Sweet Country (2017 film)
Sweet Country is a 2017 Australian meat pie western drama film, directed by Warwick Thornton. Set in 1929 in the sparsely-populated outback of the Northern Territory and based on a series of true events, it tells a harsh story against the backdrop of a divided society (between the European settlers and Indigenous Australians) in the interwar period in Australia.
|Directed by||Warwick Thornton|
|Produced by||Greer Simpkin|
|Written by||David Tranter|
|Edited by||Nick Meyers|
It was first screened in the main competition section of the 74th Venice International Film Festival in September 2017 and after winning the Special Jury Prize award there, went on to win several awards internationally.
Sam Kelly is a late middle-aged Aboriginal farm worker in the outback of Australia's Northern Territory some time after the end of the First World War. His employer, Fred Smith, a kindly preacher, agrees to lend Sam with his wife Lizzie to a bitter and very abusive alcoholic war veteran named Harry March (who has been affected by his involvement in the war) on a neighbouring farm to renovate the latter's paddock fences. After sending Sam out to round up some cattle, Harry rapes Sam's wife, Lizzie, while Sam is away. Sam's relationship with Harry quickly deteriorates.
Later, Harry visits the farm on which Sam works looking for a runaway Aboriginal youth named Philomac, who had escaped after Harry had chained him up to stop him from stealing. Harry fires rifle shots into the house then kicks in the door, leading Sam (inside with Lizzie) to pick up a gun and kill Harry in self-defence.
Sam goes on the run from the law, setting out with Lizzie across the outback. The manhunt for Sam is led by Sergeant Fletcher, who has to contend with the heat, venomous animals and hostile natives. Eventually Sam and Lizzie return to turn themselves in, and Fletcher has a gallows constructed and tries to influence the judge, who comes to the town to conduct the trial. More details emerge and Sam is acquitted, but he is killed by a sniper after the trial ends.
- Hamilton Morris as Sam Kelly
- Sam Neill as Fred Smith
- Bryan Brown as Sergeant Fletcher
- Thomas M. Wright as Mick Kennedy
- Matt Day as Judge Taylor
- Ewen Leslie as Harry March
- Natassia Gorey-Furber as Lizzie Kelly
- Gibson John as Archie
- Anni Finsterer as Nell
- Shanica Cole as Lucy
- Tremayne and Trevon Doolan as Philomac
- Luka Magdeline Cole as Olive
The storyline of the film was inspired by the true story of an Australian Aboriginal man named Wilaberta (or Wilberta or Willaberta) Jack in 1929 and his shooting of ANZAC veteran Harry Henty. Scriptwriter for the film, David Tranter, had previously made a short documentary of the story named Willaberta Jack, which had been nominated for Best Documentary in the Winnipeg Indigenous Film Festival in 2007. Willaberta Jack was his great-uncle, and they lived north of Alice Springs.
The Northern Territory was officially part of the colony of New South Wales from 1825 to 1863; it then became part of the colony of South Australia from 1863 to 1 January 1911, when it became a separate federal territory, and remains so today.
Themes and genre
The film is an example of the "meat pie Western", a name used to describe Western-style films set in the Australian outback, although set in more recent times than most in the genre, and rather than tell a simple narrative, it also exposes severe racism unapologetically. One reviewer muses on the label "neo-Western", which invokes a very old genre (including the classic Western doomed hero character) as well as a "sense of newness and revival".
Set in outback Northern Territory about ten years after World War I, rather than the earlier colonial or pre-federation period of Australia's history of many traditional westerns, the film deals with the effects of the war on its white inhabitants, the extreme racism which existed at that time and how Indigenous workers were used to build the country, and personal morality. It also shows a world where women have little power. Sam is a White character who shows kindness and morality, but even the worst villain (Harry) is also shown as a victim of life in the trenches of the war, who has returned damaged. The film is more than just a story or period piece; it aims to help Australians to understand their past history and its legacy in the present time.
The characters and story play out against the character of the harsh yet visually stunning country, and the cinematography is an essential element of the film.
The film was well-received by critics and audiences alike, winning the Audience Award at the 2017 Adelaide Film Festival.
On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 95% based on 91 reviews, with an average rating of 8.24/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Sweet Country makes brilliant use of the Australian outback as the setting for a hard-hitting story that satisfies as a character study as well as a sociopolitical statement". On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 87 out of 100, based on 13 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".
Film festivals and awards
Sweet Country premiered at the 74th Venice Film Festival on 6 September 2017, where it won the Special Jury Prize award. Shown in the Platform section at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival, it won the Platform Prize. It won the Audience Award at the 2017 Adelaide Film Festival and the Best Feature Film at the 2017 Asia Pacific Screen Awards.
|Best Film||David Jowsey||Won|
|Best Direction||Warwick Thornton||Won|
|Best Original Screenplay||Steven McGregor||Won|
|Best Actor||Hamilton Morris||Won|
|Best Supporting Actress||Natassia Gorey-Furber||Nominated|
|Best Cinematography||Warwick Thornton||Won|
|Best Editing||Nick Meyers||Won|
|Best Sound||Sam Gain-Emery||Nominated|
|Best Costume Design||Heather Wallace||Nominated|
|Best International Direction||Warwick Thornton||Nominated|
|Adelaide Film Festival
- "Made in SA Showcase". SAFC. Retrieved 13 March 2019.
- Hall, Simon (3 January 2019). "Film Review: Sweet Country". Retrieved 22 May 2019.
- "Wilberta Jack acquitted". Northern Standard (47). Northern Territory, Australia. 2 August 1929. p. 5. Retrieved 22 May 2019 – via National Library of Australia.
- "Willaberta Jack (from the CAAMA Collection)". Retrieved 22 May 2019.
- "Some Known Frontier Conflicts in the Northern Territory". Australian Frontier Conflicts 1788-1940s. Retrieved 22 May 2019.
- Lennon, Troy (21 January 2018). "Australian 'meat pie' westerns have been around for more than a century". Daily Telegraph. Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 21 May 2019.
- Hillis, Eric (22 March 2018). "Review: "Sweet Country"". New Jersey Stage. Retrieved 22 May 2019.
- Buckmaster, Luke (24 January 2018). "With Godless and Sweet Country, the western is alive and bristling with energy". Daily Review. Retrieved 22 May 2019.
- "Sweet Country (2018)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved 20 May 2019.
- "Sweet Country Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved 4 April 2018.
- "Top 5 Movies In The World (May 2018)". WittyJoe. 5 March 2018. Retrieved 22 May 2019.
- Anderson, Ariston (9 September 2017). "Venice: Guillermo del Toro Wins Golden Lion for 'The Shape of Water'". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 9 September 2017.
- Anderson, Ariston (27 July 2017). "Venice Competition Includes Films From George Clooney, Guillermo del Toro, Darren Aronofsky". The Hollywood Reporter. Prometheus Global Media. Retrieved 27 July 2017.
- Kay, Jeremy (3 August 2017). "'The Death Of Stalin' to open Toronto Film Festival Platform programme". Screen Daily. Screen International. Retrieved 3 August 2017.
- Lodge, Guy (7 September 2017). "Venice Film Review: 'Sweet Country'". Variety. Penske Business Media. Retrieved 7 September 2017.
- Vlessing, Etan (17 September 2017). "Toronto: 'Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri' Captures Audience Award"". The Hollywood Reporter. Prometheus Global Media. Retrieved 6 April 2018.
- Bunya Productions: Sweet Country
- "Australia's Sweet Country Wins Best Feature Film At 11th Asia Pacific Screen Awards". Asia Pacific Screen Awards. 24 November 2017. Retrieved 23 February 2018.
- "Winners & Nominees - AACTA". www.aacta.org. Retrieved 4 December 2018.
- "Warwick Thornton on Sweet Country: 'Australia is ready for films like this'". The Guardian. Retrieved 4 July 2019.
True story origin
- "Harry Henty". Territory Stories. Details of Harry Henty's ANZAC record, life, etc., with many links to photos and articles.CS1 maint: others (link)
- Henty-Gebert, Claire (2005). Paint Me Black: Memories of Croker Island and Other Journeys. Aboriginal Studies Press. p. viii-ix. ISBN 9780855753993. Tells the story of Henty's death, and a child fathered by him born posthumously, and cites further sources.
- Film Review: Sweet Country (Australia, 2018) is Australia’s answer to To Kill A Mockingbird (Natalie Salvo, 19 January 2018)
- Mixing history and legend director Warwick Thornton delivers a powerful Australian western (Joyce Glasser, 9 March 2018)
- Review: 1920s Australia is no ‘Sweet Country’ for Aboriginal Australians (Jeannette Catsoulis, New York Times, 5 April 2018)