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The tracker

Threat advisory: High - High risk of entertaining activities

Movie propaganda

All men choose the road they walk.

A set of mountain ranges in the outback, 1922.

The Fanatic (Gary Sweet) leads The Tracker (David Gulpilil) and two other white men, The Follower (Damon Gameau) and The Civilian (Grant Page), in the pursuit of The Fugitive (Noel Wilton).

Through massacre and murder the hunt continues, until the clear-cut notions of truth and justice are subverted and the questions become not, will The Fugitive be caught, but what is black and what is white and who is leading whom?

Theatrical propaganda posters

The tracker image

Target demographic movie keyword propaganda

  • Film Australia 1920s aboriginal tracker crime drama

Persons of interest

  • David Gulpilil .... The Tracker
  • Gary Sweet .... The Fanatic
  • Damon Gameau .... The Follower
  • Grant Page .... The Veteran
  • Noel Wilton .... Fugitive
  • Archie Roach .... Singer
  • Graham Tardif .... Songwriter
  • Graham Tardif .... Composer
  • Rolf de Heer .... Screenwriter
  • Rolf de Heer .... Director

Cinematic intelligence sources

Intelligence analyst

Special Agent Matti

Theatrical report

They don't get much better than this.

The tracker is as dry and dusty and hot and bright as the outback can be. The sun beats down enough to fry eggs on the top of your head. Shade is just somewhere the sun is baking at a lower heat. Words like "hurry" and "haste" come from a foreign land. Make sure you have a drink in hand when you watch this film.

Rolf de Heer pulls no punches about who is right and who is wrong in the earlier days of white Australia. The fanaticism of The Fanatic is the kind of thing that can only come from a person who is seriously insane (and you have to be insane to believe that the colour of a person's skin has a bearing on anything other than their resistance to melanomas). His unrelenting pursuit of a man who is guilty by reason of birth shows him up for the little Hitler that he is. Only a madman can be that obsessive; sane people have too many other things to worry about. Gary Sweet comes into his own in this role, having finally gotten beyond the larrikin authority figure that filled the middle of his career (various dodgy detectives spring to mind). He's old, he's tired, he's bitter, he's angry: just the right sort of nasty bastard to send after an innocent man (everyone's innocent until proven guilty, right?).

David Gulpilil plays a hard-edged, deeply thoughtful man who knows just how dicey the tracking is, both in terms of motive and outcome. He also knows that he's walking the sharper side of the knife but never lets that take his mind off what's right and what's not. The contrast between The Tracker and The Fanatic is as marked as that between the light of day and the dark of night.

The interstitial artwork by Peter Coad is not just a novel trick of independent filmmaking, it's an empathetic attack on the mind, jolting you out of your screen-fed complacency so that you have to think about what you're seeing. The songs by Graham Tardif and Archie Roach spill out of the speakers and into your gut, lashing you with their poignancy, wearing you down with their aggression. They are the audio equivalent of the incessant sunshine, too bright for your eyes, too hot for your head, but there's nothing you can do about it. Awesome.

If you're politically minded or just after a bit of meaningful drama, The tracker is just the film for you.

Media intelligence (DVD)

Security censorship classification

M (Adult themes, medium level violence)

Surveillance time

98 minutes (1:38 hours)

Not for public release in Australia before date

Film: 8 August 2002
DVD retail: 20 August 2003
DVD retail: 20 August 2003 - Double set with Walkabout

Cinema surveillance images

The tracker imageThe tracker imageThe tracker image

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The Paintings
Keen to consider alternative ways of depicting violence in The tracker, Rolf de Heer commissioned South Australian artist Peter Coad to paint 14 scenes on large canvases with anamorphic aspect ratios, which were filmed and edited into the film. The majority of the paintings were used as an alternative to the moving image in the scenes involving violence inflicted on the aborigines. Painted images are perceived as being more representative, giving the violence in the film a less overt but more powerful psychological impact. The inclusion of original artwork in this way is a first for an Australian feature film.

Melbourne audiences and art lovers will have the opportunity to view The Tracker paintings first-hand when they are exhibited at Without Pier Gallery from 20 to 30 July and also in a special book paintings and drawings for the film The tracker, available at the gallery and selected bookstores. The paintings will then be exhibited in Sydney at the gallery at the Wentworth, 6 Bligh Street, Sydney from 15 to 30 August 2002.

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