Gulpilil caught between two worlds

17 September, 2013 by Don Groves

David Gulpilil in Charlie's Country. 


Filmmaker Rolf de Heer says his friend and frequent collaborator, actor David Gulpilil, is caught between two cultures, meaning the blackfella’s and the white man’s.

Not co-incidentally, Gulpilil plays a similarly conflicted character in de Heer’s new film, Charlie’s Country, which has its world premiere next month at the Adelaide Film Festival.

That’s one of 10 projects- features, documentaries and shorts- that deal with indigenous themes, most directed by indigenous filmmakers, screening at the festival.

They include Warwick Thornton’s The Darkside, a collection of poignant ghost stories from across Australia performed by Deborah Mailman, Bryan Brown, Aaron Pedersen, Leah Purcell, Brendan Cowell and Shari Sebbens; and Ben Pederick’s Ringbalin, a multi-platform project which tells the story of an Aboriginal elder who’s tired of watching his ancestral home at the end of the Coorong die and embarks on a 2,300 km pilgrimage to dance the spirit back into the river.

In Charlie’s Country, Gulpilil’s character is an Aboriginal man who finds living in a remote community increasingly hard, especially as he believes the policing of whitefella laws makes little sense. Charlie's friends and relatives seem uninterested in the issue so he takes off, aiming to live the old way. In the process he sets off a chain of events that result in him returning to his community, chastened and somewhat the wiser.

De Heer got the idea when he visited Gulpilil while he was in jail in Darwin. “I saw the film as a way of helping to transition him out of jail and into a better state,” the writer-director told IF.

About half the film was shot in the actor’s native language, which was a challenge for de Heer. “I wrote most of his lines each day and he improvised,” he said. “It was a cathartic experience for him; his passions ran deep.”

EOne Hopscotch pre-bought the Australian rights but its executives won’t set a release date until they’ve seen the completed film. International sales were being handled by Fandango Portobello, a sales agency founded by producers Eric Abraham and Domenico Procacci.

De Heer says the partners have since closed the sales company due to the dire economic situation in Italy so he will be looking for another sales agent.

The filmmaker is delighted at the spotlight on indigenous fare at the AFF, which includes a digitally restored version of Ned Lander’s 1981’s film Wrong Side of the Road, the first Australian feature with an all-indigenous cast; and Buckskin, Dylan McDonald’s documentary on Adelaide man Jack Buckskin’s efforts to renew the Kaurna language and culture and teach it to as many people as he can in his lifetime.

Also Wayne Blair will introduce an advance screening of Dogs of War, an episode he directed in season two of Blackfella Films’ Redfern Now, and take part in a forum.