When one has a view of a culture that comes from within, the common belief is that such a personal view will make for a more authentic cinematic experience. Such is the situation with Warwick Thornton’s new film, Samson and Delilah, set in Australia’s outback among its indigenous people. Surely, there have been other films about Aboriginal Australian culture. The issue is that most of them were made by non-Aborigines: Philip Noyce’s Rabbit-Proof Fence, John Hillcoat’s The Proposition and Baz Luhrmann’s Australia.
“I don’t have a problem with white people making films about us so long as they have the intelligence to do it properly,” said Thornton. “I enjoyed Australia – you don’t go to a Baz film thinking that you are going to watch a low-energy film. The indigenous story line is slightly heightened. I enjoyed Rabbit-Proof Fence. There are people in Australia still trying to say that ‘it’s not true’ or ‘it wasn’t that bad.’ But this was happening to the whole country. It’s like denying the Holocaust. If you are intelligent and you do the film properly, it’s a good thing.”
Thonrton started in documentaries, because, as he said, “Art imitates life. It’s an incredible place to learn about emotions – documentaries – because they are so truthful.” He had previously never directed anything other than short films, prior to Samson and Delilah, which was his own story.
“I would never direct something that I didn’t write,” he said. “It’s partially my life. That’s the fire inside of me to tell the story. It’s my reason for being. I want to tell these stories to change something to be a better world.”
Concerning his crew the first time out as a feature filmmaker, Thornton, a longtime cinematographer, noted that he selected people for what he detected inside of them over what was listed on their resumes. “I choose people to work on my films because of their hearts not because of their credits,” he said. “It’s like going on a holiday with your best friends. I learned that from being a DP for 20 years. It’s nice to find really fantastic people. The wardrobe lady is just as creative as the director.”
With regards to the natural cinematography in his film, an aspect of making movies, which he considers his forté, Thornton noted that “The best cinematography is the one you don’t see. That’s part of the problem. Films become ‘look at me.’ It looks amazing, but those shots pull you out of the film. As a cinematographer, it was fun to shoot this film. It’s one of the things that I incredibly enjoy. As soon as I gave up that technical crap, I started to enjoy it creatively, and I started to have fun with it.”
By choice, Thornton is moving back to a documentary after Samson and Delilah. His next project Art and Soul is a three-hour documentary series. “I get sick of drama and will go out and do a documentary,” he stated. “Then I’ll get sick of documentaries and go out and do a drama. You just want to tell stories. Straight after we head back from Cannes, I went into the western desert near Alice Springs to create three one-hour segments of Art and Soul. It goes through the genesis of painting in the western desert through contemporary work. I have two editors in Sydney cutting two of the episodes. We will finish it in March and air in June or July.”
With Samson and Delilah, Thornton has one major clearly-stated agenda: “I would like people to know that we are here,” he said. “You may never meet two average kids in central Australia. But you might meet two teenagers in love on Sunset. I think that if you come to the film, you will understand the journey that these kids take, and you can make a better decision about what to do. It’s knowledge and access. I just want to open people’s eyes to different worlds – that’s what world cinema does. It will make you a better human being. People go and see what’s been advertised the most. Go and search for stuff and look for stories outside of the billboards. I’m positive you’ll find yourself in these stories and will change your life.”
When asked about his film’s Oscar potential, Thornton is noticeably humbled. “It would be gorgeous and fantastic to be acknowledged as it would help get more people to see it [Samson and Delilah], which is the bigger picture. That’s the holy grail of cinema. If it happens, it happens.”
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