With his single mother gone away and not sure where, Pete (Cameron Wallaby), a 10 year old Aboriginal boy, lives with his elderly grandfather Old Jagamarra (David Gulpilil). Home is the drive-in cinema in the outback town of Wyndham. When it is threatened with demolition, Pete sees his world in jeopardy and sets off for the city to talk the construction company into letting it stand. He is joined by his friend Kalmain (Joseph Pedley), who has his own reasons for leaving town. Together the boys travel through the vast, deserted, beautiful and tough Kimberley country; when they get lost in the bush, Pete has to remember some of the old Aboriginal bush skills his grandfather taught him for them to survive.
Review by Louise Keller:
The distinctive Australian outback setting with its arid landscape, coarse grasses, tender pink sunsets and skies filled with sparkling stars form a rich backdrop for this gentle coming of age story about a young Aboriginal boy who discovers his connection to the land and his roots. Television director Catriona McKenzie's film delicately explores the links of family, the ties of ancestors and the inherent sense of belonging through a straightforward narrative in which 10 year old Pete (Cameron Wallaby) is pushed into taking his destiny in his own hands. There's truth and simplicity in the way McKenzie tells the story, linking the youngster with his crusty old grandfather Old Jagamarra (David Gulpilil) and the wealth of wisdom shared, although the film's visuals are considerably more effective than its narrative.
Shot in the remote Aboriginal communities in the wilderness of the far north of Western Australia, Geoffrey Simpson's cinematography beautifully captures the country's voice - with its dusty roads, abandoned trucks, endless asphalt roads, fresh-water pools and striking ancient rock faces into which it seems as though an artist's brush has delineated sections with the use of colour. The scenes in which Old Jagamarra sits by a crackling campfire, elusive pink streaks framing the horizon before a myriad of stars gaze down silently from their pitch black canvass stay with us. As do scenes in which Jagamarra tells his grandson a tale by tracing simple drawings in the sand - with practised fingers.
The adventures, trials and tribulations of Pete's journey with his best friend Kalmain (Joseph Pedley) are prompted by the new construction by the local mining company that threatens to destroy his make-do home. The other all-consuming issue with which Pete needs to deal is that of his relationship with his absent mother, who has gone to the city, leaving unresolved issues which the 10 year old needs to address.
Gulpilil, his long white beard a striking contrast to his black skin, gives a soulful performance; he is the solid oak that grounds the exposition. The two youngsters do a fine job and it is credit to McKenzie to have elicited such naturalistic performances from them both. The relationship between Gulpilil and Wallaby is devoid of sentimentality, yet it instils a quiet confidence in the values of family, although greater depth might have resulted in a more fulfilling portrait.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Artefacts of the industrial present, such as the abandoned satellite dish where Pete (Cameron Wallaby) and his friend Kalmain (Joseph Pedley) take shelter one night, as well as the abandoned drive-in where Pete and his grandfather Old Jagamarra (David Gulpilil) live, collide visually, culturally and cinematically in Satellite Boy, Catriona McKenzie's debut feature.
The heavy machinery that threatens this shack which once spewed forth dreams is now claimed by the dreamtime as an important part of country for Pete - and Jagamarra. This iron-heavy irony is the film's most interesting aspect, although it is not central to the film's message. At its heart, the story is about a young boy's revelation about where he belongs; among his people, in his country, practicing the traditional rituals.
In its simplified way it's a kind hearted exploration of the struggle for self in a complicated world. The characters are bleached of dimension, though, none more so than Pete's mother Lynelle (Rohanna Angus), whose absence and eventual return are presented with no supporting information, nor is her decision to move to Perth satisfactorily written.
David Gulpilil carves himself a gnarled and bearded elder out of Jagamarra, and brings a spiritual dimension to the film through his sometimes mystical communications with Pete while they are separated. These moments add resonance but are never teased out satisfactorily.
The two boys making their acting debuts are pretty good, though I was frequently frustrated not being able to make out some of their dialogue.
The real star of Satellite Boy is the Kimberley itself, superbly photographed by Geoff Simpson, the astonishing land and its creatures living in this unique fantasy world - but not without deadly danger for any who don't know it. Of course, much is made of this by Pete, who recalls the bush survival skills he learnt, and who treats the place as saviour and natural mother.
David Bridie's sensitive and complex score is a significant contributor to the film's tone, perhaps its mainstay.
Email this article
SATELLITE BOY (PG)
CAST: Cameron Wallaby, Joseph Pedley, David Gulpilil, Rohanna Angus, Dean Daly-Jones
PRODUCER: David Jowsey, Julie Ryan
DIRECTOR: Catriona McKenzie
SCRIPT: Catriona McKenzie
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Geoffrey Simpson
EDITOR: Henry Dangar
MUSIC: David Bridie
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Sam Hobbs
RUNNING TIME: 90 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Hopscotch
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: May 16, 2013