Outback Western 'Sweet Country' receives international acclaim

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SBS News spoke to film director Warwick Thornton about his new project, alongside stars Sam Neill and Bryan Brown.

Award-winning Indigenous director Warwick Thornton's new film Sweet Country has received international acclaim.

Known for 2009's Samson and Delilah, Thornton's latest project is inspired by true events. 

"If you're going to tell a story make sure it's a bloody important one," Thorton told SBS News. 

"Make sure you do something important that can either heal or create questions."

An intense film set in the Northern Territory in 1929, it tells the story of an Aboriginal stockman who shoots a white station owner. As a result, he and his wife are forced to flee through desert country. 

The plot explores social injustice, exploitation and racism in the divided frontier society of the time.

The story came from sound recordist David Tranter, a good friend of Thornton's. It was passed down to him by his grandfather.

"He empowered himself to sit down and write this story and he handed it to me and we started from there," Thornton said.

International recognition

Sweet Country has already won prizes at two of the world's leading film festivals in Venice and Toronto and was named best film at the Asia Pacific Screen Awards.

It has a critics approval rating of 94 per cent on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes 

Indigenous actor Hamilton Morris plays accused murderer Sam Kelly in his first film role, alongside Australian screen icons Sam Neill and Bryan Brown.

(L-R) Sweet Country stars Sam Neill, Hamtilton Morris and Bryan Brown.
(L-R) Sweet Country stars Sam Neill, Hamtilton Morris and Bryan Brown.
Bunya Productions

"It's a very exotic movie, even for us, you feel you know Australia, but the landscape is extraordinarily beautiful," Brown told SBS News. 

"It's based on truth, so you're not trying to contrive anything and that helps in the storytelling and it helps with our characters."

Neill praised Thornton for bringing the story to the screen. 

"This is an Indigenous filmmaker telling an Indigenous story," he said. "They're asking me, a white fella, to be in it, and that was a privilege for me. 

"I felt I had been done a great favour."

Morris said many scenes he acted in were grimly familiar, particularly when his character is bound by chains. 

"According to my dad's story, my grandfather was put in chains," he said. "Exactly the same chain like that.

"That's why I felt like I was in that time."

Neill said he was moved by Morris's performance: "He's the only actor that has ever reduced me to tears in the middle of a scene, ever."

He's the only actor that has ever reduced me to tears in the middle of a scene, ever.
- Sam Neill on co-star Hamilton Morris

Thornton said his aim was to empower, inspire and create change through his visual storytelling,

"You wouldn't have been taught this in the curriculum in Australia."

Warwick Thornton directing Sweet Country.
Warwick Thornton directing Sweet Country.
SBS Movies

"It's important to shine a light on parts of history that are important to Indigenous people that are not in the curriculum.

"Australia can learn a little bit more about our past and through that we can make better decisions about our future."

Sweet Country is released in Australia on 25 January. 

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