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Tuesday, 23 April 2019 08:03 am

Aboriginal director tells the hard stories about his community

WarwickMain1WHEN Warwick Thornton wanted to tell the truth about the community he grew up in, his cinematic inspiration came from New Zealand.

“I remember seeing movies like Once Were Warriors when I was a kid and going ‘wow’,” says the Aboriginal director (right) whose first feature length film was released in New Zealand on October 1.

“Can we make stories like that? Can we tell harder indigenous stories like that?”

His answer is Samson and Delilah, the story of a romance between petrol sniffer Samson and thick-skinned, tender-hearted Delilah (played by 14-year-old newcomers, Rowan McNamara and Marissa Gibson) amid the grim realities of life in a poor, rural indigenous community.

Casual violence, substance abuse, extreme poverty, exploitation and ignorance are rife in their world, but the pair finds redemption and peace through their relationship.

The film, which was shot with a minuscule budget of $A1.6 million, won the Caméra d’Or at Cannes and is Australia’s official nomination in the Oscars’ Best Foreign Language Film category.

But for Warwick, the small budget and documentary style cinematography make something “real” for audiences who have learned about Aboriginal culture only from five o’clock news and the romantic stereotypes of mainstream film and Qantas commercials.

“You know, Australia hasn’t seen a film like this before,” and it is a version of the Aboriginal story that is long overdue, he says.

Samson: 14 year-old Rowan McNamara as Samson. He hopes to act again.

Samson: 14 year-old Rowan McNamara as Samson.

“I could have released it five years ago. I could have released it 10 years ago. The sad fact is that I could probably release it in 10 years’ time and the issues and the story behind would probably be the same,” he says.

When asked why he chose the biblical story of Samson and Delilah to underpin those issues, Warwick says he could not have made a movie about the communities without religion.

“There’s lots of Samsons and Delilahs and Jesus’s and Davids running around in the desert,” a result of communities set up by missionaries who “pissed off” when ministering to the Outback became financially unviable, he says.

Like its biblical namesake, Warwick’s Samson and Delilah delivers its message by exploring the power roles men and women play in each other’s lives.

“The film is a homage to women, because in our communities a lot of the strength is from the women,” he says.

14 year-old Marissa Gibson as Delilah. She had not acted before getting the part.

14 year-old Marissa Gibson as Delilah.

Delilah is “empowered” to take on the traditionally male role of hunting when Samson finally succumbs to his addiction, and her return to faith at end of the film is less about God and more about strength and survival.

Unlike the original story, however, it is not Delilah but Samson -Warwick’s Aboriginal “everyman” – who cuts off his hair and gives up his masculine power.

“I put those scenes in for my own community to say ‘look at this. It’s supposed to be all this manly lore and culture and half of you are completely blimmin’ useless and the women are doing all the work’,” he says.

Warwick, who has plans to create scholarships and writing schemes for rural Aboriginal children, believes there is no point in making a movie unless it is going to do something for society.

“It is my community and I shine a really hard light on it and our people, but I believe you need to air out those sorts of festering sores so they can get better.

“If you hide it and close it all up, you might have to amputate the whole limb in a sense.”

Samson and Delilah opened last week at The Penthouse in Brooklyn and The Lighthouse Cinema, Petone.

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is is a former Whitireia Journalism student.
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