HERE I AM
Beautiful young Aboriginal woman, Karen (Shai Pittman), has a dark past, but she's got potential and she knows it. Fresh out of prison, she finds herself on the streets with a burning desire to turn her life around but no one to call for help. Eventually she finds a haven at Temple House, a shelter for women like herself. With the support of her new community of friends, Karen begins the journey of reconnecting with her estranged mother Lois (Marcia Langton) and her young daughter Rosie (Quinaiha Scott), and she is soon propelled to face the most difficult truths of her life. But she's determined to never give up.
Review by Louise Keller:
Let me be a better person, Karen prays to herself from her bed in the women's shelter.
Determination and the will to start afresh is the theme of filmmaker Beck Cole in her debut feature about an Aboriginal woman who wants to leave the wrong side of the tracks and make a decent life for herself. The resulting slice of life involving three generations paints a picture of a troubled woman, fighting her demons and trying to discard her feelings of guilt and lack of self worth. It is the unwavering love for her young daughter that propels her, albeit one tiny step at a time. With an unknown cast, many of who have never acted before, Cole has managed to capture a tangible mood reflecting the lifestyle and mindset of her characters. The story may not have the ballast of the unforgettable Samson & Delilah whose making of documentary Cole directed, but it has an appealing wistfulness.
When we meet Karen Burden (Shai Pittman), she allows herself to be picked up by a stranger in a bar that has a motel attached - to have a bed for the night. She gets straight to the point. You have to leave after, she says. There doesn't seem to be anyone in Karen's corner. We soon learn why there is no love lost between Karen and her mother Lois (Marcia Langton), who is looking after Karen's daughter Rosie (Quinaiha Scott): Lois has given up on Karen. As she settles into the women's shelter and meets its other residents and Big Red (Vanessa Worrall), the Mother Hen who looks after the girls, she finds there is some companionship - and much needed support. The film comes into its own with the scenes that involve groups - be it the women in the shelter or the group that sits by an outside fire singing Help Me Make It Through the Night with guitar.
When Karen is allowed an afternoon with Rosie after an absence of nearly 3 years, albeit under supervision, things begin with such hope and there is no lovelier moment than when Rosie wraps her little arms around her mother. But even this short snapshot of happiness is short-lived, although the set up and execution of what happens next appears clumsy. It's a case of two steps forwards and one step back and Karen finds she has support from the new friends in her life.
Pittman is excellent as Karen and Langton is strong as the mother who doesn't dare to hope there is hope. A few of the other performances are a little shaky but I enjoyed Bruce Carter as Jeff, who offers Karen tenderness and comfort without judgment and Pauline Whyman's Skinny, who is anything but. There are no easy answers but Cole shows there is a way forward, even if the path is tough.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
By a quirk of fate I saw the preview of Here I Am on the day that Mad Bastards opened in cinemas around Australia and couldn't help but think of Here I Am as the woman's version of the story. Like TJ in Mad Bastards, Karen (Shai Pittman) is thrown out by her mother Lois (Marcia Langton), who is angry at her pattern of behaviour. There are echoes and parallels with even some of the supporting characters around Karen, who is trying to redefine herself and reconnect with her child, much like TJ does. Both have demons to conquer, and the will to do so.
On the other hand, there are many differences, and these make Here I Am interesting as a bookend to the other film. Unlike Mad Bastards, this film is set in a city (Port Adelaide) and Karen (Shai Pittman) is a more introverted character.
Beck Cole's debut feature has some exceptionally well staged and written scenes, especially in the women's shelter, Temple House, where seven women are treading water waiting for a wave that might carry them to a better destination. The women, who are all under the watchful eye of Big Red (Vanessa Worrell), create a tangible, credible environment in which their sometimes gruff manner hides a well of compassion for their fellow inhabitants. They convey a sense of sharing the burden of their lives and make it the film's strongest element.
There is a bit of a story hole concerning a dramatic scene with her daughter during her supervised visit, which leaves a significant question unanswered.
But Cole's screenplay suggests a talent for observation and character; Karen is vulnerable, weak and alone - but she also has enough insight into her own life to recognise that she alone can effect change, if she makes a determined effort. Still, she does say a quiet prayer or too, in case it helps. Her motivation is clear enough: to be able to bring up her little daughter, Rosie (Quinaiha Scott), in the care of Lois while Karen was in prison for drug offences.
The film is not at all manipulative but it occasionally lags, holding back on the emotional payoff we might be waiting for, especially to do with Karen's relationship with her mother. It is a muted redemption story; Beck avoids the easy, oversimplifications that Hollywood might impose, and she lets us gently believe in Karen's hopeful future.
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BECK COLE & SHAI PITTMAN INTERVIEW
HERE I AM (M)
CAST: Shai Pittman, Marcia Langton, Quinaiha Scott, Bruce Carter, Pauline Whyman, Vanessa Worrall, Tanith Glynn-Maloney
PRODUCER: Kath Shelper
DIRECTOR: Beck Cole
SCRIPT: Beck Cole
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Warwick Thornton
EDITOR: Roland Gallois
MUSIC: Cliff Bradely
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Sam Wilde
RUNNING TIME: 91 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Footprint/Transmission
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: June 9, 2011