It may be too early to proclaim a resurgence in indigenous filmmaking but this year we're witnessing an unusually high level of films and documentaries from directors such as Ivan Sen, Wayne Blair, Rachel Perkins and Catriona McKenzie.
Toomelah director Sen (pictured) is getting ready to shoot Mystery Road, a murder mystery. McKenzie is putting the finishing touches to family drama Satellite Boy.
The out-of-competition screening of Blair's soul singer drama/comedy/musical The Sapphires at this month's Cannes International Film Festival will shine a global spotlight on Australia's indigenous cinema while Perkins' doco Mabo will premiere at next month's Sydney festival ahead of its ABC-TV airing. Mabo features Jimi Bani as Eddie Mabo, the Torres Strait Islander who led the High Court challenge that led to the recognition of native title in Australia.
Rounding out the current wave of indigenous fare, Blair, Perkins, McKenzie and Leah Purcell are shooting episodes of the ABC prime-time drama series Redfern Now, which focuses on six households on one street in the inner-city suburb.
McKenzie has a simple explanation for the heightened interest in indigenous subjects, telling SBS Film, “The scripts are so compelling, it's impossible to not take note and fund these projects. And the skill set of filmmakers is ready to take on telling these stories.”
Writer-director Sen starts shooting Mystery Road in the outback towns of Moree and Winton at the end of June. Aaron Pedersen (TV's City Homicide; The Circuit) will play an Aboriginal cop, Detective Jay Swan, who's called on to investigate a murder and soon realises a serial killer is at work. The $2 million pic was financed by Screen Australia, Screen Queensland and the ABC. Gary Hamilton's Arclight has the world sales rights outside Australia where it will be released by a new distributor, Michael Wrenn's Management of Doubt.
“It's an Agatha Christie-style whodunit, a classic genre film,” said producer David Jowsey, who is partnered with Sen in Bunya Productions, which made Sen's Toomelah and Brendan Fletcher's Mad Bastards. “We're trying to move into more genre-based, mainstream storytelling.”
In Cannes, sales company Celluloid Dreams will show footage of Bunya's Satellite Boy, the saga of a 12-year-old Aboriginal who lives with his elderly grandfather in a remote town. After grandad's house is threatened with demolition, the boy and his best mate set out for the big city. The film stars David Gulpilil and two tyros from the Kimberley region of Western Australia, Cameron Wallaby and Joseph Pedley who were discovered after a national casting search. It was funded by Screen Australia, Screen NSW, Screen West and an investment from WA's Mount Gibson Iron (the same source which tipped in cash for Mad Bastards).
Hopscotch will release the family-friendly, art house film in late 2012/early 2013, hoping to cash in on The Sapphires, which it will launch in August. “Obviously we're hoping that will be a success and we will come in on its coat-tails,” said Jowsey. “If that goes well and there's every sign that it will, it will hopefully lay a pathway for us. I'm glad Hopscotch has both films so they're not in competition with each other.”
Bunya has just finished shooting Yagan, an ABC docudrama which chronicles the life of a leader of the Nyungar people in Western Australia who rebelled when his people were declared British subjects; he was killed by two white men in 1833 after a bounty was placed on his head.
Clarence Ryan, who co-starred in Peter Carstairs' 2007 drama September, plays Yagan, and the docudrama was directed and written by Kelrick Martin.
Longer-term, Sen and Jowsey plan to make the leap to a more ambitious and costlier level with Loveland, a genre movie to be shot in Hong Kong, budgeted at between $6 million-$12 million. Sen's screenplay revolves around Triads, turf wars, concubines and assassins, and Jowsey is talking to prospective co-production partners in Hong Kong.
“We're trying to evolve from doing films with a social agenda into doing things with a more commercial orientation,” he said.
Jowsey also signalled a desire to remake Sen's Dreamland, an experimental, zero-budgeted, black-and-white, HD-lensed, 2010 sci-fi film about an obsessive UFO hunter who encounters a secret American military base in Nevada, which played in festivals in Pusan, Korea, Melbourne and Brisbane. As he says, the remake would have a proper budget and a professional cast.