural elements your project may include as early as possible in the research and development stage. This will make it easier for you to implement the correct filmmaking protocols throughout the life of your project.

What is Indigenous Content?

Projects can be classed as containing Indigenous content if they:

  • are based on Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander stories
  • include Indigenous characters (minor or lead)
  • contain themes surrounding contemporary Indigenous life
  • include representations of Indigenous culture or heritage in any form such as music, dance, artwork, or language. (Janke et al, pp 9 – 20).

When is Indigenous participation required?

Where there is Indigenous content or community participation involved in any project, written confirmation of the willingness of both the subject(s) and the community to be involved in the project is essential.

Where the content involves a true story or real-life subject, you will need to provide a signed clearance or release for any individual or community depicted.

Where the content involves culturally specific material, you may need written consent to use Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander cultural heritage. It may also be necessary for you to acquire the subject’s life rights. You should contact Arts Law and seek legal advice to ensure you follow the correct protocols.

Where the content involved is not specific to a particular community or does not involve a real-life story or depictions of culturally specific material, the team will still need to provide a written statement of how they will deal with the material.

This must include, at a minimum:

  • what research has been done
  • what action has been taken to date
  • what further consultation is proposed.

Evidence of a concrete plan is required in order to meet the minimum eligibility criteria for Screenwest project development and production funding.

Working with Indigenous People

Consultation and Consent

Consultation and consent in Indigenous communities are interrelated.

Through consultation a filmmaker can come to understand what requires consent and the correct people to give it, and the people giving consent can more fully understand what they are consenting to.

  • Consultation refers to the process whereby people exchange views and information. Consultation is not just a one-way process, but a process of sharing knowledge and opinions. Consultation means working together, listening to what the other party has to say and acting upon it.
  • Consent is a process whereby permission is given, based on a relationship of trust. Consent should be informed, and this means filmmakers need to provide a clear explanation of the filmmaking process, timeframes, contract details, possible benefits, impacts and future uses of footage at the time of seeking consent, to avoid misunderstandings at a later time. The consent process should be transparent for all parties, and information should be explained in plain English or with the help of an interpreter.


If your project includes significant Indigenous content, you should consider collaborating with Indigenous creatives.

  • Collaboration refers to partnering with Indigenous creatives, engaging an Indigenous practitioner as a key creative (e.g. writer, director or producer) or working with an Indigenous-led production company. A true collaboration means that Indigenous voices are sitting at that table with all the other creatives as equal partners (Dot West, Our Voices On Screen panel at CinefestOZ 2020).

Keep in mind that if you engage a practitioner as an Indigenous consultant in addition to another role, such as as key creative, they should be credited and compensated for each role accordingly.

Creating a Consultation and Collaboration Plan

An Indigenous Consultation and Collaboration Plan is a plan that filmmakers put in place to ensure that proper respect for Indigenous cultural beliefs, heritage, intellectual property rights, individuals, communities and Country is upheld in every stage of the production process.

We recommend that filmmakers use Screen Australia’s Pathways & Protocols as a starting point to create a plan, especially if they are a non-Indigenous filmmaker working with Indigenous subject matter.

The document provides an overview of the protocols for working with Indigenous people, culture and concepts as a filmmaker in Australia with easy-to-follow checklists for each stage of the production process.

It also includes information on:

  • Communication, consultation and consent
  • Copyright law, legals and contracts
  • Case studies for documentary and drama productions, and
  • Indigenous communities’ rights.

Filmmaker Checklist

Here are the sections of Pathways & Protocols you should refer to at each stage of production:

  • Protocols for Documentary vs Drama (p 20)
  • Initial research and project development (p 21)
  • Script Development (p 25)
  • Pre-production and production (p 29)
  • Editing and post-production (p 38)
  • Screening and broadcasting (p 43)
  • Footage archiving (p 44)
  • Summary Checklist (p 47)

Connecting with Traditional Land Owners

There are hundreds of different Aboriginal groups within Australia, each with their own distinctive language, customs and lore.

If you know the general area in Western Australia you want to film, you can start by contacting one of the Land and Sea Councils.

There are six Land and Sea Councils in Western Australia representing the interests in land held by the traditional owners and native title holders.

If you have a specific location in mind, reach out to the relevant Local Government Authorities and Cultural and Language Centres in the area.

You can learn more about the language, social or nation groups of Aboriginal Australia through the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) Map of Indigenous Australia and Austlang Languages Database.

Location Permits

If you are filming on Indigenous lands controlled by the Aboriginal Lands Trust (ALT) or vested in the Aboriginal Affairs Planning Authority (AAPA), you will need to obtain a permit through the Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage.

There is no cost for the permit, which is a legal requirement under the AAPA. People of Aboriginal descent, members of either House of Parliament in both the State and Commonwealth Governments and others authorised by the AAPA are exempt.

Permits are granted for a period of time sufficient to allow travel through the reserve by the most direct route. Permission can also be obtained from the resident Aboriginal communities for applicants who want to travel off the main road.  Permits are not required for travel on public roads.

For more information about other location film permits, see our “Best Practice Guide for Filmmakers” and “Filming in Western Australia” documents on the Film Friendly for Filmmakers resource page.

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