Stephen Johnson on location in Arnhem Land.
After a decade gestation, director Stephen Johnson’s frontier Western High Ground is scheduled to shoot next year in Arnhem Land and Kakadu National Park.
The project, first announced last year by the Northern Territory government, sees Johnson – known for his work shooting Yothu Yindi’s music videos – reunite with writer Chris Anastassiades with whom he worked on Yolngu Boy.
Set in the 1930s, High Ground follows Travis, a bounty hunter with one last hope of redemption, and Djumbatj, a young Indigenous man trying to save the last of his family. Together they embark on a manhunt, which unravels a secret that ultimately pits them against each other.
“High Ground was conceived as a story that would challenge accepted notions of the settlement of Australia. Faced with the myth of terra nullius our aim with the film is to present a different perspective on how this country was made. The approach was always to make a genre film, a rollercoaster action thriller that delivers as an entertaining story first and foremost,” said Johnson.
The script has been developed over the past decade in consultation with the Arnhem Land and Kakadu communities.
Johnson added: “I grew up in the Northern Territory and I am delighted to be returning to Arnhem Land and Kakadu to shoot High Ground. I love this country and its people. The epic stone escarpments and vast floodplains provide a stunning backdrop to our tale that goes to the heart of the Australia story.”
David Jowsey (Sweet Country, Goldstone), Maggie Miles (Paper Planes, The Turning), Yothu Yindi co-founder Witiyana Marika, a senior elder of the Rirratjiŋu Clan, and Greer Simpkin (Sweet Country, Mystery Road) are producing.
When the film was first announced in 2016, it was set to shoot in August/September of this year and Guy Pearce, David Gulpilil and Jack Thompson were attached to star.
With production moved to next year the cast has not been announced, but is described as ‘top tier’.
Filming will take place in Western Arnhem Land and Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory, and post-production will take place in Victoria.
The film has received principal production investment from Screen Australia, in association with Screen Territory.
Australian distribution will be handled by Madman Entertainment and international sales by Bankside.