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YOLNGU BOY

SYNOPSIS:
Lorrpu (John Sebastian Pilakui), Botj (Sean Mununggurr) and Milika (Nathan Daniels) are boys of the Yolngu people in a remote Arnhem Land community. As boys they dreamed of becoming hunters, but in their teens Botj has been to a detention centre for stealing, Milika has decided to become and AFL footy player, and Lorpu is not quite sure what he wants to do, however knows he wants to be initiated by the elders and become a ‘man’. But when Botj's petrol sniffing habit gets him into trouble again, Lorrpu feels bound to go to his aid, and with Milika he helps Botj evade the authorities and together they head for Darwin. Travelling by canoe and on foot, the three have to rely on traditional hunting skills to survive. The land, its beauty and hardship, reawakens Botj's sense of tradition, spirit and belonging. Alone in the spiritual wilderness of NorthEast Arnhem Land the boys discover peace and unity, only to arrive at Darwin and fall again into despair.

"Combination morality story and road movie, Yolngu Boy is as hard to market as the title is to pronounce – but it deserves some attention from several quarters. Avoiding the traps of preaching its message of alienated Aboriginal youth in Arnhem Land, the film is more tough-hearted than bleeding hearted, scoring dramatic points with its unsentimental approach to issues like petrol sniffing. The spectacular natural settings of the film add to both its visual appeal and the irony of its subject: the dramatic beauty of the landscape enduring such harrowing human conditions . . . Spiked with a feisty soundtrack and seamless production design, this low budget film should be required viewing by bureaucrats, politicians, Aboriginal community leaders, Aboriginal youth and by sanctimonious do-gooders who don’t understand the day to day issues of life in small Aboriginal communities. But it should be seen as much for its story telling and characters as for its informational value."
Andrew L. Urban

"Australian cinema steeped in cultural context, Yolngu Boy boasts a full Aboriginal cast and stands with a precious few as it takes a rare, honest, unflinching look at traditional Aboriginal culture and its present dilemmas. Throughout the film we predominantly feel Botj calling for help. The film cleverly crafts its central character to place the viewer in a unique position. We deplore his weakness and self-destructive misdemeanours but understand his motivations; we identify and empathise with his "lost soul" tortured as it is by a cruel fate. Essentially a tragic coming of age story that pulls the heartstrings, Yolngu Boy is an inspiring work yet undeniably patchy. From a casting perspective, director Stephen Johnson placed himself in a difficult position. Being concerned with authenticity Johnson selected a cast of (predominantly) first-time actors and consequently produced a film replete with unprofessional performances. Neither is the script properly refined. While strong on themes and character development and boasting a generally compelling story, it is nonetheless lacking that elusive magic "something," (perhaps owing in part to the amateur performances). Back on the high side, the cinematography is excellent. Together Johnson and DOP Brad Shield (Thin Red Line, Mission Impossible 2) present a beautifully spiritual, mystical Australian landscape as commanded by the story. Ultimately, Yolngu Boy is an enjoyable film and easily one of the most significant engagements with Aboriginal cinema since Nicolas Roeg's renowned Walkabout (1971)."
Michael Shane

"Yolngu Boy is essentially a rite de passage movie with a touch of the road movie (sans road) thrown in. But it is unique in that it profiles the passage to adulthood of three teenage indigenous boys living in a remote Arnhem Land community, where they are torn between their ancient culture - which they cannot practise properly since being forced to give up their nomadic existence - and European culture which beckons enticingly, but more often than not has nothing to offer these young people in way of jobs and education.Directed and produced in the Northern Territory by filmmaker Stephen Johnson, you can see that budget constraints have somewhat held back the visual splendour as the boys trek through Arnhem Land to Kakadu Park, and although the three young actors John Sebastian Pilakui (Lorrpu), Sean Mununggurr (Botj) and real-life footy player Nathan Daniels (Milika) put in astounding performances for untrained actors, they are likewise constrained by lack of experience and occasionally unimaginiative dialogue. As a person living in the Territory, you often see these beautiful, sparkling children, brimming with life, and then you see some of the young adults with their dead eyes devoid of hope, and you ask yourself, What happened? This is the central, and touching, message that makes Yolngu Boy, despite its flaws, well worth watching."
Sally Bothroyd



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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 3
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 0

INTERVIEW with Stephen Johnson

TRAILER

YOLNGU BOY (M)
(Aust)

CAST: Sean Mununggurr, John Sebastian Pilakui, Nathan Daniels, Lirrina Mununggurr, Sarah Fincham-Thomson, Makuma Yunupingu, Lalambarri Yunupingu, Mangatjay Yunupingu, Mulati Yunupingu, Merrkie Ganambarr

DIRECTOR: Stephen Johnson

PRODUCERS: Patricia Edgar, Gordon Glenn

SCRIPT: Chris Anastassiades

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Brad Shields

EDITOR: Ken Sallows

MUSIC: Mark Overton

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Sarah Stollman

RUNNING TIME: 85 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Palace

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: March 15, 2001 in Darwin; March 22 in Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra; May 3 in Hobart, Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide

VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Fox Home Ent

VIDEO RELEASE: August 8, 2001

VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Fox Home Entertaiment

VIDEO RELEASE: February 13, 2002







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