In Kaytej director Warwick Thornton’s Sweet Country, Aboriginal stockman Sam (Hamilton Morris) goes on the run after shooting white station owner Harry March (Ewen Leslie) in self-defense.
Exploring racism, trauma and morality through a western genre lens, Sweet Country is based on the story of Willaberta Jack, the great uncle of Alyawarra sound recordist and co-producer David Tranter, who translated the tale into storyboards, some of which are reproduced here.
The action unfolds 30km from Alice Springs in the fictional town of Henry, which was created by extending and adding to structures built for a previous film. Its dusty streets and sun-bleached buildings embody western motifs, which are also apparent in the narrative, props and costumes.
The costumes were hand-painted with dust and powder to blend into the harsh landscape – except for Harry’s black-and-red outfit, which Thornton wanted to look like “a poisonous redback spider”.
“Sweet Country is a western. A period western set in Central Australia. It has all the elements of the genre - the frontier, confiscation of land, subordination and conquest of a people and epic sweeping landscapes.” – Warwick Thornton, director of Sweet Country
Production designer Tony Cronin and art director Theo Benton extended and added to an existing set of town buildings, which was built near the Ooraminna Homestead about outside of Alice Springs, to create the fictional town of Henry. They added new facades to the buildings of the original town, which was built for a previous film that was never completed (The Drover’s Boy, based on the classic Ted Egan song).
"Sweet Country comes from my family. It was a story from up in the Territory, north of Alice Springs and Philomac was my grandfather. I made a documentary about him and his older brother called Willaberta Jack. Then I was in the Tiwi Islands working on a film as the sound recordist. After the shoot we went back to the house and had a cup of tea and someone said that Willaberta Jack story would make a great movie. And I said yeah – but I’m not a writer. But I wanted to try so I went and bought myself a couple of sketch books, and I started drawing the story in pictures and it took me about two weeks. Me personally, I’m just happy to share the story with Australia, with the rest of the world. I just really hope that Australia will embrace it, and have a look at their past because it’s not just our story, it’s everybody’s story."
– Screenwriter and sound recordist David Tranter
Works in this group
Behind the scenes of Sweet Country from Screen Australia
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On display until:
ACMI: Gallery 1
9 February 2023
The Story of the Moving Image → Moving Worlds → 03. Production Design → MW-03-C01