Aboriginal mad bastards

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Mad BastardsIt was, says actor Dean Daley-Jones (pictured, right), a sight to behold: 'brother boys going outside the cinema in Broome, pretending to have a cigarette but really just getting emotional because of the story'.

'They were Kimberley mad bastards,' he explains; 'black cowboys, hunters and gatherers; physically built and strong men; beautiful men in the soul, but wild fellas. Natives. And they were coming out of the cinema choked up.'

The reason for this show of masculine emotion was Mad Bastards, a new film starring Daley-Jones and directed by Sydney filmmaker Brendan Fletcher.

It's not a documentary, although it does draw heavily upon the real-life experiences of the Indigenous men and women, including Daley-Jones, who contributed to its writing and who appear in it as actors.

And judging by the emotion on display outside the cinema in Broome, it's fair to say Mad Bastards, fiction or otherwise, doesn't so much touch on truth as drag it, reluctant and brooding, onto the exposed surface of a parched mudflat, to be examined and better understood.

Through a fictionalised story of violence and redemption, the film explores a concept Fletcher describes as 'mad bastardry' — a 'masculine energy' that, he says, is too often either expelled through violence, numbed by alcohol — or both.

Central character T.J. (Daley-Jones) has struggled with alcohol and aggression throughout his adult life, and has now returned to his home town to try to reconnect with his estranged son, Bullet (Lucas Yeeda). The boy himself has been in trouble with the law and, in addition to his tumultuous reuinion with his father, the film charts his participation in a program for adolescent offenders that sees them camping in the wilderness and learning traditional wisdom and skills.

The film also follows T.J.'s antagonistic relationship with Texas, the boy's grandfather and the tough but big-hearted town cop. Texas is trialling his own solution to male misbehaviour, by hosting regular support group meetings that invite participants to diffuse their anger through listening and sharing.

There's no doubt the film has struck a chord with Kimberley locals. This was evident in the emotional response of the men outside the cinema in Broome, and was also apparent during a screening in the remote northern town of Wyndham (where the film was shot); some 80 per cent of the population showed up, and many were forced to peer over the perimeter fence after the venue filled to capacity.

Of course, screening the film in remote areas for audiences who have a personal connection to the subject matter is one thing. Showing it to audiences in trendy inner-city cinemas is quite another. Fletcher and Daley-Jones hope audiences will enjoy the film on its own terms (after all 'We are artists,' says Daley-Jones), but that they might also take time to unpack its deeper themes.

'Not everyone can go up there and experience that country,' says Fletcher. 'All they see is the current affairs segment, the newspaper article, all the bad stuff. No one ever hears the good stuff. They don't hear the stories of inspiration, of redemption, of people fighting these demons and winning.

'We hope the film starts to really give audiences a feeling of what it's like up there, so that they can understand some of what's behind the newspaper articles, some of the issues and generations of crap that they're trying to slowly disentangle.' 

Tim KroenertTim Kroenert is Assistant Editor of Eureka Street. He is a contributor to Kidzone, Inside Film and The Big Issue, and his articles and reviews have appeared in Melbourne's The Age and Brisbane's Courier-Mail. Follow Tim on Twitter

Topic tags: Tim Kroenert, Mad Bastards, Dean Daley-Jones, Brendan Fletcher, Kimberley, Greg Tait



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Existing comments

I saw Mad Bastards last Thursday night at the Chauvel - it's a must-see movie - painful, funny, hopeful. Dean Daley-Jones and Brendan Fletcher spoke with us afterwards. Very dear to both their hearts and carries a lot of reminders and similarities for Dean. Please go to see this film - it's so important for all of us especially us non-aboriginal people I think.

Linda Shaw | 05 May 2011  

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