This is a new feature I’ll be doing alongside Hypothetical Film Festivals. The thought behind Double Feature Theater is to pair two films that share some similarity; be it thematically or actor or, even most interesting, the two films contradict each other in some way. Hope I can provide you with some ideas for your own double features.
(1971, dir. Nicolas Roeg)
Starring Jenny Agutter, David Gulpilil, Luc Roeg
Rabbit Proof Fence (2002, dir. Phillip Noyce)
Starring Everlyn Sampi, Tianna Sansbury, Laura Monaghan, David Gulpilil, Kenneth Branagh
The relationship between the Australian aborigine and the Australian settler has been as volatile, if not more than, the Native American/American settler relationship. The aggression seems to have come mainly on the British side of things, as the indigenous Australians seemed quite helpful to the settlers in the early days. Each of these films chronicles the interaction between the two cultures and shows high points of cooperation and low points of conflict.
In Nicholas Roeg’s Walkabout we’re introduced to the world of the Australian Outback through violence. An unnamed teenage girl and her younger brother are taken for a picnic by their father deep into the wilderness. Once there, he suddenly begins shooting at them, having what appears to be a complete nervous breakdown. As the terrified girl and boy hide in the nearby rocks, their father sets himself and the car on fire and burns to death. The siblings journey farther into the desert and eventually meet a young Aborigine boy on his walkabout. The Aborigine takes a liking to them and helps find water and food, while experiencing deepening feelings for the teenaged girl.
Nicholas Roeg is one of the great editor-directors of all-time. The way he intercuts scenes to emphasize connections between characters or actions is masterful. There is one sequence where the Aborigine hunts, kills, and butchers a kangaroo which is mixed with quick cuts of footage of an English butcher at work. There are constant shots of the flora and fauna of the Outback and Roeg seems intent on getting across to us how alive this place is. Despite its arid conditions, so much thrives here. One of the key themes of the film is communication and our inability to do so effectively. As the content becomes more abstract, the line of communication begin breaking down between the Aborigine and the girl until she becomes unnecessarily frightened of him and they must part ways. The sadness of these characters is how impossible it is for them to get across their thoughts and feelings despite standing in front of each other.
While Walkabout tells the story of the Aborigine/settler relationship through a lens of abstraction, Phillip Noyce’s Rabbit Proof Fence takes a more factual, historical approach. Based on the novel by Doris Pilkington, the film follow three girls from the Jigalong village in southern Australia. The three girls are taken by Australian police as part of an effort at the turn of the century to breed the Aborigine peoples out of existence. They’re taking to the Moon River Settlement, north of Perth to be trained as part of a servant class, but escape and begin a 1,500 trek home on foot through some of the brutal conditions the Outback can throw at them.
On the surface, Fence highlights a great injustice that was done to the Aborigine people which the government of Australia has been slow to make reparations for. Kenneth Branagh plays A.O. Neville, the government official assigned to oversee the Aborigines and believes in some twisted way is protecting them through these inhumane policies. On a deeper level, the film is meditation on the contemporary Aborigine’s connections to their ethnic roots. Author Pilkington is the descendant of the girls in this story is based on and the retracing of their steps through the narrative is a retracing of the history of the natives of Australia. In addition, Fence’s cinematography is a stunning achievement. Every thing about the wilderness has a dreamlike veneer over it, causing this world to be both familiar yet eerily alien.
Both films, tell the story of a group of people we rarely hear about, and do so in very different, yet equally interesting ways. If you have an interest in learning more about the fascinating continent of Australia or have an interest in global human rights, I highly recommend these pictures.