Sunday, January 16, 2011

Rabbit-Proof Fence

Rabbit-Proof Fence.  2002.  Dir: Phillip Noyce.  Based on the book Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence by Doris Pilkington Garimara.

Set in 1931, Australia.  The Government policy is that half-caste (i.e., mixed Aborigine and white) children are to be forcibly removed from their families and trained in special camps to act like whites, so that they are suitable for employment in menial jobs, and so that after several generations there will be no visible traces of Aborigine blood.
Film is based on the amazing true story of 3 girls who are relocated from Jigalong to Moore River, a camp 1000 miles south, and their escape and harrowing journey back to Jigalong.  The eldest, Molly (Everlyn Sampi) is 14, her cousin Gracie (Laura Monaghan) is 10, and sister Daisy (Tianna Sansbury) is 8.  They evade pursuit by an expert native tracker as well as police, and reach home by walking along a rabbit-proof fence built by the Government to keep out rabbits from farmland.  The book is written by Molly's daughter Doris.

Amazing acting by the three female leads, especially Molly and Daisy.  Beautifully shot, with many long, panoramic  views of the harsh, rugged Australian bush and unforgiving desert.  Incredibly suspenseful, even for some stretches when it is mostly scene after scene of the children walking.  Understated, appropriate music (Peter Gabriel).  Overall a great film. 

Film makes clear that the white "protector" of Aborigines who orders the girls' relocation is basically an old-fashioned patriarchal racist; he is carrying the white man's burden and doing a thankless job of trying to improve the lives of the Aborigines even when they are too backward to know it.  Similarly the white nuns who run the camps are obviously also simply trying to "do God's work" and probably not overly harsh by the standards of the time.  The film could have run the risk of showing the Aborigines as noble savages, but the focus is so tightly on the girls and their tight-knit families that such considerations are moot.

It is ironic and feels poetically just that the girls use a quintessential colonial project, the ambitious, hubristic rabbit-proof fence, which is thousands of miles long, against the colonizers in order to survive and escape.   

According to IMDB, the mixed-race Aborigine girl who played Molly (Everlyn Sampi) was from Broome, quite far from where the movie was shot, and twice during filming was found secretly buying bus tickets to run away, back to Broome.  Amazing life-imitates-film-imitates-life.  

You could imagine a second film, which describes the life of Molly's daughter, Doris, who was in fact raised in Moore River and grew up ashamed of having Aborigine blood, and intertwines it with that of Everlyn.  Perhaps little has changed for the Aborigines and their descendants.

(Jan 2011)