|Cameron Wallaby, Joseph Pedley, Satellite Boy |
Charting the experience of Pete, who runs away with his best friend Kalmain in search of the mining company which has repossessed the home he shares with his grandfather Jagamurra (David Gulpilil), Satellite Boy is a meditative, expansive film which enfolds us in its depiction of the remarkable Kimberley region of Western Australia. Though effective as a film for adults, it possesses the archetypal qualities of a classic children's story: resourceful child heroes, a voyage of self-discovery and a pervasive innocence.
This is McKenzie's first feature film, but the assurance gained through an extensive career in short films and Australian television drama (including such series as RAN, The Circuit and Redfern Now) is apparent in her sensitive use of imagery and her ability to convey the essence of a story without distraction. Satellite Boy has a mythic simplicity: at its heart is the land itself and our relationship with it. McKenzie, who is Gurnai from the Gippsland region in Victoria, chose to set the film in the Kimberley because "the country is strong. It hums with stories" [production notes]. As the film's young protagonists divert from the road into the wilderness, we move into country which is sometimes stark and at other times surprising in its richness.
|David Gulpilil, Cameron Wallaby, Satellite Boy|
The land in Satellite Boy is an active presence. Formidable yet reassuring, its message merges with the voice of Jagamurra, as it prompts, "Who are you? Listen!" While Pete and Kalmain are in a sense lost and struggling with issues of identity, the country they walk through is far from the malignant entity represented in the archetypal 'lost child' narrative of European Australian fiction. Though not to be treated lightly, it is ultimately a place of belonging for Pete, a protective force. As Pete says, quoting his grandfather: "You look after country; country will look after you." The sacredness of country is emphasised verbally by the refrain "everything is connected" and visually by the recurring elemental motifs of stars and fire.
Satellite Boy has similarities to Australian children's classic Storm Boy (1976), whose name it echoes and Nicholas Roeg's Walkabout (1971), both of which McKenzie has cited as formative influences [Filmink, May 2013]. In all three films, characters are caught between the powerful, sustaining world of the land, with its ancient lore; and the fast-paced, less trustworthy world of modern commercialised Australia, with each film offering a very different outcome.
|David Gulpilil, Cameron Wallaby, Satellite Boy |
Performances in Satellite Boy are uniformly strong. Young leads Cameron Wallaby and Joseph Pedley convey the highs and lows of their characters' journey with expressive naturalism, their rapport seemingly authentic. It would be easy for McKenzie to allow the sublime quality of the landscape to overshadow her protagonist's story, but this doesn't happen. In this deceptively simple film, all elements are balanced. The humans are part of the land, and the land is part of them in turn. This is a thoughtful, arrestingly beautiful film with a warm and inclusive approach to both characters and audience. A celebration of friendship, belonging and the infinite significance of country, it's a worthy addition to the Australian cinematic canon.
Satellite Boy, writer-director Catriona McKenzie, cinematography Geoffrey Simpson, editor Henry Dangar, sound designer Liam Egan, composer David Bridie, Hopscotch and Satellite Films in association with Screen Australia, Screen NSW, Screen West and ABC TV, 2012; in national release June 20
RealTime issue #115 June-July 2013 pg. web
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