Yolngu Boy is about the coming-of-age of three Aboriginal boys in Arnhem Land who inhabit two cultures at once - that of North-East Arnhem Land and also western culture. Botj, Lorrpu and Milika are three Yolngu teenagers who once shared a dream of becoming great hunters. Now aged 14, only Lorrpu hasn't diverged. Botj is a lost soul in trouble with the law, and Milika is more interested in football and girls. One of the central themes of the film is the divide between the prosperity-driven, materialistic western ideal of life and the everyday reality faced by young Aboriginal men.
I must apologise for my pronunciation of Yolngu Boy a couple of weeks ago on the programme. It was not good but I've been practising. It brought home to me that for the young men in the film English is not actually their first language.
Lorrpu, Botj and Milika have an important shared history, they were initiated as men together – amazingly authentic scenes in the film. But now Botj is straying, he's had a stint in gaol and it looks as though he's heading for another after a petrol-sniffing bout that led to him running amok in the local store and community centre. Lorrpu and Milika decide to trek with him to Darwin to plead his case before a tribal elder. Their confrontation with the environment of their heritage brings adventure, danger, fun and maturity...
This is such an impressive film, visually it seems like you're being presented with parts of Australia and Australian life that you've never seen before. The director was Stephen Johnson, a long-time resident of the Northern Territory, a filmmaker who's directed most of Yothu Yindi's music clips – the Yunupingu brothers were associate producers of Yolngu Boy. Johnson's a filmmaker with real visual flair, but working with Chris Anastassiades' screenplay he's managed to bring an authentic depth to this story.
There are simply wonderful performances from three absolute newcomers to the screen – Sean Mununggurr as Botj, John Sebastian Pilakui as Lorrpu and Nathan Daniels as Milika.
Yolngu Boy doesn't present an idealised version of Aboriginal traditional life and it doesn't shy away from some of the very real problems confronting many Aboriginal communities in the top end... I just thought it was terrific.