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RABBIT PROOF FENCE (article first published : 2003-04-17)

After it won the audience award at last year's Durban International Film Festival, the buzz was that this Aussie movie, based on fact and the winner of awards at seven different festivals, was a movie worth seeing.

What an understatement! Marking a return to his homeland, and to form, for Australian director Phillip Noyce, who gave us Patriot Games and The Bone Collector, Rabbit-proof Fence is a stunning piece of work that will linger in mind long after the final credits roll.

Both a biting but non-sermonising, indictment of a cruel and unjust system, and a gripping drama of defiance and triumph of the spirit, it is flawless, memorable and thought-provoking drama with superb performances from a cast of mostly unknowns.

Between 1910 and 1970, the Australian government targeted mixed-race Aboriginal children in the Outback and relocated them to re-orientation centres. They were forced to speak English, go to church and learn how to be servants and labourers for white people. According to an Aussie government report released in 1997, some 100,000 Aboriginal children were affected.

The intention was to introduce "half-caste" and "quarter-caste" children to white circles in a bid to, ultimately, "breed out" the Aborigine in them. To this end, children were removed by force from their mothers, homes and cultures - a practise which, shockingly, continued until 1970.

In 1931, 14-year-old Molly (striking newcomer Everlyn Sampi), her younger sister Daisy (Tianna Sansbury) and cousin Gracie (Laura Monaghan), were among those children. But the three escaped from their captors to cover 2,400km on foot, across rivers, desert, mountains and other harsh terrain.

They followed the fence of the title, built in 1907 to keep rabbit hordes from entering the west of Australia, which they knew stretched from one coast to another, passing their village. Throughout their incredible journey, the girls were followed by an Aboriginal tracker (David Gulpilil) on horseback, who took orders from a racist, arrogant official, A O Neville (an excellent Kenneth Branagh).

Based on a book by Molly's daughter, Doris Pilkington, and written for the screen by Christine Olsen, Rabbit-proof Fence boasts breathtaking cinematography, panoramic views of the Outback and a fascinating story with final frames that are among the most moving you will see on screen.

It's the finest film Durban has seen so far this year. Rating: 10/10. - Billy Suter




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