‘Terror Nullius’ by Soda–Jerk
Sweet Country by Warwick Thornton Acute Misfortune by Thomas M. Wright When the Ian Potter Cultural Trust publicly described the most recent co-commission in its partnership with the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) as “un-Australian”, and removed the trust’s name from the credits, it ensured this film would become an instant cult hit. And the work delivers. Soda_Jerk is an art collective comprised of sibling duo Dominique and Dan Angeloro, and Terror Nullius: A Political Revenge Fable in Three Acts is a vehement and unrelenting remix of Australian cinema that is, as billed, “equal parts political satire, eco-horror and road movie”.
The 55-minute piece samples and remixes national iconography and canonical screen references to create a critical work of social commentary and an audacious take on the Australian Gothic. This epic counterculture film riotously traverses the vexed landscape of Australian mythology and identity. It is an ode to our film and television archive, while also mining its content to reconstruct and redefine narratives around Indigenous land rights,
LGBTQIA+ issues, refugee policy and misogyny. At a time when Australian politics is increasingly sinister, Soda_ Jerk instrumentalises historical touchstones such as Gough Whitlam’s dismissal in 1975, the Tampa crisis of 2001, the celebrations of the Australian bicentenary in 1988, the rise of Pauline Hanson, the 1992 Mabo decision and last year’s marriage-equality postal survey to create an irreverent and acid-tinged historiography.
Soda_Jerk describes its practice as being at the intersection of documentary and speculative fiction, and this work continually shifts tonalities from lyricism to the didactic, and layers moments of representation and unreality. Characters in Terror Nullius are untethered from their films of origin: when asylum seekers wash up on our shores they are greeted by Russell Crowe’s character from Romper Stomper; the
Mad Max 2 character Lord Humungus is now in cahoots with Pauline Hanson; and Josh Thomas from Please Like Me
talks Indigenous rights and constitutional recognition with Terence Stamp’s character from Priscilla.
When the Ian Potter Cultural Trust withdrew its public endorsement just prior to the work’s premiere, it issued the understatement of the year, claiming the film was “a very controversial piece of art”. ACMI, to its credit, was unwavering in its support for the commission, and a dialogue around the implications of commissioning and exhibiting political works of art and film ensued. Terror Nullius is a landmark piece of agitation, and, as Soda_Jerk have boldly claimed, “even in late apocalyptic neoliberalism it’s still possible to live the art and keep the fight”. Too right.