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The recent shooting of a black man in the back in Wisconsin has sparked more unrest and protests in the US in support of the BLM. The New York Times has said Black Lives Matter may be the largest movement in US history with recent polls showing “… about 15 million to 26 million people in the United States have participated in demonstrations” in support of the BLM.
Here in Australia, there’s been a massive amount of support for the BLM and we know the numbers of people protesting have been in the tens of thousands. A movie which shows you some of issues faced by the Indigenous people of Australia is one called Sweet Country.
This film was released in 2018 and it’s directed by acclaimed Indigenous director, Warwick Thornton – an Indigenous man himself who grew up in Alice Springs. Sweet Country received rave reviews and recognition worldwide when it was released, winning a raft of awards and receiving standing ovations at major film festivals.
The film won the Special Jury Prize at the 74th Venice International Film Festival, the Platform Prize at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival, Best Fiction Feature at the Adelaide Film Festival 2017, and Best Feature Film at the Asia Pacific Screen Awards.
The film stars newcomer, Hamilton Morris, who plays Sam – an Aboriginal man who gets caught up in some violent events. It also stars the Aussie and NZ veteran actors – Bryan Brown and Sam Neill. When we interviewed Thornton, we asked him why he’d chosen these two actors for some of the lead roles and he said: “I needed old boots with young hearts.”
A gritty western in outback Australia
Set in the outback of the Northern Territory in 1929, the film is a gritty and intense western inspired by real events. It tells the story of Sam Kelly, a middle-aged Aboriginal man who gets caught up in some violent events. We watch as Morris plays Sam – seeing him react as the story unfolds under the harsh conditions of the outback.
Forty-seven-year-old Thornton grew up as part of the Indigenous community in Alice Springs and is best known for his 2009 directional debut, Samson and Delilah. Since then, Thornton has worked as a cinematographer on other projects but said when he saw the completed script from screenwriter, Steven McGregor, and his old friend and sound recordist, David Tranter, he “fell in love with it.”
What attracted Sam Neill to the movie?
On what attracted him to the film, Sam Neill said, “Pretty much what you see on the screen — which is to say a really ripping western on the surface and then — as you watch the film, you realise there’s a whole lot of other stuff going on underneath that western structure. I’ve always wanted to be in a western — it’s sort of an unfulfilled ambition.”
“And I thought, it’s Warwick directing it — I’m going to be part of it. There’s not necessarily going to be too many parts in Warwick’s films for old white blokes, so I thought I’d take the opportunity while I can,” laughed Neill.
“Plus, it’s really a profound story in many, many ways, and I think it was an important story to tell,” he added.
Why did Bryan Brown come onboard as well?
Bryan Brown said he was attracted to the film because: “It was a good strong story as I read it on the page, and I loved Samson and Delilah – and I’d worked with Warwick a couple of years ago on one of his docos and enjoyed it. That relationship with director/actor was there.”
“And all of those things turned out to be truths,” continued Brown. “The fact that it was going to be hot, and we were going to be on horseback and all those things are actually really great. You know, you go — I’m going to feel this movie. I’m not going to walk away from it going, ‘Well, that was a nice couple of scenes in a kitchen with somebody’. It’s going to be different, and that’s sort of exciting.”
Sweet Country’s silent score ripples with intensity
In an unusual move, Thornton used no music in the soundtrack for Sweet Country. Instead, the sound of the cicadas and the sand crackling between someone’s toes is what you hear — rippling with intensity. Thornton’s beautiful cinematography transports you to the outback, and as you watch the film, you can feel it in every cell of your body.
Thornton said he made the film this way because “I’m not trying to blow smoke anywhere but the problem with a score is it’s abused, and it’s used to make people happy, sad, or to change the pace — all that kind of thing. And it shouldn’t be there for that reason.”
“I like the idea that you created challenges for yourself and if you take away the score, well these guys [Thornton points to Neill and Brown] have to act their bums off. So it creates a challenge that if you get it right, it creates a really beautiful truth for a film,” he said.
Sweet Country was produced by Bunya Productions, with major production investment and development support from Screen Australia’s Indigenous Department, in association with the South Australian Film Corporation, Create NSW, Screen Territory, and the Adelaide Film Festival.
You can watch Sweet Country on SBS Movies or you can rent it on Google Play, YouTube and AppleTV