Warwick Thornton’s Sweet Country offers a harsh view of Australian colonial history that is less than hopeful but invites Australia to learn from its mistakes.
Sweet Country – A period western where justice itself is put on trial. Opening the festival on September 19th 2018 at 8 pm.
Nine years after Warwick Thornton swept audiences away with his directorial debut Samson and Delilah and caused a sensation by winning the Caméra d’Or at Cannes, he finally returns to the big screen with his second feature length film. Sweet Country is a neo-western set on the Northern Territory frontier in the 1920s, that again confronts its audiences with difficult, political topics head-on. This time, Thornton uncovers Australia’s dark colonial past and tells us a story that has long been silenced and forgotten – one of forced Indigenous labor and excruciating racism. Thornton thereby joins a current movement of Indigenous writers, film makers and artists who recover Australia’s colonial past and re-narrate it from an Indigenous point of view to give a voice to those who have been silenced in the past. After being a festival-darling in Venice, Toronto and at Sundance, where it received standing ovations, Sweet Country now comes to the German screens.
Sweet Country is a typical western, in which justice itself is put on trial when an Indigenous farmhand shoots a white man in self-defense and goes on the run with his wife as a posse gathers to hunt them down. However, as the true details of the killing start to surface, the community begins to question whether justice is really being served.
Thornton, a fan of western films, skillfully adapts the genre and the vast open landscape of the Australian outback resembles the Old American West so closely that one starts wondering why there are not more Australian westerns out there. Visually, Sweet Country, can easily compete with Samson and Delilah. Thornton beautifully captures the harshness and unforgiveness of the outback. We see stunning frames of salty deserts, red earth, dusty roads and remote towns – everything you would expect of a classic western. Yet, this film is not just about mesmerizing landscapes but it also contains an intricate social narrative, offering its audience a confronting glimpse into Australia’s colonial past – making it a perfect choice for this year’s motto at Down Under Berlin, “Landscapes of Us”.
(Alan Zilberman, Washington Post)
The film is widely acclaimed for its powerful images. Thornton himself took on both roles as director and cinematographer – a challenging balance act, as he admits himself in an interview with the New Zealand Magazine Stuff: “Because of that, I do a massive amount of pre-production where I'm only thinking about the cinematic journey of the film – the textures, the colors, the composition, the lens selection, the depth-of-field selection, even down to the height of the camera for every single scene."
The film was mainly shot in the remote but picturesque MacDonnell Ranges of the Northern Territory, near Alice Springs, Thornton’s hometown. Here, Thornton also cast many of his non-professional actors – a method he already applied when shooting Samson and Delilah. That way, he found the perfect match for one of his key roles – the young Aboriginal boy Philomac, who is actually played by two actors: the identical twins Tremayne and Trevon Doolan. Thornton found the two at a local school and while one of them was a real extrovert, the other was a complete introvert – traits Thornton readily used to his advantage while shooting the film as he told Stuff.
Even though Sweet Country may be an adaption of the typical American western, it is unmistakably Australian. In an interview with the Guardian, Thornton emphasizes: “The film is completely about Australia. It’s completely about who we are and where we come from. If we want to man up, or stand up as a country and move forward, we need to know about our history.” He goes on, “the film is completely truthful about history, even though it’s fiction. I think Australia is really ready for films like this.”
Our festival opener has already won plenty of plaudits and awards: the Special Jury Award at Venice Film Festival, the Platform Prize at Toronto International Film Festival and Best Feature at Adelaide Film Festival, to name a few. It is widely praised and received impressive ratings on Rotten Tomatoes, IMDB, and other acclaimed movie databases.
Come and convince yourself on September 19th, and join us for a reception in the Moviemento lounge after the screening of this wonderful opening night film!
All Images ©Sweet Country
May Drewes has lived, worked and studied alternately in Melbourne and Berlin over the past ten years. She has a background in Communication Studies and Postcolonial Studies, with a major focus on Australian Indigenous Studies, and has previously worked with Australian Indigenous communities and for NGOs such as SNAICC. At the moment, she works as a German teacher for refugees and is part of the PR team here at Down Under Berlin.