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This is a very powerful film from the wonderful Phillip Noyce (The Quiet American) and its based on the shameful history in Australia where aborigine children were taken by force from their families and tribes to camps and taught to be servants. In the film 3 sisters escape and venture to walk 1,500 miles back to their tribe. The title refers to a fenceline that stretches for thousands of miles and the girls follow it. The wonderful aborigine actor David Gulpilil (Walkabout) plays a scout that is tracking the girls and Kenneth Branaugh plays an officer that is in charge of the whole operation. I guess the main flaw in the film would be the middle where most of the walking takes place and the film really slows down but its not a major complaint. The 1,500 mile trek is expertly paced and the film is by no means dull. Rather, its fascinating! The real footage that we see at the end of the film is so powerful that the whole essence of what you have just watched becomes even more devastating. This is more than just an important film, its a documentation of an ugly and shameful part of Australian history. A must see!
"And miles to go before I sleep/ And miles to go before I sleep" -- Robert
Set in Western Australia in 1931, Rabbit-Proof Fence, a new film by Australian director Philip Noyce (The Quiet American, Clear and Present Danger), is a scathing attack on the Australian government's "eugenics" policy toward Aboriginal half-castes. Continuing policies begun by the British, the white government in Australia for six decades forcibly removed all half-caste Aborigines from their families "for their own good" and sent them to government camps where they were raised as servants, converted to Christianity, and eventually assimilated into white society.
Based on the 1996 book, "Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence" by Doris Pilkington Garimara (Molly Kelly's daughter), the film tells the story of three Aboriginal girls, 14-year old Molly Kelley, her 8-year old sister Daisy, and their 10-year old cousin Gracie. It shows their escape from confinement in a government camp for half-castes and their return home across the vast and lonely Australian Outback. It is a simple story of indomitable courage, told with honest emotion. Abducted by police in 1931 from their families at Jigalong, an Aboriginal settlement on the edge of the Little Sandy Desert in northwest Australia, the three girls are sent to the Moore River Native Settlement near Perth. Here the children must endure wretched conditions. Herded into mass dormitories, they are not allowed to speak their native language, are subject to strict discipline, and, if they break the rules, are put into solitary confinement for 14 days.
Followed by the Aborigine tracker, Moodoo (a great performance from David Gulpilil), the girls make their escape. Using a "rabbit-proof fence" as a navigation tool, they walk 1500 miles across the parched Outback to return to Jigalong. The rabbit-proof fence was a strip of barbed-wire netting that cut across half of the continent and was designed to protect farmer's crops by keeping the rabbits away. The girls walked for months on end often without food or drink, not always sure of the direction they are going, using all their ingenuity and intelligence along the way just to survive. The stunning Australian landscape is magnificently photographed by Christopher Doyle, and a haunting score by Peter Gabriel translates natural sounds of birds, animals, wind and rain into music that adds a mystical feeling to the journey.
The performances by amateur actors Evelyn Sampi, Tianna Sansbury, and Laura Monaghan (who had never seen a film before let alone acted in one) are authentic and heartbreakingly affecting. Though the white officials and police are characterized as smug and unfeeling, they are more like bureaucrats carrying out official policies than true villains. Kenneth Branagh gives a strong but restrained performance as Mr. Neville, the minister in charge of half-castes. Rabbit-Proof Fence is an honest film that avoids sentimentality and lets the courage and natural wisdom of the girls shine through. This is one of the best films I've seen this year and has struck a responsive chord in Australia and all over the world. Hopefully, it will become a vehicle for reconciliation, so that the shame of the "Stolen Generation" can at last be held to account.
Few films have garnered so much applause (from critics and public alike) with so little. The plot of "Rabbit Proof Fence" can be found elsewhere on this website. Suffice it to say it's about three girls walking and walking and walking and walking and....across some of the most visually austere country on the planet; the Aussie outback. There's little story behind the film, zilch for Hollywood tinsel, and a minimal cast of relative unknowns (except for Branagh's small role). It would be easy to make the case that this film is one long boring flick. However, it would also be easy to make the case it is a beautifully filmed story of courage, determination, and the triumph of the human spirit. I would argue the latter. (B+)
This powerful film follows the journey of three young aboriginal girls who
are taken from their family and forced to assimilate into an empty culture
by the white settlers of Australia. This is known as the "STOLEN
GENERATION", a dark period in Australian history which the current prime
minister of Australia refuses to say sorry for the past atrocities. But
is not to say that this film preaches or manipulates emotions for
gain. No! It just tells the story with powerful images that allows the
viewer to enter the torment of the stolen generation. Dialogue is minimal
our heroes are taken from their family and driven to the other side of
Australia. But their will and instinct to be with their strong culture has
the girls escape the camp prison and follow the rabbit-proof fence back
home. The rabbit proof fence was built down the centre of Australia to
contain the plague of rabbits from entering farm land. It was this
built fence that lead the girls back home.
As for all journeys, they are filled with internal conflict and confrontations with strangers. These confrontations with certain people show the diverse group of settlers in Australia. Not all were ignorant but most were repressed and abided to the harsh cultured laws. For instance, the girls arrive at a farmstead and are given clothing and food by a white woman. The motherly instinct of this woman understood that the girls had to be with their mothers. But at the same token the farm woman could not jeopardise her own family by looking after the girls or else it would have brought trouble. It was wonderful scenes like these that was played out visually without having to dumb it down with words. As human beings we understand these actions and need no explaining.
The most interesting relationship was the one between the aboriginal tracker in search of the girls. He could sense the persistence of these girls to get home by making it difficult for him to track them down. This he respected and slightly dropped his guard. Once again, a string of images tell of this distant relationship between tracker and girls.
The images also became so strong during the scene when the girls were taken from their mothers in a horrific manner. I doubt there will be a dry eye during that scene. This hooks you in as you then become the spirit of their journey back home.
Only by the performances of the girls do these scenes work because they are so natural and heartfelt. Children who overplay their role just become cute but those who underplay and rely on emotions of the situation deliver a powerhouse performance that a trained actor may sometimes find difficult to achieve. At first the name of a high calibre actor - such as Kenneth Branagh - in an Australian film warns you where the limelight will shine. But Kenneth just took a step back and become another important confrontational figure in the journey.
A bonus is the music by Peter Gabriel. It is a mixture of his famous trademark of world music infused with that of the Aboriginal. It soars and plays with the emotions, maybe a little too much but when you are dealing with a thousand year old culture that has music as its central universe, then you may be able to understand that the overpowerful music is just an extension of that.
Congratulations to all who were brave enough to bring a project of this strength to the screen. And for those who may wonder how I saw the film prior to its release, lets just say I was lucky enough to be at the right place at the right time. And No! I'm not tied to the project in any way because I don't sell out that easily.
Based on a true story and set in Australia in the 1930s, Rabbit-Proof
Fence is about three "half-caste" aboriginal girls, Molly Craig
(Everlyn Sampi), Daisy (Tianna Sansbury) and Gracie (Laura Monaghan),
who are taken from their mother and shipped 1500 miles across the
country to the Moore River Native Settlement where they are to become
more integrated into white Australian culture. Molly, the eldest and
most experienced of the three, initiates an attempt to return home, on
There is some controversy over just how factual the film and its bases are (including the book by the real-life Molly Craig's daughter, Doris Pilkington), and there were some interesting parallels to the situation depicted in the film and behind the scenes facts about star Sampi and director Phillip Noyce. I won't get into that here, because it's irrelevant to the question of whether Rabbit-Proof Fence is a good film. It is. It's an excellent, inspirational film that should leave nary a dry eye whenever it's shown.
On the other hand, there is a politics present in the film that is not ignorable. The aborigines in the film are abused and pushed around by a culture that misguidedly wants to "protect them from themselves". A segment of historical white Australia is portrayed as the "bad guy". Noyce doesn't paint a picture completely without ethical nuance, however. The chief villain of the film, A.O. Neville (Kenneth Branagh), keeps talking about his good intentions, and such claims do not come across as insincere. This all sets the backdrop and motivation for the heart of the film, which is a story of just what conviction, persistence and a bit of resourcefulness can do.
Rabbit-Proof Fence is mostly a combination of an adventure and a suspense film. Set primarily in the breathtaking Australian wilderness, magnificent cinematography goes without saying. The suspense is realistic and comparatively subtle.
As for the cast, Sampi is simply enchanting, and Branagh is as good here as I've seen him in any other film of his, even though his role is a relatively minor one. The tracker, Moodoo (David Gulpilil), managed to be very effectively complex, all while uttering barely a word. The music, by Peter Gabriel, is also worth noting. It is very unobtrusive, but elegantly emphasizes mood throughout the film.
I also had extra personal interest in the film as an avid hiker who has done a number of long-distance hikes and who plans to do more in the future.
Official policy between 1910 and 1970 in Australia allowed half-caste Aborigine children to be forcibly removed from their families and incarcerated for their own' good in training schools where their were educated to become fitting servants for white families. This institutionalised eugenics, still recent enough to be remembered by its victims, is still a controversial issue in Australia where the PM John Howard refuses to give an official apology. The film has been doing very well in Australia. The story follows three such girls who are forcibly re-located but escape, and follow the rabbit-proof fence' on a 1500 mile journey back home. The title itself seems to echo not only the yellow brick road of the Wizard of Oz (another journey to reclaim one's wholeness) but the fence that was erected to contain animals which is just how the Aborigine children are treated, albeit with the best intentions. The story was adapted from a book by the daughter of the youngest surviving half-cast Aborigine portrayed in the film the actual child actors had mostly never seen a motion picture before let alone acted in one.
This film has quite a few remarkable features. First of all is its title
which is rather unusual and immediately grabs one's interest. Next there is
the fence itself which runs for thousands of miles to protect what few green
plants there are in these desert regions from the voracious appetites of
millions of wild rabbits. This fence plays an important role in this true
story. Then there is the diector who not only scoured the continent to find
three suitable aboriginal girls to play theleads but moulded these
inexperienced beginners into the believable characters of Molly, Daisy and
Gracie. The director Phillip Noyce has achieved remarkable success in
creating three good little performers and should be given full credit for
his difficult task.
For those who do not know the desert regions of Australia, it must be said that the "outback" country is harsh and cruel and can only be crossed by those with experience...those with a knowledge of the land. I think the camera makes it clear that the hostile environment is very much like a fence in itself...almost impossible to cross. All the more remarkable therefore that these girls accomplished what they set out to do. May be it was a reckless decision they made but thanks to the fence they found their way back to family and friends.
The film is largely a record of the long trek and the manner in which the children are able to survive. There are not many dramatic moments on their journey south. The children are mainly concerned with avoiding the blacktracker who is following them. The most unforgettable scene comes early in the film when the children are forcibly torn from their mothers. This is truly heart-wrenching stuff.
This thoughtful presentation is worth watching. It is part of Australian history.
Yes we've seen children-on-the-run films, but such glib commentary demeans this true life drama and its implications in real life. This magnificent and tragic story is yet another must-see in re:the little holocausts that have gone on, even in the most "civilized" nations - in this case Australia. What a touching story of three girls, marvelously portrayed by unknown young actresses, who escape from a horrific government policy, initiated by white supremacist Australia pre-Hitler and Nazi Germany. It is odd to say this is beautifully filmed in the Australian outback... and Kenneth Brannagh, echoing his recent portrayal as Heydrich in "Conspiracy", plays white evil incarnate - a prim bureaucrat diligently doing his government job's mandate - to cleanse Australia of "half breeds" in a most heinous (if not deadly) fashion. It is compelling from beginning to end, and the epilogue is most chilling and bittersweet. Superior and meaningful film making.
1931 Australia. The state has passed a law that facilitates the collection
of mixed race children to boarding camps where they are trained in their
white side of their blood and to be home help as adults. The eventual aim
is to prevent the growth of the aborigines as a race by watering down any
mixed blood. A small group of children, Molly, Gracie and Daisy are taken
from their mother and transferred across the country to one such camp.
However Molly leads the trio in an escape from the camp and follow the
rabbit proof fence that divides the country to return to her
I managed to fluke free preview tickets for this because the tickets I had come to collect were all gone! I must admit this film hadn't really appealed to me when I saw summaries and the poster, but I'm very glad that I did. The plot is based on fact and is a period of history that I admit I knew nothing about. I was surprised that this cruel and immoral practice carried on till as late as the seventies. The fact that the current Prime Minister of Australia refuses to apologise for it to this day shows that it is important that this story be told.
The film is told in a steady, unsentimental tone that allows the film to be powerful without the typically Hollywood use of sweeping music or other such lazy tools. Instead the circumstances of the story create the emotion. The story is a little weak at some points once the children escape the film has a touch too many scenes of near-capture and escape to sustain the drama. Also the film (understandably) lends a lot of respect to the Aborigines giving them a sense of mysticism that they maybe don't deserve. This is a slight problem when a key action involves a hawk that is supposedly summoned by their mothers (or something!). However these are minor complaints given the sweeping emotion of the film and the sheer power of the story.
The production and direction are excellent. Noyce has created a beautiful vision of the Australian Outback that really feeds the film. However the sound is also superb. Rhythmic footsteps ring out, crunching and banging of the landscape it works best in a cinema I guess but it adds to the dramatic feel of the film, even if some sudden noises caused me to jump without any reason in the scene to do so.
The cast are mixed but are important where it matters. Sampi is amazing as Molly. She carries the film with her strength but also little facial expressions that reveal that she is a child, reveal her strength and tell so very much. Both Sansbury and Monaghan also do well but not as well as the lead. Branagh is also perfectly pitched. Neville could easily have been overplayed as a hammy villain of the piece but here he is played just right he is a real man and we are left to decide for ourselves what to make of him. Some of the cast are average some of the children in the camp can't act and the majority of the white police officers are maybe a shade too much caricatured as evil men who dislike the blacks.
Overall this film may struggle to draw the Friday night crowd just looking for a bit of escapism of a weekend, but it is still well worth a look. It is beautifully shot and uses the Australian landscape to great effect complimenting the enormity and emotion of the terrible, terrible true story. Not exactly cheerful or uplifting but a powerful story that deserves 90 minutes of your time.
In Australia no less, I was shocked . In the first ten minutes of the
movie I was in tears, as I watched I toiled along with the girls and
fed them and cried with them felt fear for them and with them , smiled
at some things too . Took me off guard and broke my heart, where as in
America we took the Native Americans and did the almost the same thing
. I'm left shaking my head and wondering when does it end or will it
ever ,Great movie very thought provoking will tell all my Aussie
friends to be sure and see it if they haven't already why does a
government have to " protect them from them selves ", they've survived
this long with out intervention .
I read more on the rabbit extinction methods made me sick to my stomach will never forget this movie . I belived it happened just as she tells it so much for the politics of the movie thanks Cassie USA
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