rt90 editorial

Rowan McNamara, Samson & Delilah

Rowan McNamara, Samson & Delilah

The international prize-winning short filmmaker Warwick Thornton’s first feature film, Samson & Delilah, is something to really celebrate: a grimly powerful account of Indigenous lives undone by petrol sniffing, deep rooted institutional prejudice and challenges internal to Aboriginal cultures. Australian feature films of recent years have been criticised for their bleak vision of our culture, and yet here is a film that pulls no punches, is rarely didactic, and shows how bad it can get for young Aboriginals, and I mean bad. This is a film that has made hardened film reviewers weep, but as Thornton said in our interview, he could not destroy his characters, not in the place where he grew up. He felt an enormous responsibility to show a way out. It’s not a conventional one. It’s not the Intervention. Thornton offers no social program. The answer, and you’ll have to see it for yourself, is as idiosyncratic as his short classics Green Bush and Nana, because the boy and girl at the centre of Samson & Delilah are outsiders, ostracised by white and black Australian cultures. It’s a symbolic solution Thornton offers, but worth no less for that, in a film rich in acutely meaningful symbolism, a world of images, sound and very few words. Thornton joins the Indigenous feature film-making ranks of Rachel Perkins (Radiance), Lawrence Johnston (Life) and Ivan Sen (Beneath Clouds) and will doubtless soon be joined by others from a generation whose talents have been nurtured by the Indigenous Branch of the Australian Film Commission (now integrated into Screen Australia) and other agencies, not least CAAMA in Alice Springs where Perkins and Thornton learned much and honed their skills. RealTime has a proud history of documenting and reviewing Indigenous Australian film. We edited and produced Dreaming in Motion: A Celebration of Indigenous Filmmakers (AFC, 2007), the first book on the subject. One of the 26 filmmakers profiled in it was Warwick Thornton, one amidst a wealth of talent, many of their films still not seen by most Australians. Film festival audiences are notoriously particular, their audience vote for best film often going to quite different films from the choices of judges. The audience for the 2009 Adelaide Film Festival gave their award to Samson & Delilah, contradicting the expectation that such an emotionally demanding film would be rejected, and challenging the mantra that ‘serious’ is bad and even somehow ‘un-Australian.’ RT

RealTime issue #90 April-May 2009 pg. 1

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 April 2009