Aboriginal director offers Cannes love story

By AFP

June 18, 2010 Updated May 16, 2009 at 11:10 PM EST

Aboriginal director Warwick Thornton offered Cannes a tale of young love and a no-holds-barred look at the troubles blighting indigenous communities with the film "Samson and Delilah".

Showered with awards in Australia, Thornton's first feature follows the slow, shy courtship between a boy who spends his time sniffing petrol and lost in music and a girl forced to care for her ailing grandmother.

But the film, shot on a deliberately tight budget in a derelict Aboriginal community near Alice Springs, also takes an unflinching look at the problems facing remote Aboriginal communities, violence, substance abuse and poverty.

"It is about Aboriginal kids growing up and how incredibly strong and resilient and beautiful they are, and how they are neglected, not only by their own people and their own families but by the system," the 38-year-old filmmaker told AFP after the red-carpet screening of his film.

"Originally, the film was called 'Petrola -- a petrol-sniffing love story' but that was a pretty horrific title," he joked.

Thornton's wife talked him into changing his title to the biblical Samson and Delilah -- "which are quite feasible names in communities because most were created by missionaries."

Thornton drew on his own experience of growing up on the streets of Alice Springs when writing the screenplay.

"When you're writing your first feature you have to ask yourself, have you got something to say? Is there a fire inside of you, that you can translate to the film?

"That's what it was. Everything that's in the film I've seen personally."

Played by first-time Aboriginal actors Rowan McNamara and Marisa Gibson, both 14 at the time, the film is marked by long silences, and what little is spoken is mostly in the Central Australian language Warlpiri.

The movie is competing for the Un Certain Regard prize for original new film talent and the Camera d'Or first film award.

To find his actors, Thornton approached local Aboriginal communities, who steered him two towards youths who seemed to fit the bill.

"We were looking for two kids, Samson who's this sort of cheeky, wild, really lean, confused, erratic kind of kid. And Delilah, who is this mother earth, really grounded kind of person."

Thornton said a sense of his Aboriginal identity ran strongly through his work.

"I'm an Aboriginal and I will be all my life," he said. "The stolen generation, that's me. I'm actually not supposed to be here, it was actually government policy to breed us out and get rid of us."

Through the story of Delilah, who inherits the ancient skill of painting from her grandmother, the film also takes aim at the lucrative industry that has sprung up around the traditional art form.

"Even today, there's really bad exploitation of paintings," said Thornton, who said unscrupulous dealers could work around measures intended to crack down on the practice, even holding Aboriginals as forced labourers in extreme cases.

Thorton also said he sought to show the challenge of passing on traditional Aboriginal culture to a younger generation.

"Aboriginal culture and law is incredibly strong," he said.

"But when you are 14 years of age, and you've got that culture being incredibly demanding, and you've got P Daddy and Snoop Dog on television telling you to get rich quick and throwing guns around and driving Lamborghinis, that creates this divide."

"There is that other black culture that we getting around the world, that has flooded in, and that they are kind of accepting more easily."




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