|Directed by||Warwick Thornton|
|Produced by||Greer Simpkin|
|Written by||David Tranter|
|Edited by||Nick Meyers|
Sweet Country is a 2017 Australian meat pie western drama film, directed by Warwick Thornton. Set in 1929 in the sparsely populated outback of the Northern Territory and based on a series of true events, it tells a harsh story against the backdrop of a divided society (between the European settlers and Aboriginal Australians) in the interwar period in Australia.
It was first screened in the main competition section of the 74th Venice International Film Festival in September 2017 and after winning the Special Jury Prize award there, went on to win several awards internationally.
Sam Kelly is a late middle-aged Aboriginal farm worker in the outback of Australia's Northern Territory some time after the end of the First World War. His employer, Fred Smith, a kindly preacher, agrees to lend Sam with his wife Lizzie to a bitter and very abusive alcoholic war veteran named Harry March (who has been affected by his involvement in the war) on a neighbouring farm to renovate the latter's paddock fences. After sending Sam out to round up some cattle, Harry rapes Sam's wife, Lizzie, while Sam is away. Sam's relationship with Harry quickly deteriorates.
Later, Harry visits the farm on which Sam works looking for a runaway Aboriginal youth named Philomac, who had escaped after Harry had chained him up to stop him from stealing. Harry fires rifle shots into the house then kicks in the door, leading Sam (inside with Lizzie) to pick up a gun and kill Harry in self-defence.
Sam goes on the run from the law, setting out with Lizzie across the outback. The manhunt for Sam is led by Sergeant Fletcher, who has to contend with the heat, venomous animals and hostile natives. Eventually Sam and Lizzie return to turn themselves in, and Fletcher has a gallows constructed and tries to influence the judge, who comes to the town to conduct the trial. More details emerge and Sam is acquitted, but he is killed by a sniper after the trial ends.
The storyline of the film was inspired by the true story of an Australian Aboriginal man named Wilaberta (or Wilberta or Willaberta) Jack in 1929 and his shooting of ANZAC veteran Harry Henty. Scriptwriter for the film, David Tranter, had previously made a short documentary of the story named Willaberta Jack, which had been nominated for Best Documentary in the Winnipeg Indigenous Film Festival in 2007. Willaberta Jack was his great-uncle, and they lived north of Alice Springs.
The Northern Territory was officially part of the colony of New South Wales from 1825 to 1863; it then became part of the colony of South Australia from 1863 to 1 January 1911, when it became a separate federal territory, and remains so today.
The film is an example of the "meat pie Western", a name used to describe Western-style films set in the Australian outback, although set in more recent times than most in the genre, and rather than tell a simple narrative, it also exposes severe racism unapologetically. One reviewer muses on the label "neo-Western", which invokes a very old genre (including the classic Western doomed hero character) as well as a "sense of newness and revival".
Set in outback Northern Territory about ten years after World War I, rather than the earlier colonial or pre-federation period of Australia's history of many traditional westerns, the film deals with the effects of the war on its white inhabitants, the extreme racism which existed at that time and how Indigenous workers were used to build the country, and personal morality. It also shows a world where women have little power. Sam is a White character who shows kindness and morality, but even the worst villain (Harry) is also shown as a victim of life in the trenches of the war, who has returned damaged. The film is more than just a story or period piece; it aims to help Australians to understand their past history and its legacy in the present time.
The film was shot largely at Ooraminna Station, a cattle station about 40 kilometres (25 mi) south of Alice Springs in the Northern Territory, not far from the Simpson Desert. A town built on the station for the film The Drover's Wife: The Legend of Molly Johnson (directed by Leah Purcell and due for release in 2020), which included a police station and general store, was used for the town scenes. Many cast members were Aboriginal Australians, and locals from Alice Springs were employed as extras.
The film was well-received by critics and audiences alike, winning the Audience Award at the 2017 Adelaide Film Festival.
On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 96% based on 91 reviews, with an average rating of 8.21/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Sweet Country makes brilliant use of the Australian outback as the setting for a hard-hitting story that satisfies as a character study as well as a sociopolitical statement". On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 87 out of 100, based on 21 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".
Sweet Country premiered at the 74th Venice Film Festival on 6 September 2017, where it won the Special Jury Prize award. Shown in the Platform section at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival, it won the Platform Prize. It won the Audience Award at the 2017 Adelaide Film Festival and the Best Feature Film at the 2017 Asia Pacific Screen Awards.
|Best Film||David Jowsey||Won|
|Best Direction||Warwick Thornton||Won|
|Best Original Screenplay||Steven McGregor||Won|
|Best Actor||Hamilton Morris||Won|
|Best Supporting Actress||Natassia Gorey-Furber||Nominated|
|Best Cinematography||Warwick Thornton||Won|
|Best Editing||Nick Meyers||Won|
|Best Sound||Sam Gain-Emery||Nominated|
|Best Costume Design||Heather Wallace||Nominated|
|Best International Direction||Warwick Thornton||Nominated|
|Adelaide Film Festival