Zach’s Ceremony

Riverside Archives

This event has occurred in the past

Documentary Schools Program presented by
Documentary Australia Foundation and Riverside Theatres

Zach’s Ceremony

Venue Raffertys Theatre
Dates 02 June 2017
Category Cinema Screening

Winner 2016 Sydney Film Festival Audience Awards for Best Documentary

Growing up isn’t easy, especially for Zach who is rapidly making the transition from boyhood to manhood, in both the modern world and his ancient culture. Pressures from his loving, but staunch father, the temptations of city life and the ever present spectre of racism all take their toll. Ultimately Zach must embrace the traditions and knowledge of his ancestors and awaken the warrior within.

Zach’s Ceremony is an extraordinary, feature-length documentary captured over ten years that shows one boy’s journey to manhood in a complex, emotionally driven story. Its themes are universal: that of family and connection, but also explores the fascinating and unique question of what it means to be a modern man belonging to the oldest living culture on earth.

Please Note: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this program contains images and sounds that relate to deceased persons.

Classification: M
Distributor: Wangala Films

Dates & Times:
Friday 2 June at 10:30am

The Q&A and panel discussion will include Aaron Peterson (director) and Zoe Betar (Member of the Reconciliation Council Management Committee).




Interview with Alec and Zach Doomadgee on Indigenous Waves CUIT Radio in Toronto, 2016 Interview with Alec Doomadgee and Aaron Petersen on ABC Radio Brisbane, 2014

Concept Creator Statement

This documentary has been a lifelong dream to show the beauty of Aboriginal culture to the world. I started work on this film 10 years ago when I saw the questions in my son Zach’s eyes about his Indigenous heritage. I’ve since come across many Aboriginal kids that have the same questions. Who am I? Where do I come from? What is my culture? Is my culture dead and gone? I believe this is a very important film for the education of not just mainstream Australia but the many Indigenous kids who are asking the same questions of identity. I hope this also shows that Aboriginal culture is alive in modern day Australia and needs to be celebrated and something to be proud of, considering all the hardships it has endured. The more understanding we have between different races and cultures that have formed a melting pot in Australia, will be a good thing for our society as a whole. Education is everything. Alec Doomadgee

Director’s Statement

This is my first role as a director of a feature length documentary and it’s been a rewarding, challenging and life changing debut project for me. I am 38 years old. My family migrated to Canberra, Australia around 1980. What I didn’t know at that time was that I was surrounded by a wealth of beautiful Indigenous culture and knowledge; but like most from my generation, education and awareness in the Indigenous space was incredibly limited. I was only really aware of the negativity which ultimately led to levels of conscious and subconscious racism. I first met Alec Doomadgee in 2009 working on a TV series through my post production company, PostBox Studios. We shared stories about our backgrounds, our families and our interests. By now, I was a young father of two boys, a 2-year-old and a newborn. Alec shared stories about his 8-year-old son Zach, and his plans to put him through his ancient rite of initiation. I was fascinated but I also felt somewhat envious that he had something so powerful to share with his boys. I wanted to learn more. Prior to starting the majority of filming, the Producer and I watched a number of Australian Indigenous films. It was clear the common approach was to identify troubles and problems. We wanted a different approach. The team wanted to show something to celebrate and tell it through the eyes of a young boy in the hope it would appeal to a much wider audience. It needed to be something special and Zach was the perfect person to connect with. We had to capture the people, communities and landscapes and the shots needed to be cinematic and epic. Equally we had to ensure everything captured was authentic and remained an observational documentary. We had once-in-a-lifetime unique access to a tribal lore ceremony. With this in mind, I faced the biggest challenge. I was a white man observing the journey of a young Aboriginal boy, his family and his community. Alec was key to giving me an access point within the community but it was up to me to deliver. In the beginning, I did not understand what this entailed. It took me a long time to comprehend the importance of what I was embarking on. I made mistakes. But in the end I learnt the one of the most crucial lessons of all; the importance of respect. Fast forward seven years, it is only now that I understand what my purpose was. As a white director of an Indigenous Australian film, it is absolutely not your story, you are simply an enabler, an observer and you need a vision how that story is best told. I am honoured to have worked with incredibly beautiful people from the communities of Doomadgee, Borroloola and Robinson River and I constantly remind myself how unique this opportunity has been. I’m often asked how did we get through this and deliver the film we have. Capturing two strong personalities such as Zach and Alec would be enough to frighten any director, let alone a new one. The role needed to be someone who was resilient and accommodating. But the truth is I was blessed with naivety which played a massive role in taking on this project. I have learnt so much and for that I will always be grateful. As ‘Zach’s Ceremony’ enters the world, I have now been welcomed into the Doomadgee family. I will forever be part of Zach’s journey, one which I hope he can use to change a cycle of neglect and oppression amongst his people. Zach is transforming into a great leader and I am sure he will encourage a whole new generation of kids to embrace their culture and help Indigenous Australians receive the respect they deserve. I will continue to encourage my two sons to learn, respect and share the beauty of this extraordinary culture. Aaron Petersen


“…fascinating, and occasionally heartbreaking…” – FilmInk ★★★★★ – “The cinematography of Zach’s Ceremony is masterful. From the clarity of shots of Zach boxing with his dad whilst debating life’s rigours, to pristine images from the majestic mountains and terrain in Queensland, and dialogue with wise and respected elders, the visual journey astounds.” – Movie Quotes and More “The film would be remarkable enough on its own for the familial aspect, but the latter half gives viewers a glimpse into the titular ceremony, something rarely glimpsed outside the community. It’s depiction of aboriginal life is tough, but respectful, and the characters are more relatable than one might believe; especially in Canada where First Nations people face a lot of the same issues.” – Hot Docs


Interview with Aaron Petersen Q&A: Filmmaker Aaron Petersen and Producer/Subject Alec Doomadgee


Explore more Riverside shows

Sydney’s premier comedy event, bringing together a selection of the Festival’s biggest stars and next-big-things for a hilarious extravaganza all under one roof!
Follow Ross, Rachel, Chandler, Monica, Joey and Phoebe as they navigate love, life, friendship and true unagi, all while reliving your favourite moments from the smash hit TV show.


Approximately 1 hour 36 minutes (No interval)

Ticket Prices

All tickets $14

Transaction fees apply

Phone $4.60
Web $3.60
Counter $2.60
Screen $1.65
School Bookings $4.00

Connect with Us