Sunday 11 June 2017

Sydney Film Festival (11) - WE DONT NEED A MAP (Warwick Thornton, Australia). Reviewed by Barrie Pattison

Warwick Thornton
You’ve got to like Warwick Thornton sitting there thinking “please not me” when they announced Australian of the Year in 2009 getting flack for comparing the Eureka flag to the Swastika, punching holes in a sheet of cardboard with a pencil to make a Southern Cross background for the titles of his new We Don't Need a Map rather than commissioning high end lab work. He figured that a blackfella (his choice of words), along with producer Brendan Fletcher with a string of superior commercials, would be a shoe-in for NITV’s referendum anniversary funding.

Though the pair represent their film as a chaotic endeavour (“let’s go out and do a shit load of interviews”), it is actually remarkably well organised, pivoting around the inescapable new significance the Southern Cross has taken on since John Howard, Pauline Hanson and the Cronulla riots. The rock singer interviewee comments “Someone who got a Southern Cross tattoo the week before Cronulla, must be spewing now”.  It’s become like saying a swastika indicates a connection to Hindu philosophy or (and no one observes this) the Confederate flag.

Thornton visits a playground version of the Eureka Stockade, watches a traditional celestial-aligned cross laid out on the yellow soil and erased, recalls the Southern Cross Company windmills which drained the aquifers the indigenous people relied on for water (a sculptor now recovers the steel for art works) and listens to the significance of rock art explained.

The director and the articulate observers he has sat in front of his camera establish a remarkable context for all this - pre-European arrival Australia, a model of multi-culturalism with six hundred different languages, the time when the oral tradition was not dismissed as Chinese Whispers, because then the ones who didn’t know the song cycles would not be able to find the food and water described in them and die, or the First Fleet, the aborigines and the boat people all using the Southern Cross to find their way.

This is not however your usual polemic. Scenes of beach spear fishing, night time fire lit activities and accelerated shots of the stars filmed by Thornton’s son Dylan River punctuate more conventional footage. The action is commented by shots of hands manipulating the Bush Toy Mob’s salvaged-wire figures - Captain Cook’s boat greeted by locals with a sign saying “Fuck off - We’re full”, Thornton in dialogue with the Bush Toy Captain Phillip telling him if he wants to stay he’ll have to behave or a shot-down black man’s grave marked with a toy Southern Cross windmill.

You can see the sensibility of Thornton’s remarkable Samson and Delilah at play finding jokey material in appalling happenings.

The film goes to air in July and plan is to have this one shown in schools. Sound like a really good idea to me.

Incidentally, Thornton advises that the copper who defended with his Billy Club the people the mob attacked in the toilet block during the Cronulla riots, becoming an Australian icon, has been fired for excessive violence.

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