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EDITIONS
Wednesday, 28 August, 2002, 11:43 GMT 12:43 UK
Rabbit Proof Fence
Rabbit Proof Fence

"Rabbit Proof Fence" is a new film by Phillip Noyce.

It tells a story concerned with the "lost generation" of Aboriginal children in Australia. It stars Kenneth Branagh.

(Edited highlights of the panel's review)


KIRSTY WARK:
Richard, first of all, the story itself of a stolen generation, it does seem unbelievable that until 1970 people believed you could breed the colour out of Aborigines for their own good.

RICHARD HOLLOWAY:
I know. I loved this. I cried. The most authentic thing about the film was it was not melodramatic. There were no baddies. There was not a single villain.

It was a bad theory. It was a bad idea. Racism, imperialism, kind of blood aristocracy, that to me was the most devastating thing. Bad people die, bad ideas can live on and on and on.

That bad idea is still alive in Australia. It's still a very racist country. I thought to me the most challenging thing about the film was that it made you think because the Neville character is clearly a sincere man. Why don't they get it, he said?

KIRSTY WARK:
That's the whole problem with righteousness, isn't it?

JEANETTE WINTERSON:
Yes. I think it's interesting that what this film teaches us is that good intentions are just as dangerous and just as damaging as people who want to go and do you harm.

It's a film of triumph and it's a film of hope. All of us inside have a rabbit-proof fence that would lead us home if we knew how to find it, but we don't. If this has been the century of displacement, we're now looking for home, trying to find our identity.

The wonderful thing here is you can take away a woman's family, a woman's land, a woman's place, and she can still find her way back to it because it's integral to the self. That's the triumph.

This is a real emotional journey, exactly what you don't get in Porno. This is somewhere for us to go as an audience.

KIRSTY WARK:
Jude, true stories are tremendous meat for films. Did this translate from being a true story into a good film?

JUDE KELLY:
Not for me unfortunately.

I mean, everything that you both say about the integrity of the film with regard to its intentions, the purposefulness of it with regard to the history that needs to be told again and again since it's enduring and wonderful idea of a journey, a personal journey and particularly three young women's journey, three girls in this case, all of that's a wonderful starting point.

I found the film terribly dull. I found the camera shots prosaic. I found the script pedantic and unimaginative.

I just felt the characterisation was so shallow and really because it didn't have action and because it was a journey film, it did require great camerawork and a film aesthetic. I felt the director was devoid of that.

KIRSTY WARK:
You didn't feel Kenneth Branagh played it with ambiguity? We were meant to think of him as Mr Devil, but as Richard was saying, he had this belief that what he was doing would lead to a better life.

JUDE KELLY:
I thought Kenneth Branagh was marvellous with tiny, poor, impoverished material. The way it was shot felt so functionary in terms of the scenes he was in. It felt to me like really bad script writing.

KIRSTY WARK:
Let's deal with the landscape itself. Clearly the landscape is so forbidding and so lonely. The Aborigine girls understood the landscape so much better.

JEANETTE WINTERSON:
I love the simplicity of that. You could have messed this film up by making it more elaborate but by allowing the landscape to be a player in it, it speaks for itself.

JUDE KELLY:
That's not my criticism of it. I just don't think they were shot interestingly.

JEANETTE WINTERSON:
I was delighted by that. Now films move so quickly from scene to scene. It's not since La Dolce Vita that you get long camera shots that allow you to look at things properly.

RICHARD HOLLOWAY:
I didn't notice the technique because I felt in my gut the power of the story, and it's almost impossible to do bad filming in that light. I thought the light came through. I thought the three young lassies who apparently are not actors were extraordinary.

KIRSTY WARK:
I wanted to talk about the girl's performances. This would be for them a quite different experience. These were young girls from a very rural area, coming to this, never had acted before, they work-shopped it with 13 girls and then picked three.

Of course, this was territory that they would have heard from their mothers and grandmothers and so forth, but they were working it through themselves. I thought their performances were stunning.

JUDE KELLY:
I thought they were wonderful. I just wish they had more material to work with.

JEANETTE WINTERSON:
I thought it was compelling. Also I think the courage not to make Kenneth Branagh into a villain, not to make us think in terms of black and white worked incredibly well. He's so good at that understated arrogance.

RICHARD HOLLOWAY:
There was a minimum of exploitation of the children. Had it been made in Hollywood, there would have been abuse and all that. In fact, it was well within that kind of late Victorian paradigm of it's good for you to be disciplined.

They were all clearly very sincere, but they were imprisoned in a terribly bad idea, and that to me I think is the big lesson from this that we create these ideas, these theories, these religions, these race theories, these political theories, and they oppress us.

KIRSTY WARK:
To address the point that you were making that you think it was too pedestrian, in a sense if you want to be true to the story, and this was particular story of three girls who made it back.

I think we can safely say this, the sad thing was they did make it home, but something else happens after that.

JEANETTE WINTERSON:
It doesn't matter that they get taken back and keep returning because that's the success of the journey, that you fail but there is something in yourself which cannot be destroyed.

It doesn't matter what the outside world is doing to you. It's what you have and what you can hold on to.

KIRSTY WARK:
Rabbit Proof Fence will be screened again this Sunday and goes on general release on 8th November.


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