At age 58, Jack is addicted to heroin and living on the streets. Absolutely comfortable with his lifestyle, Jack supports himself with a career as a notorious cat burglar. For forty years, and with infectious humour and optimism, Jack has juggled a life of crime with another successful career - acting. Jack founded the first Aboriginal theatre company, and since the 1960s, has performed with Australia's most renowned actors and directors in feature films, TV series and hundreds of plays. Filmmaker Amiel Courtin-Wilson follows Jack for over seven years, gradually blurring the line between director and accomplice as Jack continually traverses the criminal and acting worlds. However, the law finally catches up with Jack. When he faces a jail sentence he may not survive, he is forced to decide if he can go straight for the first time in his life.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Jack Charles tells us he's been comfortable with Kew - since he was 17 (many years ago) he's been 'doing the area'; robbing the handsome houses. One of them has yielded around $1000 every time he's 'visited' - and he's visited 11 times. He keeps count. Jack is an original Aboriginal, capable of acting and playing the fool; he founded the Black Theatre in his youth, went on to some films roles, including The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, and has done many much more foolish things. But he's a loner, and seemingly a happy one.
He injects daily and shows no outward signs of having had a hit. "I'm doing no harm, except to myself," he says bluntly. And whenever he got busted, he welcomed the break from burglaries in the burbs, to the change of quiet cell with full board.
In all we see of Jack, his calm satisfaction with his lot is the most powerful reminder that we can never know what another human being really is deep down. Certainly can't make any assumptions on what we see on the surface.
Now an elder, his thick shock of white hair held back by a white headband which fights for space with his sunnies, other times held in check by a black (or a brown) hat, Jack has a likeable demeanour, but he's no fool. He also has a deep sense of history about his people and the kind of self awareness that marks a smart man. But it's at its best when Jack opens up on camera about his lost childhood - taken from his mother at 10 months and growing up "without ever being held" in someone's loving arms. How this affected him later and his first emotional relationship. But there's scant self pity when he says matter of factly how he's "fucked up every one of my chances".
Archival black and white footage, newspaper clippings and fresh footage taken over seven years by filmmaker Amiel Courtin-Wilson combine to paint a complex and fascinating profile of Jack. The advantage of moving pictures is underlined in this doco, as it shows that a moving picture is worth even more than a thousand words.
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CAST: Documentary featuring Jack Charles
PRODUCER: Philippa Campey, Amiel Courtin-Wilson, Lynn-Maree Milburn and Andrew De Groot
DIRECTOR: Amiel Courtin-Wilson
SCRIPT: Amiel Courtin-Wilson
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Germain McMicking
EDITOR: Jack Hutchings, Richard Lowenstein, Bill Murphy
MUSIC: Steve Benwell
PRODUCTION DESIGN: n/a
RUNNING TIME: 83 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Film Camp
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: June 25, 2009 (Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide)