Samson & Delilah, the debut feature from visionary filmmaker Warwick Thornton, has just placed at number three in our poll for the top Australian films #YOUMUSTSEE.
Born and raised in remote Alice Springs, Thornton is an internationally renowned director, screenwriter and cinematographer who perfected his trade at Australia’s prestigious film school AFTRS. Both of his short films Nana and Greenbush premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival – Nana winning the Crystal Bear for Best Short Film. Following the success of these films, Warwick began work on his first feature Samson and Delilah – a confronting look at the relationship between two young Aboriginal teenagers in Alice Springs. The work was one of many collaborations between Thornton and Kath Shelper, who also produced many of Thornton’s short films over the years. It premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2009, winning the Caméra d’Or, and also collected Best Feature Film at the Asia Pacific Screen Awards, the AFI awards, and the Film Critics Circle awards. In 2017, he premiered his documentary We Don’t Need a Map about Australia’s connection to the Southern Cross, and Sweet Country, which won awards at Venice and Toronto film festivals.
In anticipation of our special screening of Samson & Delilah – which will include an introduction from Thornton himself – we’re taking a look back at the film and other works from Thornton you need to watch.
Samson & Delilah
Warwick Thornton’s feature debut bowed at Cannes in 2009 to rapturous acclaim from critics and audiences. One of very few films ever to receive five stars from both David and Margaret on At the Movies, its inclusion in My Top 3 adds further weight to its status as a genuine Australian classic. The tale begins in a remote Aboriginal community where dot painting, rock’n’roll and Latino music are part of the landscape. Teenager Samson spends his days in a petrol-sniffing haze. Delilah looks after her nana, a gifted artist being exploited by unscrupulous agents. Samson likes Delilah but like most teenagers he has an awkward way of showing it. In delightfully humorous scenes he eventually gets a little closer. Tragedy brings the teenagers together and propels them on a journey to Alice Springs. Along the way they’re confronted by many of the most pressing issues facing Indigenous Australians. Homelessness, poverty, domestic violence, drug abuse. One of the most remarkable aspects of this magnificently performed and photographed (by Thornton) tale is the sparsity of dialogue. Samson and Delilah barely exchange 100 words but Thornton’s eye for detail and the expressive faces of Rowan McNamara and Marissa Gibson say everything. This ADL Film Festival Fund-supported project takes us on a tough and beautifully tender journey to remember – forever.
Inspired by real events, Sweet Country is a period western set in 1929 in the outback Northern Territory. When Aboriginal stockman Sam (Hamilton Morris) kills white station owner Harry March (Ewen Leslie) in self-defence, Sam and his wife Lizzie (Natassia Gorey-Furber) go on the run. They are pursued across the outback, through glorious but harsh desert country. Sergeant Fletcher (Bryan Brown) leads the posse with the help of Aboriginal tracker Archie (Gibson John) and local landowners Fred Smith (Sam Neill) and Mick Kennedy (Thomas M Wright). Fletcher is desperate to capture Sam and put him on trial for murder – but Sam is an expert bushman and he has little difficulty outlasting them. Eventually, for the health of his pregnant wife, Sam decides to give himself up. He is put on trial in the courtroom of Judge Taylor (Matt Day). But will justice be served?
We Don’t Need a Map
The Southern Cross is the most famous constellation in the southern hemisphere. Ever since colonisation it’s been claimed, appropriated and hotly-contested for ownership by a radical range of Australian groups. But for Aboriginal people the meaning of this heavenly body is deeply spiritual. And just about completely unknown. For a start, the Southern Cross isn’t even a cross – it’s a totem that’s deeply woven into the spiritual and practical lives of Aboriginal people. One of Australia’s leading film-makers, Warwick Thornton, tackles this fiery subject head-on in this bold, poetic essay-film. We Don’t Need a Map asks questions about where the Southern Cross sits in the Australian psyche. Imbued with Warwick’s cavalier spirit, this is a fun and thought-provoking ride through Australia’s cultural and political landscape.