Shai Pittman as Karen in the indigenous film 'Here I Am'

Posted by Jeremy Eccles | 13.05.11

Two fabulously true-to-life pictures of indigenous life in Australia are currently on offer on the big screen. If it's men and the minimally urban world of the Kimberley you're after – think Wyndham and Halls Creek and salt-pans in between - than it's Mad Bastards that's in a cinema near you. But if you want the women and the fringe life in a big city (Adelaide) that whets the appetite, then Here I Am is definitely worth chasing.
Why the blokes have been given a huge push by Paramount and are getting good distribution while the women are struggling to get much more than the Message Sticks touring film program until its release in June, I'm not quite sure. Especially as Here I Am has close ties to last year's break-out Cannes Festival hit, Samson & Delilah via cinematographer Warwick Thornton, whose partner is the film's director, Beck Cole. Personally, I'd have taken their embracing film to Cannes in preference to the disengaged chill of Sleeping Beauty!
And that's got nothing to do with the serendipitous fact that Beck is the niece of Aboriginal artist Robert Cole!
What connects the two films, though, is their growth from absolute reality rather than their writers' imaginations. For Brendan Fletcher, Mad Bastards began with the musical Pigram Brothers from Broome who lead him astray across the Kimberley and into the lives of people like Greg Tait and Dean Daley-Jones who play the forces (respectively) of law and disorder as Dean's TJ attempts to connect with a son who's beginning to cause as much mayhem as himself. Greg, a real-life Hall's Creek cop, smells trouble and takes TJ out bush for a good old fashioned punch-up. But it's Country that actually starts the cure for both father and son in this rough and ready, musically charming Aussie version of Maoridom's great Once Were Warriors.
Another link with Here I Am is the creation of almost completely Black worlds by both directors. You'd hardly know that Adelaide had a non-indigenous population as Karen (played by Blacktown's Shai Pittman) emerges from an all-Black prison to attempt to reconnect with the world – especially her daughter and her mother, played with baleful fury by academic Marcia Langton. Drugs have probably sent Karen to jail, speculates Shai; they've certainly convinced her Mum that Karen has no right to take her daughter back – she greets her with a venomous slap!
But the backing of some Sistas at a Port Adelaide hostel begins to build Karen's self-esteem – and, with a dram or two of Dutch courage, she takes her mother on. Reality comes from Beck Cole's family world and the allusive emotions in the piece emanate from her own recent motherhood. No scene is allowed to hit you over the head – the audience has to work to come to its own conclusions. Which, of course, is a sure-fire route to engagement. Even at the end when Karen utters the immortal words, “I think I'm going to be all right, hey”. Such minimal catharsis!
Here I Am was seen at the brave and innovative Adelaide Film Festival, and is premiering OE this week in Sydney at the Message Sticks Film Festival at the Sydney Opera House. Warwick Thornton, its choreographer is talking on a panel about film-making on Sunday 15th May. It's also having a Blacktown premiere on Friday night.
Here I Am will then tour the country with the Message Sticks Touring Film Festival along with director Beck Cole and actor Pauline Whyman hitching a ride to do Q&As after each screening. Brisbane 14th May, Canberra 15th May, Melbourne 20th May, Broome 27th May, Perth 29th May, Townsville 3rd June, Alice Springs 7th July, Cairns 20th August, Darwin 23rd August.
And the ABC is showing Here I Am this Thursday night (Dec 8th) at 8.30pm. Don't miss it.


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Mad Bastards Greg Tait and Dean Daley-Jones catch their breath during their epic punch-up in the Kimberley


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