Make a double feature of these two very different stories of survival.
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24 Sep 2017 - 9:24 AM  UPDATED 24 Sep 2017 - 9:24 AM

We know it can be overwhelming to choose a movie from the 900+ now streaming at SBS On Demand. In this new series, we suggest movies best watched back-to-back (i.e. 'Watch this, then that'). 

These two very different films both feature Yolngu teens living in the Top End of Australia. Walkabout (1971) is a masterpiece and a classic starring David Gulpilil in his first screen role, while Yolngu Boy (2000) presents a trio of cheeky friends getting into trouble with both the modern and traditional ways of life.

David Gulpilil (OAM) is without a doubt Australia’s most famous and prolific Indigenous performer. Now aged in his sixties, the Arnhem-raised Yolngu dancer and actor is famed for his grace, charisma and almost uncanny ability to dominate any film he appears in – from Storm Boy (1976) to Crocodile Dundee (1986), Rabbit Proof Fence (2002), Charlie’s Country (2013) and many more.

But you need to watch Walkabout to see Gulpilil’s very first screen role, and without speaking a word of English it’s clear he was an instant star, playing an Aboriginal teenager who saves two white children (Jenny Agutter and Lucien Roeg) who are lost in the desert after their father commits suicide.

Directed by British cinematographer-turned-director Nicholas Roeg (The Man Who Fell to Earth, Don’t Look Now), and adapted from a novel by James Marshall, Walkabout is a trippy almost hallucinogenic film. It continues to be hugely influential for its lush, impressionistic depictions of the Australian landscape, and for the unexpected and sometimes violent juxtapositions of its editing (for example, a kangaroo being hacked into pieces cuts to a scene of suburban butchery). But what lingers most in the mind is the film’s depiction of the difficulties of communication as two cultures struggle to comprehend one another. And of course there’s the unforgettable Gulpilil – virile, agile and tragically trying to connect with a girl who can’t understand or accept his courting rituals.

Watch 'Walkabout' at SBS On Demand 

 

 

Made nearly 30 years later, Yolngu Boy is a simpler and (mostly) more lighthearted  coming of age story featuring three Indigenous teenagers from northeast Arnhem Land. The film focuses on the challenges they face when two of them (John Sebastian Pilakui and Nathan Daniels) are selected for initiation by their tribal elders, but the third boy (Sean Mununggurr) is excluded due to his bad behaviour – including a robbery that goes tragically wrong. The three boys then run away to Darwin using a stolen canoe, and along the way they rediscover their hunting and survival skills, reconfirming the strength of their bond, but finding fresh difficulties when they get back to ‘civilisation’.

The first feature film of the Australian Children’s Television Foundation, Yolngu Boy was shot entirely on location with untrained Indigenous actors and involving a lengthy consultation process between local communities and director Stephen Johnson and scriptwriter Chris Anastassiades. It’s a film that showcases gorgeous and remote locations with lots of aerial photography and arresting scenes depicting wild creatures like crocodiles, stingrays and turtles, giving a real sense of the way these totem animals fit in with traditional stories and rites of passage. There’s humour and adventure to be enjoyed in Yolngu Boy, but like Walkabout there are also dark moments and a realistic acknowledgement of the tragedies that so commonly arise from the clash between modernity and traditional cultures.

Watch 'Yolngu Boy' at SBS On Demand

 

FURTHER READING
Walkabout: Cheat Sheet
We revisit Nicolas Roeg's 1971 coming-of-age classic, 'Walkabout' (now available at SBS On Demand), and the questions it raised about race, civilisation and sexuality.
Yolngu Boy review: A truly impressive film
An absolutely fascinating film experience.

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