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New Movie Highlights Racism, Tension in Inter-War Australia


A provocative film that chronicles racism and brutality in the 1920s has been released in Australia. Set in the red dust of the outback, “Sweet Country” is the story of an Aboriginal herder who goes on the run after killing a white landowner in self-defense.

The film is a historical, Western-style epic that has at its heart racist aggression between white colonialists and Australia’s indigenous population they displaced. The movie is directed by celebrated Aboriginal filmmaker Warwick Thornton, whose first film was the highly acclaimed feature “Samson and Delilah,” which was released in 2009.

Thornton says “Sweet Country” shows the brutality of Australia in the 1920s.

“It is a bit of history you will not find in your everyday high school curriculum, even though it is all based on true stories. It is important for us as a country to learn more about our history so we can make better choices about our future, I guess.  You know, it has got a lot of connotations today. Racism is still around today. It is just that people are not allowed to openly say what they feel, but they are still racist,” Thornton said.

The cast includes veteran Australian actor Bryan Brown, who came to prominence in “Gorillas in the Mist” and “Cocktail,” alongside U.S. actor Tom Cruise.

“Sweet Country” also features the New Zealand actor Sam Neill, who starred in “The Piano” and “Jurassic Park.”

Hamilton Morris plays the character of Sam Kelly, the indigenous farm worker who goes on the run with his wife after killing a white landowner. Morris had no film experience before landing the role as Kelly, although he did have a role in an Australian TV series about a remote radio station. There was also a large cast of Aboriginal extras.

Many of the reviews of “Sweet Country” have been positive with the newspaper The Australian saying it was “Australian filmmaking at its best.”

Indigenous Australians make up about 3 percent of the population and are, by far, the most disadvantaged group in the country, suffering high rates of poverty, ill health and imprisonment.

Warwick’s “Sweet Country” already was awarded a Special Jury Prize at the Venice Film Festival last September at an early screening.