The Cannes Film Festival will host the world-wide launch of the Aussie film, Samson & Delilah “ featuring the great Warlpiri artist, Mitjili Napanangka Gibson, in her second film role. Not only the artist, but her art features seriously in the film, which is basically a social drama and love story involving two community teenagers and their learning experiences in heartless Alice Springs.
The Alice rips them off “ for carpet-baggers are offering Mitjili’s $200 canvas for a more realistic $22,000!
Cannes is a huge breakthrough for Aboriginal film-maker, Warwick Thornton. S&D is his first feature after 20 years as a cinematographer for CAAMA and short films-maker. ‘Nana’ was one of the latter, and Mitjili played a feisty elder in a remote community tackling grog-runners in her own way. ‘Mimi’ was a comedy set in Sydney, involving an Arnhemland sculpture with the spirit of a real live Mimi.
I’ve used art in all my films, Thornton tells me on a visit from Alice to Sydney. I grew up with Utopia’s first art adviser, Rodney Gooch in a house with my Mum, and Mitjili was often on the verandah. Art is a real point of connection for White Australia “ for some in the cities it’s the only connection. I hope they pick up on the carpet-bagging by white dealers in the film “ it’s all true.
The other key point that art-connected viewers might like to note is the importance of the outstation to the kids as the ultimate refuge “ the place to straighten out. Jay Creek, out of Papunya, may not look much in the film “ and, indeed, it’s been abandoned because of asbestos. But it’s where Samson and Delilah have to go to clean out after petrol-sniffing and physical abuse in Alice. It’s a different world out there “ Aboriginal law is so tough and life is hard, admits Thornton; and the Intervention isn’t going to solve anything. But it’s better than a town like Alice, which is driven by a tourism based on Aboriginal culture; yet Todd Mall “ full of Aboriginal art – is closed off to kids like Samson and Delilah.
Language, or the lack of it, is a key to the success of the film. The kids barely speak “ though Mitjili speaks volumes in Warlpiri. But because the actors are community kids themselves, they’re living out their roles rather than just playing them. There’s dialogue in their hands and eyes, says Thornton. And because I used a big Panasonic camera rather than digital, the audience gets to feel it’s happening right next to them. Composing everything in the camera as he shot it, rather than relying on the editing, Thornton constantly offers interesting pictures.
Which is good news for Aboriginal art “ for his next project is to concentrate on the visual side of ‘Art & Soul’, Hetti Perkins’s three-part documentary series for the ABC in which she’ll be talking to contemporary indigenous artists about their point of view, their happiness and anger, rather than relying on experts.
Two thousand five hundred people sat through rain to watch Samson & Delilah in Alice Springs. The rest of Australia gets to see the film from Thursday 7 May “ in Sydney it launches the annual Message Sticks film festival in the Opera House. And the 62nd Cannes International Film Festival runs from 13-24 May in France “ where Samson & Delilah appears in the Un Certain Regard section, for films that express a personal vision, employing a special cultural expression and cinematic innovation.
Mitjili Gibson also opens a solo show of her paintings at Gallery Gondwana in Sydney on Thursday 7th “ it’ll be the last at Ros Premont’s dedicated gallery in Danks Street, for it closes on June 7th.