The screening jointly presented by the Picture House and Amnesty International. This was a relatively successful release in 2002 given that it is [in part] a foreign-langue film, in Aboriginal and English. The British distribution and exhibition scene does not do very well by such films. So it is good to see it returning to the Picture House for an opportunity to see or re-see a fine and moving drama.
The film is partly based on actual characters and events. In 1931, as part of the oppressive treatment of Aborigines, three young girls are taken from the families and placed in a ‘re-education’ camp. The film follows their epic journey home, following the fence that cuts across the continent. The fact that the fence was a built to control the imported rabbits population is a potent metaphor for the colonial policy in Australia.
The three young performers – two sisters, Evelyn Sampi as 14-year-old Molly and Tianna Sansbury as 8-year-old Daisy, with Laura Monaghan as their 10-year-old cousin Gracie are excellent. Kenneth Branagh plays the Protector of Western Australian Aborigines, A. O. Neville: the actor frequently embodies the British Empire, in this case known by Aborigines as ‘Mr Devil’. And there is David Gulpilil as Moodoo the Tracker, the Aboriginal actor whose career started with Walkabout in 1971.
The film is helmed by Phillip Noyce, the Australian director whose tally of films goes back to the 1970s including the fine Australian Film Commission production Newsfront (1978). The cinematography is the work of Chris Doyle. He is especially noted for his work with the Hong King filmmaker Wong Kar-Wai and he has won prizes at the Cannes and Venice Film Festivals. Here he reveals the sweep and epic nature of the outback landscape.
Fortunately the film, shot on Super 35 and in colour, is screening in 35mm, which will do proper justice to the visuals. And the soundtrack enjoys music by the British composer Peter Gabriel.
When released the film attracted criticism and controversy regarding the representation of the treatment of Aboriginal children. The source for the film is a personal autobiography. The film probably takes liberties in dramatising historical events. But there is plenty of evidence of the inhumane treatment of Aboriginals by the colonial government and the Australian government: from the 1978 The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith there are a number of fine film treatments of the issue,. The recent excellent documentary Al Jazeera on the ‘White Australia’ policy provides evidence on another aspect of the policies in this period.