Fresh out of prison, Karen (Shai Pittman), a beautiful, young Aboriginal woman, finds herself stuck on the streets. She finds sanctuary at a shelter for Aboriginal women where she begins the painful journey of reconnecting with her estranged mother and her young daughter.

A deeply felt tale of redemption.

Here I Am wears its heart on its sleeve in celebrating resilience.

Beck Cole’s story of a young mother’s efforts to reconnect with her family is, like its lead character, something of a rough diamond, but Cole’s deep affection for her characters and the strong central performances withstand the occasionally uneven support players and bouts of sentimentality.

Karen (Shai Pittman) emerges from her South Australian prison cell with the intention of reconnecting with her young daughter, Rosie, and a resolve to amount to more in her mother’s estimation than a "druggo, slutting around the streets". Old habits are hard to break and, with all of her bridges burned, Karen makes the familiar trip to Hindley Street and a seedy hotel hook-up to make her first night of 'freedom’ tolerable.

Daybreak brings with it sobering realities, and the worst possible timing for a reunion with her embittered mother (and Rosie’s legal guardian), Lois, played by a searing Marcia Langton.

Hardened by the perpetual disappointment of her daughter’s life choices, and paralysed by rusted-on grief, Lois has assumed legal guardianship of Rosie, and she shields the three-year-old from Karen with unrestrained ferocity. Her confrontations with Karen are one of several aspects of Cole’s screenplay that speak to generational friction between contemporary Indigenous women, and the burden of expectation that women of Karen’s age make good on their mothers’ and aunties’ struggles.

Pittman is striking as the battle-scarred Karen: prickly and proud as she tackles the challenges facing an ex-con with few discernible skills for menial employment; and hesitant, even timid, as she tries to reacquaint herself with the daughter she’s barely met. She surrenders to the background in the face of the formidable Langton’s tirades, as anyone would and should. (The esteemed academic and sometimes actor steals every scene she's in).

Cole keeps the tone from devolving into 'message movie’ territory by populating the film with ballsy women who inject elements of brashness and comic relief, and intimate camerawork from Cole’s partner Warwick Thornton gives the film the necessary breathing space to accommodate Pitman’s contemplations. The drama is expertly offset with a soundtrack that blends PJ Harvey and The Yeah Yeah Yeahs with the eloquent lyrics of Archie Roach’s anthem, 'Walking into Doors’.

Writer/director Beck Cole, producer Kath Shelper and actress/scholar Marcia Langton discuss the creation of their new film, Here I Am.


Watch 'Here I Am' at SBS On Demand

M, 2011