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Sweet Country - Film Review

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by Helen Belli (subscribe)
I am now living in Kariong on the Central Coast
Published January 30th 2018
Power and prejudice in the Australian outback
'Where is your black stock?'

It is 1929 in outback Australia. The film opens with a murder, followed by a beating and a rape by the white bosses who have power over their 'black stock'. If they wanted to stay on the land that was your traditional home given to the white bosses by the government of the day, you worked for them for no wages. The black men and boys did farm work while the black women run the houses. White women are in short supply, currency is rum which is consumed in large quantities by the squatters, who are brutal and lonely, just like the country they lord over. It is 28 years after federation of the colony. No mention of human habitation was written into the constitution drawn up at that time, so blacks were no more important than trees and kangaroos.

When a white squatter is shot by a black feller in self-defence he flees in terror for his life with his pregnant wife. A gruelling man hunt follows with surprising results.

A set was built for the filming of 'the Drover's Wife' at the Oorraminna station. It is a working station today, south of Alice Springs beside the Simpson Desert. With a few added buildings it was the perfect place to represent the harsh living conditions of the time.

Warwick Thornton ['Sampson and Delilah' his first full length film] received a well-deserved standing ovation for his direction when 'Sweet Country ' was shown at the 74th Venice film festival. He started making short films 9 years ago to much acclaim. He was bought up in Alice Springs and didn't take life seriously until he turned 47 and went to learn his trade. He is responsible for the cinematography which does Australia proud. In the mist of all the brutality, beautiful sunsets, green pastures, deserts and salt plains takes the viewer on a trip of the amazing outback.

Sweet Country has an outstanding cast including Sam Neil who takes the part of Rev. Fred Smith, a cut above his ruff mates. Bryan Brown is Sargent Fletcher who is determined to get his man even at the cost of almost losing his life. Hamilton Morris plays Sam Kelly the black man facing hanging for the shooting of the white man.

The action is at times annoyingly slow, but things even today pass at a slow pace in the blistering desert heat. I saw Sweet Country on Australia day, a sharp reminder of how it was just 78 years ago.

This is part of the ongoing programme 'Summer Moments' showing at the Avoca Beach Picture Theatre. The theatre started showing movies in 1948 to raise money to build the rock pool at Avoca beach. It is still very much a part of the community life of the central coast. It is more than just a movie theatre, live performances and operas are among the many different entertainments organised by Norman and Beth Hunter at the theatre. Go to the website for info and to book and pay online.
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Why? A piece of Australian cinema that tells an important story
When: Released January 2018
Where: In cinemas
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