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:: Yolngu Boy

3 Men, 1 Skin, 1 Dream

In the current Australian political climate, Yolngu Boy was always going to be an ambitious project. Not least because the film addresses the issues facing 3 Aboriginal youths from the Yolngu Tribe, one of the oldest living peoples on earth, who remained largely untouched by Balanda (European) culture until 1935. Add to this the fact that it is the first film shot entirely in the Northern Territory, the first feature film by Director Stephen Johnson, working with an entirely unknown and inexperienced cast tackling highly politically sensitive issues. Despite this, the cast and crew of Yolngu Boy have produced a touching portrayal of 3 boys as they struggle into manhood with conflicting cultural, familial and social influences. The film follows the boy's journey both physically and emotionally as they try to come to terms with their friendship, their aboriginality and their place in the world.

The three boys born under the sign of the baru (crocodile) have been friends since childhood when they dreamed of becoming great hunters. However the return of Botj (Sean Mununggurr) from prison, the other boys, Lorrpu (John Sebastian Pilakui) and Milika (Nathan Daniels) realise that their lives have begun drifting apart. Botj wants to sniff petrol at a time when Lorrpu wants to immerse himself if his culture its traditions and the local girls (Lirrina Mugunggurr) and Milika, well Milika just wants to play footy. After an incident in the community which seems set to put Botj back in the hands of white justice, the boys decide to flee to Darwin to beg to Dawu, the highest of the elders in their community to allow Botj to stay. As the sun lines and the maralitja man or spirit guide (Mangatjay Yunupingu) lead the boys through their journey, they not only rediscover their friendship, but they rediscover their aboriginality on their own terms and with each others help.

Added to this well constructed narrative is a remarkable cinematic style. A continuously moving camera, allowing the viewer access to never before seen footage of Kakadu and Arnhem Land contrasts the space created by the landscape and the minimal dialogue. This visual feast is complimented by the sound track that moves seamlessly from tribal songs and drums to Regurgitator. This blending of rhythms, cultures and times is reflected in the story, which contrasts the daylight with the dreamtime, the dictates of tradition with the freedom of the young and the songs, dances and stories of the land with the starkness of the city.

Yolngu Boy doesn't offer up any easy answers to the difficult issues it raises, but that's because there aren't any. The film and director Stephen Johnson, simply present a realistic portrayal of life for 3 boys growing up in an aboriginal community in Australia today with sensitivity, beauty and honesty.

Screening on general release including the George Cinemas and Cinema Nova