Sweet Country poster | Image source: Présence Autochtone
This year the 2018 Montreal First Peoples Festival presented two special screenings of the award-winning Australian Indigenous directed film, Sweet Country. After winning critical acclaim at both the Venice Film Festival and the Toronto International Film Festival, Sweet Country secured a wider release in early April of this year and continues to be screened on the film festival circuit.
In a time when Indigenous people around the world are still fighting to tell their own stories, Director Warwick Thornton (Kaytetye) takes audiences on a journey of racial tensions between Indigenous people and settlers through an Indigenous lens.
Sweet Country is a western set in the Australian outback in the 1920s. Sam (Hamilton Morris) is an Aboriginal farmhand who goes on the run with his wife, Lizzie (Natassia Gorey-Furber), after killing white rancher Harry March (Ewen Leslie). Soon after, angry settlers including the town Sheriff, Sergeant Fletcher (Bryan Brown), attempt to chase down Sam and his wife into dangerous tribal lands stunningly captured by cinematographer Dylan River. During those times, the punishment for an Aboriginal man killing a white man was death by hanging.
Warwick expertly uses flashes backs and forwards in order to set up the final harrowing scene. The film is brilliantly layered with themes of white privilege, male anger, and the violence endured by women and Indigenous people at the hands of white settlers. Settler character, Harry March uses his power as a slave owner to treat his farmhands violently which includes tying up and threatening to kill a young Aboriginal boy accused of stealing and secluding Lizzie from Sam. Through all of this, Warwick connects the structural racism from that era which carries an impact into contemporary times.
With the film’s story based on true events, Sweet Country demonstrates the resilience of the Aboriginals in Australia who have survived for millennia in a harsh landscape, as well as settler colonization. Warwick Thornton’s Sweet Country is a testament to the strength and importance of Indigenous filmmaking, especially in modern times.