Yolgnu Boy

Catriona McKenzie

Catriona McKenzie

Sean Mununggur, diretor Stephen Johnson, Yolngu Boy

Sean Mununggur, diretor Stephen Johnson, Yolngu Boy

In the current climate there are lots of feature films being made from Indigenous stories by non-Indigenous filmmakers. Beyond the Rabbit Proof Fence by Phil Noyce is a good example. Others are in the pipeline with ex-pat directors returning home from Hollywood. Meanwhile, Indigenous filmmaker Ivan Sen has just started his first feature Beneath Clouds. Others like Rachel Perkins, Erica Glynn and Richard Frankland all have projects in development.

Yolngu Boy sits somewhere in between. A black story told by a white creative team supported by Indigenous associate producers. Much respect to the Yunupingu brothers in giving the filmmakers access to the communities and culture of Arnhem Land.

Yolngu Boy is a tale of instruction, almost a fable, which follows the story of 3 young lads who share the same totem: crocodile. The message is simple. If you follow your culture and stay strong then you’ll remain on track to becoming a man. If you stray off the path then you’ll be in trouble. At the beginning of the film we see 3 boys hunting together; they go through ceremony and we understand that they are bonded by more than friendship. The film jumps several years and we pick up the characters who are older now and heading in different directions. Miliki is into football and dreams of going to play AFL in the city. Botj arrives back from a Darwin remand centre where he’s spent time for petrol sniffing and other misdemeanours. Lorrpu is strong in his culture and thinks he can help Botj get back on track. The 3 band together to travel to Darwin. Despite their friendship there are strains as Botj stirs up trouble and tries to get his mates to come along with him. After much adventure (I loved the moment when they catch a manta ray and are dragged out to sea in a sacred canoe), they make it to Darwin and there the trouble starts again.

Yolngu Boy was written by Chris Anastassiades (who also wrote Wog Boy) and produced by Gordon Glenn. That the Yunupingu brothers were associate producers is instrumental in the evolution of this film. The director Stephen Johnson established his career making music videos with Yothu Yindi. Yolngu Boy is his first feature. The strength of the film lies in its characters and strong performances by John Sebastian Pilakui, Nathan Daniels and Sean Mununggur. It’s great to hear the sounds of Yothu Yindi, Nokturnl and other Indigenous bands and wonderful to see Indigenous characters and Top End country on the big screen.

Yolngu Boy, distributed by Palace Films, is currently screening nationally.

RealTime issue #42 April-May 2001 pg. 17

© Catriona McKenzie; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 April 2001