This modest, but seemingly authentic, film, made for the Australian Children’s Television Foundation, contains insights into the lives of full-blood aborigines living in the far north of the country. Spectacularly filmed in Arnhem Land, the Kakadu National Park and the city of Darwin, “Yolngu Boy” looks great on the cinema screen but, despite its qualities, is unlikely to make much of a splash at the box office Down Under, where films on aboriginal themes are generally box office poison. Lusty ancillary is indicated, with strong prospects for TV sales in other territories.
Somewhat schematic screenplay by Chris Anastassiades describes the lives of three teenage aborigines, best friends, who live in an isolated community by the sea. Each boy has a different approach to life. Botj (Sean Mununggurr), who is wild and reckless and has already served a prison term for theft, persuades his friends to rob a general store and sets fire to the community center.
Milika (Nathan Daniels) is really only interested in football. Lorrpu (John Sebastian Pilakui), the sensitive one, is drawn to ancient traditional tribal customs and undergoes an initiation ceremony. He’s the only one of the three seriously interested in a relationship with a woman, and he befriends pretty Yuwan (Lirrina Mununggurr) who is visiting the community on vacation from her studies in Darwin.
Lorrpu and Milika agree to help the tormented Botj find his father, who long ago abandoned him and his mother, and who apparently lives in Darwin, about 300 miles away. The three youths set out by canoe and then, when a manta ray overturns their fragile craft (an awkwardly staged scene), by land. They steal a motor boat from an illegal crocodile hunter and eventually make it to the city, only to see Botj utterly humiliated when his drunken father doesn’t recognize him.
The three young lead actors are excellent, with Sean Mununggurr registering strongly as Botj. But the film’s greatest asset is the cinematography of Brad Shield, which vividly conveys the land that is so important to aboriginal people.
Despite some minor flaws in the staging, and the self-consciousness of some of the supporting actors, this modest pic impresses with its sincerity and its insights into aboriginal life and culture.