The buzz around Warwick Thornton's new film is huge. With the trailer released just yesterday, the period Western set in the Northern Territory, is looking to be one of the most anticipated Australian film releases this year.
Last night, Sweet Country premiered at the prestigious 74th Venice Film Festival in Italy and received a standing ovation lasting almost five minutes. It is a part of the festival's Official Competition, where Australian film expert, David Stratton is on the judging panel.
Stratton told Screen Australia that he is naturally obliged not to give any preferential treatment to Australian films, but praised Thorton's filmmaking talents.
"I've seen all of Warwick's films and Samson and Deliliah is a film I adore," he said. "I think Margaret [Pomeranz] and I both gave it five stars, so that gives you some idea. And I thought is 2013 film, The Darkside was incredibly interesting as well."
The film received a standing ovation at its world premiere at Venice and overwhelming positive reviews rolled in from top critics. "Graceful, soulful, quietly incendiary" wrote Variety; and "In terms of its visual command, the movie could hardly be more expressive," the Hollywood Reporter wrote.
Sweet Country features an impressive cast including Sam Neill (Jurassic Park), Bryan Brown (Cocktail, Australia), Hamilton Morris (8MMM Aboriginal Radio) and introducing twins Tremayne and Trevon Doolan who play one of the leads, Philomac.
It tells the story of 1920s Alice Springs where a young boy witnesses an Aboriginal stockman kill a white station owner in self-defence, and the chilling and thrilling repercussions of such an act. The film was inspired by true events, and is set in the Northern Territory frontier, where justice itself is put on trial.
Filming took place in at Ooraminna Station, a working cattle station, approx. 40 kilometers south of Alice Springs.
In an ABC interview, Thornton said, "It's important to tell Indigenous stories like this just to remind us of who we are, where we came from, and how the foundation of Australia was created," Thornton says.
"[The NT in the 1920s] was a pretty hard place for black and white people. It was a hard country, and it had some hard people on it."
"This film doesn't [pull] any punches on race relations, there were angles and demons on both sides of the fence," the ABC reported Thornton saying.
Hardly a stranger to international film festivals, Sweet Country is Warwick's follow up drama from Samson and Delilah which received the Camera d'Or (the Golden Camera) at Cannes in 2009. Sweet Country has also been selected to screen as part of the Closing Night Platform at Toronto International Film Festival 2017 and the BFI London Film Festival 2017, and will premiere in Australia at the Adelaide Film Festival 2017 in a month's time. The film will be released around the country in 2018.
Thornton's last film, We Don’t Need a Map (a documentary covering the Southern Cross' history and cultural significance) opened the Sydney Film Festival and premiered on NITV and SBS this year, captivating audiences Australia-wide and provoking compelling conversations and heated debate about Australian patriotism and Indigenous Affairs. Sweet Country is expected to do the same, as - like Thorton's entire film repertoire - it tackles issues of Indigenous justice.