Emu Runner is about the impact the sudden death of a mother has on her Indigenous family living in the isolated, remote, Australian outback. It's seen through the eyes of her 9 year old spirited daughter Gem who deals with her grief by forging a bond with a wild emu, a mythical bird of her ancestors. It also happens to be a connection to her mother's traditional totem animal.
The story is as much about her father Jay Jay Daniels who has to cope with being a single parent of three, also taking care of his two other children, Gem's teenage siblings Valerie and Ecka. The pressures to hold the family together is further exacerbated by the antics of his older children and Gem's truancy and stealing as she becomes more embroiled in taking solace from the wild emu. Jay Jay's sole parenting skills come under scrutiny when he has to face prejudices from the white community in the town, and little confidence is shown in his ability by family and friends.
Gem's actions captures the attention of the law and a young inexperienced social worker and takes it to the point where the decision is made that it would be in Gem's best interest to remove her from her current situation. This is a film that touches on underlying racial tensions in regional Australia, and the importance of traditional customs in modern Indigenous culture. It's about opening hearts and minds and developing an understanding of other's cultures and respecting the difference.
Jay Jay is played by the wonderful Indigenous Australian writer, actor and director, Wayne Blair (director of the highly successful feature film The Sapphires & many others) comfortable in his role as a loving, caring father any child would want to have. His beautiful wife is played by Maurial Spearim, a VCA graduate with a Bachelor of Dramatic Arts Degree and young Gem is newcomer Rhae-Kye Waites, a student of the Brewarrina Central School. She acts alongside her grandmother Mary Waites who plays Jay Jay's mum in the film; her grandfather Lindsay Waites (uncle Wes in the film) and her cousin Letisha Boney in her role as sister Valerie.
Gem with her limpid wide eyes and insightful, intuitive approach in an emotional role holds herself firm, amongst seasoned actors. Her emotionally charged and honest performance is as natural as the harsh isolated Australian landscape. Logie award-winning actor Rob Carlton (Silver Logie winner for his portrayal of Kerry Packer in Paper Giants) ) and emerging talent Georgia Blizzard also have small key roles in this story as the copper and the social worker.
The mood and tone of this film is visceral, honest and immediately engages you in Gem's world. For the city dwellers, it stands as a reminder of the Australian outback's landscape and its harsh beauty. It's so Australian, it brings home nostalgia as you're put in an observational role throughout the film. It's quiet and takes you to a place of weatherboard houses, scrubby bush and not a lot happening in an isolated community. This is not a fast-paced movie, but it will engage and transport you into the real worlds and lives of people, that are perhaps far from your experience.
Emu Runner is writer, director, producer Imogen Thomas' first narrative feature-length film. She has a Master of Fine Arts degree from the Tisch School of Arts graduate film program at New York University. She also holds a First-Class Bachelor of Arts Honours degree in Drama, from Flinders University in South Australia. Imogen wrote Emu Runner in consultation with Frayne Barker, an Aboriginal Ngemba woman from Brewarrina, a small town in northwestern NSW, Australia. Frayne was brought in for her knowledge of the pressing issues and challenges that come from living in this isolated community.
Brewarrina is home to a large Indigenous community. It is the traditional land of the Ngemba, Murrawarri, Ualari, Weilwan and Baranbinja people. The film was shot on location in Brewarrina, and as much as possible, was cast from within the community. Having worked with the Ourgunya women's shelter in Brewarrina, Imogen had a very real sense and first-hand knowledge of the lives and personal struggles of the community, from listening to their stories. She's seen the resilience and strength of the people in the face of social issues arising from unemployment, poverty, health and such like. This is everyone's story, and the film belongs to; and starts and stops with the Brewarrina community.
Last but not least, the music score and original compositions written and also performed by Ben Fink, Peter Michael Davison, Glenn Skuthorpe, James Boney and Eugenie Puskarz Thomas, including Sarah Davison are haunting with its storytelling qualities. Many will stay with you as the lyrics don't you ever look back child runs through your soul.