If someone knows a better contemporary Australian director than WARWICK THORNTON, please can you write and tell me. Then, I'll probably watch one of their movies and tell you you're wrong.
Thornton made the movie Samson and Delilah, following teenagers near Alice Springs - aboriginal teenagers - and when I watched it I wished it could become compulsory viewing for every person in Australia. Watching his new movie Sweet Country I thought the same thing, while I let the tears roll heavy down my face for the whole film, sobbed into my collar, sobbed onto my boyfriend, wept in every direction, inward, outward, across the continent, into the past and the present, for the people represented in the film, for myself, for our land, all of it.
Sweet Country is called an 'Aussie Western' in its media/hype bizzo, but in my mind it's not a western at all. It's just devastating real history of "Australia", in a way at least I had never seen it. It's not funny, it's doesn't end in justice and retribution, and the crime is too significant, horrific and real to be genre entertainment. Maybe calling it a western will help to get some more people in seats though - if so, good.
This movie was the first time I'd seen a representation of one of the awkward, faltering, and then deadly and devastating surprise clashes between Aboriginal people and British invaders. This was one of the less harrowing scenes in the film, a group of white men on horses coming across a group of aboriginal men doing ceremonial activities, and the ensuing violence. The scene is shot from further back, you don't know all the people on both sides already; you can be shocked and educated while still breathing - in much of the rest of the film it's a shame-fest of what the true history of the country is, up close, characters known to you through the closeness of cinematic story-telling - it's not possible to breathe in the same way through the rest of the film. But it was this scene that made me think so clearly "This is the first time I've seen a representation of these conflicts, and they would have happened all over the country for decades." These painful dropping pennies should come as a downpour in the next years, to reverse the whitewashing that's all through our culture, politics, false "history" telling.
Well, yes, Sweet Country is a magnificent, compulsory and devastating movie. Try to watch it and come out unchanged. But I also remember watching part of Rabbit Proof Fence one time with a friend's Russian girlfriend - when I said "Isn't it terrible what happened", she replied "I don't understand what the problem is, of course they should have been taken from their families, they were living as savages." I guess racism and ignorance can't always be shifted through watching a movie, but sometimes they can. If you watch Sweet Country, maybe it'll bring some home truths through, for worse and then for better.
Well, another of Warwick Thornton's movies was shown at Luna Outdoor Cinema last week as well, and this time Thornton and his producer Brendan Fletcher were there for a Q and A after. Warwick has a lovely lisp and speaks his mind. The movie - We Don't Need a Map - is kind of playful and informal as it moves through a sweep of representations of the 'Southern Cross', and interrogates how it became a symbol of ignorant and vicious jingoism tattooed on the arms and backs and shoulders of Bra Boy wannabees, and also sweeps across the country to nations of indigenous people whose elders share what they are allowed to of their ancient and continuing understandings and sacred revelations of the Southern Cross's meaning. This movie won't make you cry, but it will fill your heart with pride of our land's long standing sacred heritage and make you just want to know more and more. You could tell by Thornton's direction and then his answers to questions that he knows it's not going to help to just punch racist idiots in the face even if it would feel good, but that the answer is mainly in education, and swift, honest cultural change through a true reappraisal of history and offering culturally impoverished new Australians (esp. men) a better alternative. Well, that's how it seemed to me.
A few seats away from us was Roger Waters from Pink Floyd, come for a casual Saturday night Aussie documentary flick and Q and A under the stars. He asked the first (and second) questions of the Q and A with Thornton and Fletcher, sounding like a pompous, entitled, and annoying Englishman not afraid to hog the mic to people who didn't realise he was ROGER WATERS, and sounding kind of the same but with more leeway and swapping the word 'entertaining' for 'annoying' to those who did. His heckles about Elon Musk fell on sympathetic and eye-rolling audience members alike.
In my mind, Warwick Thornton is the star and hero of this scene, standing up as a Whadjuk elder gave the Welcome to Country that the Luna people had failed to officially organise, and using his casually expressed incredible talents to reveal the course of history, and change the course of history, all in a few 90 min films.