Sunday 20 May 2012

Day 415: Yolngu Boy at the Deckchair Cinema

We couldn't get into the YHA in Darwin, so we found another backpacker's hostel, one populated by very young people getting drunk on the roof terrace every night and not cleaning up after themselves in the admittedly very inadequate kitchen.  As much as Cairns YHA was a really wonderful place to hang out, this one kind of puts you off.  It was nice that we had found somewhere else to spend the evening.  One of the things we missed out on in the US was going to a drive-in cinema.  We kind of made up for it now because Darwin has an outdoor cinema that runs every night during the dry.  Instead of being a drive-in, there are rows of deckchairs, and just a few cafe tables at the back.  We got very lucky, because they were showing a film from the local area, Yolngu Boy.  That's much more the kind of thing an adult is looking for when they're travelling, as opposed to Happy Feet or Hugo, which Antonia regretted not seeing.

Yolngu Boy is about three teenage boys from the Yolngu Aboriginal group in Arnhem Land.  One of them, Botj, has a very troubled life - he's barely got back from jail and now he's about to be sent back there, just as soon as he recovers from serious burns he got while setting fire to the local community centre in a drug induced rage.  This situation is intolerable to his friend, Lorrpu, who decides they should trek overland to Darwin apparently in the hope that their community elder will intervene on Botj's behalf.  It's a long trek through the wilderness, and it's obvious that the three only just about know how to survive in the bush. So it's partly about a reconnection with their ancestors' way of life, but it's also about the continuous presence of modernity, which even turns up unexpectedly out in the wilds.  Lorrpu, who initiated the trek, is able to build a deep sense of connection with his ancestral identity, Milika doesn't really give a damn about bush life, only came along out of a sense of loyalty, and is perfectly happy being a whizz at football and listening to rap. Either way can work, but Botj emerges as an unhealable victim of the dislocations between ancient and modern ways that have already destroyed his father.  The boys make it to Darwin, but despite all Lorrpu's efforts Botj ends up leaping (or falling?) from a bridge in another drugged state and ending his life.

For a film that surely didn't have a Hollywood budget, with the three main characters apparently played by untrained actors, it's a more than excellent movie.  I can't really recommend it enough.  A little thumb's up to the short animated film by Al Oldfield that preceded it, also made locally, called The River Inside.  We enjoyed that a lot as well.

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