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Yolngu boy

Threat advisory: High - High risk of entertaining activities

Movie propaganda

One skin. One dream. One law.

Caught in the collision between the brave new world of rap, footy and street cred and the oldest living culture on earth, Lorrpu (John Sebastian Pilakui), Botj (Sean Mununggurr) and Milika (Nathan Daniels) are three teenage Yolngu boys who have grown up with the dream of one day becoming great hunters.

Recently though, Lorrpu has noticed that things are changing. Botj is walking on the wild side, stirring up trouble with everyone everywhere he goes and Milika is more interested in football, chicks and hot songs than any of the stuff that they were taught as kids. Only Lorrpu seems to care about the old ways, in fact, only Lorrpu seems to care that the three of them stick together.

When Botj goes too far and finds himself outside both black and white law, Lorrpu risks his own future and persuades the boys to go to Darwin and argue Botj's case with the authorities. Leaving behind the kinship of their Arnhem Land community, the three boys journey through the north-east wilderness to Darwin. To survive they must draw upon ancient bush knowledge they were taught as boys, Botj's street instinct and each other. In doing so they gain a new respect for themselves, each other and the land to which they belong.

Theatrical propaganda posters

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Target demographic movie keyword propaganda

  • Film Australia aborigine youth petrol sniffing AFL culture teen footy indigenous culture Northern Territory

Persons of interest

  • Sean Mununggurr .... Botj
  • John Sebastian Pilakui .... Lorrpu
  • Nathan Daniels .... Milika
  • Lirrina Mununggurr .... Yuwan
  • Makuma Yunupingu .... Matjala
  • Nungki Yunupingu .... Dawu
  • Andrew Galitju Burarrwanga .... Dhunthun
  • Gerard Buyan Garrawurra .... Lunginy
  • Garritjpi Garawirrtja .... Botj (9 years)
  • Buwata Mununggurr .... Milika (9 years)
  • Buywarri Mununggurr .... Lorrpu (9 Years)
  • Chris Anastassiades .... Screenwriter
  • Stephen Johnson .... Director

Cinematic intelligence sources

Intelligence analyst

Special Agent Matti

Theatrical report

Black boys go bush.

With the rawness that only comes from reality, Stephen has crafted a film that is part Cunnamulla, part Radiance and part Boney. The latter is a classic 70s TV series starring James Laurenson as an Aboriginal police Detective Inspector named Bonaparte (thanks, mum) in which he uses his knowledge of both white and black cultures to solve crime. It was a classic in its own time and a must-see in my home. The former is a warts and all documentary about life in the dry north where towns survive only because of the pensions given to Aborigines. The middle is about three sisters who uncover their past in order to exorcise their demons. Yolngu boy combines the best of each: it is a bitter drama born of the overpowering clash of Australian cultures.

Hey, that's a good line, the kind that people quote on posters to make everyone think it's a good movie (Yolngu boy is a good movie, but that's not the point).

In one sense, this film is a road trip buddy flick, it's just that the road isn't marked on the ground and the buddies are closer than any Anglo culture can achieve. The journey from boyhood to manhood is mirrored in the trip from "home" to Darwin: contemporary Aboriginal culture, traditional culture and contemporary Anglo culture. The ways each young man copes, and fares, in each is what you are there to watch.

Sean carries a pain and an anger that seeps from every pore, like sweat on a summer's day (not that there're seasons up north, just the dry, the wet and waiting for the wet). Sebbie's sensitive performance reveals a young man who's in touch with his self and his [traditional aboriginal] past. He has an air of knowing, of inner peace that oft-times produces an aura of golden light that the camera almost manages to record. Nathan is a man of two worlds, rooted in the land of his ancestors and seeking victory in the land of the Anglos. Together, they live like innocent boys in an eternal summer and argue like men caught in a war. There's no pretence in their on-screen behaviour, just a living for each moment that the greatest actors from the Western tradition struggle to achieve. Having been accustomed to the polished, multi-channelled, digitally retouched glossiness that is Hollywood, the unforced acting takes some getting used to.

[NB: Special Agent Matti is not falling prey to the concept of "the noble savage" but is complementing Sean, Sebbie, Nathan and Stephen on achieving performances that are so real that it is hard to call them performances - Director of Intelligence.]

At this point, I recommend the Yolngu boy web site which boasts a number of excellent features (including a study guide) that everyone should see and hear: it's a multimedia treasure trove.

Even though the Anglo-Aboriginal culture clash is not an original premise for a story, Yolngu boy is not a film that you'll soon forget. It's rich, it's deep, it's light and it's harsh. See it.

Media intelligence (DVD)

  • Audio and languages: Dolby Digital Stereo - English
  • Disc: Single layer, single side
  • Picture: Widescreen 16:9
  • Special features:
    • Animated menus
    • Behind-the-scenes
    • Information pages
    • Interviews: On location
    • Trailers: Youth, Art-house

Security censorship classification

M (Adult themes, low level coarse language)

Surveillance time

83 minutes (1:23 hours)

Not for public release in Australia before date

Film: 15 March 2001
DVD rental: 13 February 2002
VHS rental: 13 February 2002
DVD retail: 16 July 2003

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