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CUNNAMULLA

SYNOPSIS:
Documentary shot in the Queensland country town of Cunnamulla, focusing on several of its inhabitants.

"Certain to provoke controversy, Cunnamulla is arguably O’Rourke’s most powerful and subversive work. It subverts the comfortable view of small, rural Australian communities by shining an unblinking torch into the eyes of one of them. It is a benchmark film by which his career will be (or should be) elevated to new heights of respect. It is not your standard documentary, except in the respect that it lacks a fictional story. Cunnamulla is a small place, populated by blacks and whites, living precariously on the edge of survival in every way –especially spiritually. It hangs in a vacuum, a kind of nothingness enveloping its inhabitants. Perhaps this happens in all small communities – probably to some extent – but what O’Rourke does here is make the universal very specific. We meet individual people, not just ‘a community’. O’Rourke remains a silent, non-judgmental observer (except for two quiet, short responses to a codger who’s giving him curry, near the end) and has clearly established a special bond with the folks there because they are totally at ease about being filmed. They talk and swear as if the world wasn’t watching, all of which adds a fitting rawness to the film. This ‘insider’ approach gives us more than a glimpse of some of the human drama unfolding daily in Cunnamulla. From tragic to tragi-comic, from sad to silly, we sway with the film’s rhythms, drawn into the lives of his subjects. Especially disturbing are the youngsters, two girls (Aboriginal Cara 13 and white Kelly-Anne, 15) who vaguely worry about unsafe sex with the local boys who don’t care, and Paul, the Aboriginal boy waiting for his first turn in jail. But there is a great deal more, including the FlashCab driver and his wife, the dog catcher who doubles as the morgue worker dressing the dead, and the local DJ, adopted son of Jack, who sits by the fan in his kitchen and raves on about it all. At once shocking and valuable, Cunnamulla is a vivid, disturbing, unforgettable portrait of an outback community. "
Andrew L. Urban

"I'll never forget the sight of Dennis O'Rourke defending his documentary The Good Woman Of Bangkok in front of a hostile crowd at the Sydney Film Festival in 1992. The mob wanted him crucified for stepping over formal filmmaker-subject lines and exploiting his relationship with his subject for the sake of (perceived) sensationalism. There will be similar cries of disapproval over his treatment of the residents he interviews in Cunnamulla. This is a depressing and utterly compelling journey into the dead heart of country Australia, which reveals as much about its maker as it does about the town itself. The only reference point for Cunnamulla is Harmony Korine's 1997 masterpiece Gummo; a fictional account of life among the poor white trash in an Ohio town. O'Rourke has found a real-life equivalent to Gummo in this highly selective portrait of some of the inhabitants of a town located at the end of the train line. Next stop hell itself. His ability to win the complete trust of the interviewees is astonishing and unnerving, particularly in the confessions he elicits from teenage friends Cara and Kellie Ann whose looks of innocence are heartbreakingly destroyed by their revelations of sexual activity with the boys in town. It's hard to forget Cara and Kellie Ann; it's hard to forget anyone who falls within O'Rourke's focus. There's local DJ and aspiring newsreader Marto and his adoptive pensioner father Jack who sits under his kitchen fan, hating the world. Looking at this portrait of life in Cunnamulla you've got to admit he has a point. The real star is taxi driver's wife Neredah who believes in floggings for young offenders and serves as the Greek chorus to end them all in this descent into misery. You can argue that O'Rourke hasn't presented a balanced view of Cunnamulla but is there any real value in presenting "ordinary" citizens sipping tea and watering the garden? Probably not because the cross section who do appear tell us that no matter what else is going on in this part of outback Australia something is terribly wrong in the heartland. Difficult, demanding and, most importantly, guaranteed to provoke debate. This is an amazing, jaw dropping excursion into territory which may not be pretty but is dreadfully real."
Richard Kuipers

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 2
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 0

See Andrew L. Urban's interview with
DENNIS O'ROURKE

Have your SAY

CUNNAMULLA (MA)
(Australia)

DOCUMENTARY featuring a selection of people in small-town Cunnamulla, central Queensland

DIRECTOR: Dennis O’Rourke

PRODUCER: Dennis O’Rourke

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Dennis O’Rourke

EDITOR: Dennis O’Rourke

RUNNING TIME: 86 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Film Australia/ABC

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: December 14, 2000







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