It’s NAIDOC week so we’re taking a look at Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander films that you should watch. Not only are they exceptional in their storytelling, but they’re also captivating, profound and super important to making visible and heard Indigenous voices and stories.
Some of them are also brilliantly funny.
Note: Readers are advised that the following article may mention and/or contain images of deceased persons.
1. Sweet Country
Directed by critically acclaimed filmmaker Warwick Thornton, Sweet Country takes the viewer back in time to 1929 to the Northern Territory for a manhunt across the Outback.
When Sam kills a white station owner in self-defense, he and his wife Lizzie go on the run from law enforcement, Aboriginal trackers and local landowners. As they traverse the country and seek safe spaces to hide, the movie deals with issues of racial prejudice, the idea of justice, and Australia’s own dark history.
Released in 2017, the film won the prestigious Special Jury Prize at the 2017 Venice Festival among prizes at other film festivals around the world.
Warwick Thornton also directed Samson & Delilah, another film that you should watch if you haven’t already.
David Gulpilil is now a household name in Australian cinema but his first movie came about by way of British filmmaker Nicolas Roeg who had gone to Maningrida scouting locations for an upcoming film. There he spotted the sixteen-year-old and promptly cast him as the star of Walkabout.
The film, which tells the story of two young white children alone in the Outback and who encounter a young aboriginal man that helps, was included in The British Film Institute’s list of “50 films you should see by the age of 14” (2005).
So, if you haven’t seen it, you probably should.
3. The Sapphires
Based on the 2004 stage play, which is based on the true story that took place in the 1960s, The Sapphires is part musical, part comedy and part drama.
When an Irish talent scout finds Gail, Cynthia, Julie and Kay, he’s found an all-female Indigenous Australian singing group that will our answer to The Supremes. The women are then flown to Vietnam to entertain the troops stationed there.
Directed by Wayne Blair who has also been involved in the TV series Redfern Now and Mystery Road.
Life in a remote Aboriginal community can be fairly taxing at the best of times and Toomelah, written and directed by Ivan Sen with events in the film drawn from his own personal experiences, charts the story of a young ten-year-old boy.
Daniel, who is surrounded by drugs and alcohol, is keen on becoming a gangster, and soon starts getting into fights. He is quickly losing connection with his heritage and soon will come to a fork in the road and his choice will determine, as always, will determine how his life will conitnue.
Toomelah received a two-minute standing ovation when shown at Cannes as part of the official selection in the Un Certain Regard program.
Other Ivan Sen films definitely worth watching include Beneath Clouds, Goldstone and the short documentary Yellow Fella. He is also the director of the TV series Mystery Road.
5. Charlie’s Country
The third film in the unofficial trilogy by Dutch-Australian filmmaker Rolf de Heer, Charlie’s Country stars David Gulpilil as the titular character who although living in Arnhem Land is caught in a no-man’s land trying to navigate the white fella rules and the customs and traditions of his own people.
The other two films in the unofficial trilogy are The Tracker and Ten Canoes.
6. In My Blood It Runs
The feature-length documentary by Maya Newell follows Dujuan Hoosan, an Arrernte Aboriginal boy living in Alice Springs who despite being able to speak three languages and is a child-healer and able hunter, is failing subjects at school. He’s attracting attention from the police and welfare officers when the focus should really be elsewhere.