Finding salvation in film

Aboriginal Art Directory | 27.04.09

Article in The Age about Samson & Delilah director Warwick Thornton.

The future film director and writer spent three years skipping school and roaming the streets of Alice Springs, where he was born, some 400 kilometres south of the country of his people, the Kaytej nation. So his mother did something quite radical.

Thornton - now 38 and about to premiere his first feature film, Samson & Delilah, which last week was selected to screen at the Cannes International Film Festival - was masking a fear of authority. "I hated school, I didn't like teachers; I was afraid of teachers," he says.

He never knew his father. Thornton's mother, Central Australian Aboriginal TV and radio pioneer Freda Glynn -- thought distance might fix her wayward boy.

She packed him off to live and study at Australia's only monastic town, New Norcia, in Western Australia in 1983. Thornton arrived at what was then known as Salvado College, established in 1846 by a Spanish missionary as part of a Benedictine monastery, two hours' drive north of Perth.

Bishop Rosendo Salvado's original mission had been to "civilise" Aboriginal children - with a interest in indigenous culture said to be rare for his day - and to make his Christian village largely self-sufficient based on agriculture.

Thornton is also working with Aboriginal art curator Hetti Perkins on the three-part documentary Art + Soul:

Samson & Delilah producer Kath Shelper says when she met Thornton in 2004 and worked on his short film Green Bush he was "gruff and a bit dismissive of producers". Thornton admits he was then still "insecure", though Aboriginal art curator Hetti Perkins, with whom Thornton is currently making the three-part documentary Art + Soul, says that like Shelper she's found a creative and thoughtful ally in Thornton.

"He's the kind of person who will let you talk for hours, which means he's listening," Perkins says. "I find him quite fearless, too, to make courageous choices to get beyond the skin of things. And funny - a healthy dose of humour runs through his work, even though the things he's dealing with are serious."

Thornton's first feature is strengthened by its long silences and reliance on action, aided by a soundtrack of Aboriginal rock, the country music of African-American singer Charley Pride - a big favourite of Aboriginal inmates, says Thornton - and romantic Mexican numbers penned by Ana Gabriel.


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