In a world full of entertainment options, it’s sometimes easy to overlook Australian stories. But it’s important to take the time to check out our homegrown drama – not out of some sense of duty or obligation to the local industry, but because Australian film and television is often up there with the best the world has to offer. A great place to start is SBS On Demand’s homegrown drama collection – here’s a quick rundown of the many highlights on offer there.
Before they were famous
Australian film has a strike rate well above average when it comes to international stars. Sometimes we even import them, like jazz legend Miles Davis in Rolf Van Der Heer’s Dingo. But if you’re looking to see Australia’s big names before they headed off to Hollywood, then we’ve got you covered. Proof stars both Hugo Weaving and Russell Crowe in a touching (and often very funny) look at a blind photographer’s quest for the truth. Windrider sees Nicole Kidman playing a rock star (hey, it could happen) who falls for a professional windsurfer (Tom Burlinson). Somewhat surprisingly, it’s his career that’s the one put at risk by their forbidden love.
Being gay in Australia has been the subject of some of our most affecting storytelling. In Head On, 19-year-old Ari (Alex Dimitriades) is rebelling against everything to do with his traditional Greek upbringing in one night of drugs, dancing and sex. Holding the Man starts out a more traditional love story as two teenagers (one bookish, the other an AFL player) fall in love at an all-boys school. Their relationship lasts through university and beyond – until the AIDS crisis takes a dreadful toll.
Crime rules the streets
Animal Kingdom is only a few years old, but it’s already a classic of the gritty crime genre. A look at a Melbourne crime family cracking under the strain of police pressure, it’s (partly) based on a group of real-life crims. Likewise, Joe Cinque’s Consolation is also based on a true story. While the crime – a murder in a Canberra suburb full of young white collar workers who knew what was going on but didn’t take it seriously enough to stop it – might be a bit more small scale than a string of armed robberies, it’s no less chilling in its look at the kind of people involved. Toomelah isn’t exactly true crime – it’s about a 10-year-old kicked out of school who befriends a local drug dealer leader to live out his gangster fantasies. But writer/director Ivan Sen did put the story together by spending weeks with Toomelah locals and taking notes.
Coming of age
If you’re talking Australian coming-of-age films, you’re talking Puberty Blues. A giant of the genre, this look at girls growing up in '70s beach culture remains a spot-on take of trying to figure out who you are against a backdrop that doesn’t really care. Teenage Kicks’s teen lead, Miklos (Miles Szanto), has a more concrete problem than surviving sun, sand and surf – he’s all set to flee his migrant family with his best friend when his older brother suddenly dies. Now he’s got to come to terms with not only what happened, but who he is and who he might grow up to be. And for the lead in Lore, the path to adulthood is a literal one – in the wake of World War II, a teenage girl has to leave her Nazi parents behind and cross Germany to find safety.
The path of young love rarely runs smoothly, especially if you’re in an Australian drama. For the young duo at the heart of Beneath Clouds, love might not even be a consideration. Lena (Danielle Hall) is fleeing her home town and her Aboriginal mother; Vaughn (Damien Pitt) has escaped from a prison farm to visit his sick mother – teaming up is more about necessity than any connection between them. The couple in Samson & Delilah may have a stronger bond, but when a tragedy sees them heading to Alice Springs, life on the streets there may be more than they can handle.
Sexy is the word
The works of Norman Linsday are obviously deeply sensual, so it’s no surprise Sirens, which looks at the artist (Sam Neill) and his work through the eyes of an initially repressed visiting couple (including Hugh Grant as a priest), doesn’t hold back. Expect plenty of cavorting from Linsday's models (including Kate Fisher and Elle MacPherson). Paul Cox’s Human Touch tells the story of a young singer (Jacqueline McKenzie) who’s enticed to expand her sexual and spiritual horizons by an older lover. It’s a more intimate film, but no less sensual an experience.
If there’s one thing Australian film does well (and let’s be honest, it does a lot of things well), it’s looking at families that really don’t get along. But how to get a dysfunctional family in the same room? How about a funeral? In Radiance, it’s the death of their mother that brings three sisters (including Deborah Mailman) together after years apart; in Erskinville Kings, it’s a dead dad that brings two estranged bothers (Joel Edgerton and Hugh Jackman) back in contact. They’re both tough looks at the forces that drive people apart, with any happy ending hard fought for.
Taking series seriously
Over the last few years, SBS has been at the forefront of Australian TV drama, with a string of first-class series looking at local issues and identity. The Principal tackles race in a violent boy’s school where an embattled principal (Alex Dimitriades) struggles to turn things around, while Sunshine follows a would-be basketball star in one of Melbourne’s more diverse and disadvantaged suburbs as he tries to succeed against the odds. There’s comedy in there, too. Based on Benjamin Law’s best-selling memoir, The Family Law looks at growing up Asian on the Gold Coast with a hilariously awkward family.