• Warwick Thornton directing 'Sweet Country' (SBS Movies)Source: SBS Movies
Acclaimed film-maker Warwick Thornton says Australia needs to reckon with its past before it's able to move forward and celebrate.
Rachael Hocking

23 Jan 2019 - 1:06 PM  UPDATED 23 Jan 2019 - 3:44 PM

It's been a big year for Warwick Thornton, whose film Sweet Country premiered at the Venice Film Festival in 2018 and quickly achieved widespread praise - so much so that review-aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes claims the film has achieved "near universal acclaim". 

Sweet Country is set in the first half of the 20th century in outback Northern Territory: an ode of sorts to the country-western, but more importantly an exercise in truth-telling. 

The film sees Sam, an Aboriginal man who is essentially a slave, on the run for shooting a white man in self-defense. 

"It's a dark film," Thornton explains, "It's about the foundations of this country."

"I grew up hearing 'Australia was built on the back of sheep'. To me that's bullshit, Australia was built on the back of a black. We were slave labour."

For Thornton, Sweet Country is part of a larger movement of Indigenous artists telling dark stories through film, music and painting.

"Us Indigenous people finally have the talking stick, and we need to talk about some serious things and we need to actually confront some pretty dark pasts," he says.

"We actually need to do a bit of therapy, we actually need to talk about our past before we can start really embracing and shining a light on the future, because we actually haven't had that voice. We haven't been able to say... what happened to us before," he says. 

Thornton, who believes we need to change our national holiday, says it's the perfect conversation to be having in the lead-up to January 26. 

"If you wanna celebrate that day, have a look at this film and see where your country's foundation is coming from."

Sweet Country will have it's free-to-air premiere this Saturday January 26, on NITV at 9.30pm AEST