Double Bill: Bran Nue Dae (2009) and The Sapphires (2012)

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Down Under Flix was created to show love, shine light, and where necessary throw shade on obscure, forgotten, neglected, or under-appreciated Australian films, but I find myself increasingly struggling with the question of what constitutes an obscure, forgotten, neglected, or under-appreciated local film. Obviously some films are clearly immune from this category: Crocodile Dundee, for instance, does not and will never need my help. However, Breaker Morant, on the surface a critically revered and widely liked Australian classic, has by its own director’s admission barely made a dime. What, then, of films like Bran Nue Dae and The Sapphires? Both films were liked by critics and audiences. Bran Nue Dae scored 6 Australian Film Institute Award nominations including Best Film and scored Best Supporting Actress for Deborah Mailman, while The Sapphires swept the board winning 11 gongs, including Best Film, Director, Actor, and Actress (Mailman again). Bran Nue Dae earned almost $7.7 million at the local box office and ranks 42nd on the list of most successful Australian releases, while The Sapphires earned over $14.5 million and ranks 19th on that list. Having said that, last year Star Wars: The Last Jedi earned $45 million at the Australian box office – over twice as much as Bran Nue Dae and The Sapphires combined – with Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle and Beauty and the Beast on its tail with $37.5 and $36.3 million respectively. In other cold, hard words, while Bran Nue Dae might have been popular, five times more Australians went to see a Disney live action remake of an animated film they’d probably already seen.

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One Night the Moon (2001)

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Director: Rachel Perkins

Stars: Paul Kelly, Kaarin Fairfax, Kelton Pall

First viewing, via DVD

In the opening scene of One Night the Moon, farmer Jim Ryan (Paul Kelly) awakens at his kitchen table. An empty bottle stands at his side, a remnant from a night of drinking to numb his pain. But the pain waits in readiness for him that morning, made clear when he launches into song about having naught to live for. He retrieves his rifle, passes an empty child’s bedroom, then his own bedroom where his wife Rose (Kaarin Fairfax, also Kelly’s offscreen wife) lies crumpled and defeated, then wanders out into the harsh outback. In these few minutes One Night the Moon makes two things abundantly clear. Firstly, it’s a musical, and secondly, it’s not one of the toe-tapping, knee-slapping variety. Where some of the best movie musicals have an inherent weightlessness to them, One Night the Moon is all weight: oppressive, foreboding weight.

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Radiance (1998)

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Director: Rachel Perkins

Stars: Deborah Mailman, Rachel Maza, Trisha Morton-Thomas

First viewing, via SBS On Demand

According to research conducted by Screen Australia, women comprise on average 16% of working film directors in Australia, with 32% of producers and 23% of writers also women. It’s a disappointing statistic, and sadly consistent with overseas trends. It’s all the more frustrating given the impressive pool of female directing talent that Australia has produced, including, but by no means limited to, Gillian Armstrong (My Brilliant Career, Oscar and Lucinda), Jocelyn Moorhouse (Proof, The Dressmaker), Sue Brooks (Japanese Story), Cate Shortland (Somersault), Shirley Barrett (Love Serenade), Ana Kokkinos (Head On, The Book of Revelation), Samantha Lang (The Monkey’s Mask), Jennifer Kent (The Babadook), the late Sarah Watt (Look Both Ways), and Rachel Perkins, director of Bran NueDae and Radiance.

Radiance centres on three Indigenous sisters of different ages, fathers and temperaments reunited for their mother’s funeral. The sisters are an outwardly disparate trio: Mae (Trisha Morton-Thomas) looked after their mother during her final years, and is coarsened by the experience; Cressy (Rachel Maza) in an international opera star who seemingly abandoned her family to pursue her career; and newly pregnant youngest sister Nona (Deborah Mailman) is the most perky and naive of the three. Over the course of the film they rub each other the wrong way, air dirty laundry, and forge new connections. It is, after all, based on a play.

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