Cunnamulla, located 800 kilometres west of Brisbane, is a bleak, multi-race town whose population faces enormous collective and individual challenges. A taxi driver\'s wife, a wannabe DJ and a couple of young girls provide eye-opening perspectives.

3.5
A portrait of misery.

Dennis O'Rourke is one of this country's most notable documentarians, working on projects as diverse as Cannibal Tours, The Sharkcallers Of Kontu and The Good Woman of Bangkok. His latest project is about a country town in Queensland – Cunnamulla.

The portrait that O'Rourke presents is pretty bleak. As the local taxi driver's wife Neredah tells us at one point in the film, her father warned her against marrying anyone who lived in a town at the end of a railway line. Neredah seems to know everything that's going on in town, she confides all sorts of insights and opinions – she's a great believer in flogging to teach the young ones a thing or two. I don't know flogging would help two young girls, best friends Cara and Kellie Ann, who sleep with anyone who asks, however they ask, but who'd rather have the men as friends. You get the feeling there's no possibility of that. Then there's local DJ Marto who bemoans the lack of new music. He's been adopted by pensioner Jack who sits in front of his fan espousing a really jaundiced view of the world. But if the film has a focus it's really on Cara and Kellie Ann.

Is this really a portrait of life in a remote outback town or has O'Rourke chosen to represent the town through some of its more depressing inhabitants? I'd love to know what the people of Cunnamulla think of the film. It made me wonder about the difference between a documentary and reality TV, like Front Up. You never get a sense of the town as a whole, you get the feeling that this series of interviews is just one portion of a whole and you're never allowed to see the other. But I suppose that the strongest impression was that the people in it are more like specimens to be looked at than human beings to be empathised with. There's a real lack of affection for the characters, but maybe you don't need affection in a documentary that's basically a portrait of misery.

David's Comment:
Though this documentary is well made, and many of the characters featured are fascinating, in a sad sort of way, I had the feeling of being manipulated. This is a very selective view of a country town, concentrating as it does on the most tragic or marginalised characters; occasionally we get glimpses that there's more to the town than this, but O`Rourke is only interested in the negative side. Maybe it's the all-inclusive title, suggesting as it does a portrait of an entire community, that's misleading.