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What's all this fuss about Aboriginal movies

01:00 Mon 01st Apr 2002 |

A.��It used to be�received wisdom in Australia is that no one really wanted films about the country's Aboriginal population. Too controversial - after all, they used to own the place! But three young girls from the Outback are about to change all that - with a little help from Kenneth Branagh and the director of Dead Calm and Patriot Games, Philip Noyce.

Q.� Philip Noyce I thought he was a Hollywood director

A.��Well, that's true. He hasn't made a film in Australia for 12 years - he's best known for blockbuster thrillers like Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger. But in fact Noyce began his directorial career with a ground-breaking film about the Aborigines in the 1970s. Hence the blaze of publicity surrounding the release of Rabbit-proof Fence, starring Kenneth Branagh.

Q.� Unusual title. What's the film about

A.��Rabbit-Proof Fence is the true story of how in 1931 three young Aboriginal girls were snatched from their mother by the white authorities but walked 1,500 miles across the desert to find her again.

The girls outwitted the Aboriginal tracker sent to find them, finding their way home by following the rabbit-proof fence - a huge barrier stretched across the whole of western Australia to halt the spread of rabbits.

Q. Sound like quite a challenge for some young actors, then.

A.��They were picked from 1,200 hopefuls from all over� the huge country. But Everlyn Sampi, 13, Laura Monaghan, 10, and Tianna Sansbury, who's just 9, are regarded as real finds both by casting director Christine King (who helped pick Nicole Kidman for Moulin Rouge) and Noyce himself.

All three girls are first-time actors, but Noyce calls them 'three diamonds, perfectly cut'. And of Everlyn, pictured on our home page, he says: 'I immediately recognised she had the "it" factor. I have seen it twice in my career, the first time in Nicole Kidman (in Dead Calm) and the second in Angeline Jolie� (in The Bone Collector); now I have seen it a third time in Everlyn.'

Q. Tough competition for Branagh

A.��We'll see in June, when the film is released in the US and the UK. Branagh plays AO Neville, an English administrator given the extraordinary title Chief Protector of the Aborigines; Neville was the legal guardian to all Aboriginal people in the vast deserts of western Australia from 1915 to 1940.

Q. So does this mean there's a new wave of interest in Australia's more difficult historical issues

A.��Perhaps. It wasn't so long ago that such subject matter was confined to art-house cinemas, and in recent years hardly any films about Australia's indigenous people have dented the public's consciousness.

But the Noyce/Branagh film does seem to reflect a different mood. Beneath Clouds, a road movie in which two half-Aboriginal characters explore their identity, was well-received at the Berlin Film Festival last month, and The Tracker is a highly acclaimed Aboriginal historical drama.

The Adelaide Festival, underway in Southern Australia, has a programme devoted to Aboriginals and their troubled history. One of the films it has premiered, Australian Rules, has met with calls from one Aboriginal community for it to be banned. They claim the movie, a loose dramatisation of the murder of two young boys in a rural community of Aborigines and whites in the 1970s, intrudes on their trauma and peddles racist stereotypes.

Q.� All a bit of a far cry from Crocodile Dundee

A.��Yes, but there is a link. Besides Branagh Rabbit-Proof Fence stars David Gulpilip, who played Paul Hogan's good-natured Aboriginal side-kick in Crocodile Dundee.

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by Katharine MacColl

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