Saturday, November 1, 2014

imagineNATIVE Film Festival Film Review - The Darkside

Director Warrick Thornton sent out an open call for Indigenous Ghost Stories in Aboriginal publications and throughout the rest of Australian. He received 150 plus responses from all sectors of the country. Thornton then narrowed that number to 13 and recorded the first hand accounts. For the feature Thornton uses three of the original recordings combined with 10 presented by leading Australian actors.

The expectation was that these accounts would be horror based. Mean spirits scaring and attacking. Instead the stories are mainly of family members that crossed over providing guidance and assistance to those still in the earthly world.

The stories are presented at a mid camera  length with the teller talking directly into the camera.  Thornton is off screen and once in a while reacts with a gasp or offers encouragement for the storyteller to keep going. The piece includes an interlude part way through featuring a young boy dancing alone on screen.  The dance is to signify the movements of historical child guides that are not  you to find your way back to the real world from near death experiences because they only know the path back  through the maze between the real world and afterlife.

Romaine Moreton voices the most chilling story in the production. She tells of her experience working as a researcher for the National Film and Sound Archive. The catch being that the building was originally the Australian Institute of Anatomy that houses the remains of many indigenous people. As she speaks old footage from the early part of the last century appears on screen showing images of Aboriginals being prodded, poked, measured and studied by Australian anthropological scientists. Moreton notes that they were searching for the missing link and felt that it may be in the Aboriginal population. She also remarks that the building will not be at rest until these remains are returned to the rightful resting place.

Another gripping account is delivered by Shari Sebbens as she sits on a chair in an empty hospital ward. Sebbens recounts the story of terminal very young niece who will die within a day.  Sebbens sits in the chair looking down and away from the camera for most of the piece as she talks about the spirit of the family member that guides her through this traumatic family event only looking at the camera as the pivotal moment daring the audience to doubt for an instant that the tory is true.

Thornton also serves as cinematographer his framing choices, where he places the speaker to the location of the segment itself all add to the impact of the tales.  Along with the aforementioned hospital ward hallway he uses a veranda for a toxic Ouija board tale delivered by Deborah Mailman,  a pitch black campfire for the Aaron Pedersen segment selling that he is still uneasy and jumpy as he tells his story to a marina dock full of expensive boats for Bryan Brown's telling of an encounter with a young Aboriginal girl while fishing in a very remote area.

The Darkside honours the rich history of oral storytelling of Australia's Indigenous peoples. It also takes seriously their strong belief in the next world and that spirits there can reach back into the real world. The twist hear that those spirits do not come back to harm, threaten and create mayhem.  Instead they can be gentle, welcoming and helpful. They tell you the truth and help you to remember the past. Warrwick Thornton does a great job of not getting in the way or trying to produce the moments. They are left to play out as originally presented.  The actors even leaving in the incomplete and wrongly worded sentences. It's a film that I can definitely recommend.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

The Darkside | Warrwick Thornton | Australia | 2013 | 94 Minutes.

Tags: Afterlife, Spirits, Indigenous Ghosts, Supernatural, Elders, Crossing Over, Docudrama,

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