I had the pleasure of being invited to a screening of Toomelah at Nova. Toomelah is the name of the Aboriginal community in NSW where the film is set. A harsh land, with smashed windows, yards of metal debri, empty fridges. Where mothers ask children to buy joints, drunk fathers sit in the gutter, and the real role models are the local gang members. This is the land where we encounter the story of young Daniel.
Daniel is a complex boy with few words. However, when he does talk, he grips the audience with his crude language, and strong, raspy voice. We journey with him as he drops out of school, fist fights for his sweetheart Tanitia, and starts hanging out with the big boys in town, getting caught up with trading pot and gang rivalry. Like Daniel, we also try to understand his returnee aunt who was taken away from Toomelah Mission as a child. Aunty now simply sits at the one spot, gazing into the distance, occasionally taking a gulp from the goon she carries in her red sling bag.
The movie plays out like an exhibit of photographs, rather than a classic storyline with a fairytale ending, or a lesson to learn. We sit at each scene, overhearing the conversations, seeing a snippet of life in Toomelah. Through Daniel's eyes, we are left with a deep impression of the issues Aboriginal youths face in Toomelah and other similar communities. Yet, through him, we also see friendship and comradeship in unlikely places.
The film uses a local cast, without prior acting experience. Daniel being played beautifully by a boy from Toomelah of the same name - Daniel Connors. Interestingly, his "girlfriend" Tanitia in the film is played by his twin sister Danieka Connors. The result is a remakrably insightful, authentic and honest story of the local people, told through the people themselves.
At this media screening, the film was followed by a Q & A session with the director Ivan Sen himself. He explained how the film was a deeply personal journey, with Toomelah being the community where his mother was from. His inspiration for the script came out of living in Toomelah and spending time amongst the people there, writing down their natural dialogues. We had noticed that parts of the filming felt unsteady, with lens focus that was not always accurate. Yet, we were impressed that not wanting to subject the local people to a conventional camera crew, Ivan Sen went in with one professional actor, and did the filming and sound himself, in addition to directing the actors.
Toomelah is a thoughtful and unique Australian story worth seeing - it showcases great actors from Toomelah itself, and gives us a glimpse of Aboriginal communities through a child's life. Visit the official website to find out where you can watch the film in your city.