In a remote Aboriginal community, 10-year-old Daniel yearns to be a 'gangster' like the male role models in his life. Skipping school, getting into fights and running drugs for Linden who runs the main gang in town, Daniel is well on his way to accomplishing his goal, when rival drug dealer Bruce returns from prison and a violent showdown ensues.

Confronting drama effectively captures modern mission life.

CANNES: Ivan Sen’s Toomelah opens on a series of close-ups of boxing trophies depicting champion fighters with fists poised in readiness for a bout, but whose feet are stuck to the trophy base.

10 year-old Daniel (Daniel Connors) is a feisty descendent of the recipients of these prizes, and the youngster is stuck in his own form of stasis; he is fast losing his links to his Indigenous heritage, and facing a limited range of life choices on the dilapidated Toomelah mission. It’s no accident that his standard response to his mother’s 'Where have you been?" and 'Where are you going?", is the all-encompassing 'Nowhere".

As Daniel, newcomer Conners is wariness personified as he challenges everyone from his teachers to his love rivals. He shows little if any recognition of his ancestors’ fight for survival when his eyes wander to a wall chart that chronicles seminal events in the tortured history of black/white relations, during another bout of detention i the lobrary. He and his friends joke about forgetting their ancestral totems, and make light of the fragility of their lingo.

Toomelah paints a depressingly familiar picture at first, though the entrenched drug use, alcoholism and violence on the mission has rarely been depicted on film with such intensity as Sen’s lens captures it here. Ticking clocks figure heavy in the soundtrack but as one character puts it, 'every c*nt’s in a hurry, but going nowhere." An Aunty returned home after decades away seems, at first, to represent a new link to a forgotten past... but the woman battles her own demons and spends her days among the cactus weeds on the site of her former house, sipping from a plastic bottle to help numb the pain of remembering, or forgetting, or both.

Uninterested in school, Daniel has little to occupy his time and so is drawn into the confidence of a small-time drug dealer (Christopher Edwards) and his band of 'plastic gangsters’. Together they fish, play video games, chop up 'stick’, and talk big, with the small-time hoods revelling in Daniel’s hero worship. The return of a formidable rival (Mad Bastards’ Dean Daley Jones) culminates in a turf war between the drug dealers, and a fork in the road reveals itself to the young boy.

Sen is an accomplished writer, director and composer, however the cinema projection is unforgiving of the film’s many issues with auto-focus (and with the fast pace of a scene taking place on a football field). Some audiences might also find the miserabilist nature of life on the mission overwhelming... but surely that’s the point. Sen immerses the viewer into the stultifying, bleak life on the mission, in order to bring home the message of the power of self-determination. The narrative treads a familiar path in its final stages, and lets a few buds of hope bloom amid the cactus of Toomelah.


Watch 'Toomelah'

Thursday 25 June, 9:35pm on NITV (streaming after broadcast at SBS On Demand)

Australia, 2011
Director: Ivan Sen
Starring: Michael Connors, Christopher Edwards, Daniel Connors
What's it about?
Daniel is a small ten year old boy who dreams of being a gangster. He is kicked out of school and befriends a local gang leader, until a rival arrives back from jail to reclaim his turf. From director Ivan Sen (Beneath CloudsMystery Road) Premiered in the coveted Un Certain Regard section at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival.

SBS On Demand brings you top-quality films for Refugee Week
Let's honour the stories of refugees all around the world, in a collection curated by the Immigration Museum.
Five Faves: ‘Lantana’ director Ray Lawrence picks what to watch in isolation
Need some help deciding what to watch while you’re stuck at home? We ask Australian directors, whose films are streaming at SBS On Demand, for five movie recommendations.
You'll have the best seat in the house for the 'Sydney Film Festival Selects' collection at SBS On Demand
A free movie collection curated by Sydney Film Festival Director Nashen Moodley. Now streaming at SBS On Demand.
Mark Reconciliation Week with these Australian films at SBS On Demand
Celebrate history and storytelling in National Reconciliation Week (May 27 – June 3).
Get your heart racing with the thriller collection at SBS On Demand
Grab some popcorn and a blanket to hide behind for when the pressure and intensity gets too much. The SBS On Demand thriller collection is here to get your heart racing and adrenaline pumping. Just remember to breathe.
Movies Leaving SBS On Demand: June
Don't miss your chance to watch these standout movies and documentaries leaving SBS On Demand this month.

Related videos



1 hour 46 min
In Cinemas 24 November 2011,
Thu, 05/24/2012 - 11