SATELLITE BOY: A Review

Catriona McKenzie’s directorial feature debut, SATELLITE BOY, is a heartfelt, moving and uplifting story about a young boy’s journey to save his home and ultimately himself.

SATELLITE BOY follows Pete, a 12 year old Aboriginal boy who lives with his elderly grandfather, Old Jagamarra (Gulpilil). Home is the abandoned outdoor cinema in the outback town of Wyndham. When it is threatened with demolition, Pete sees his world in jeopardy and sets off for the city. He is joined by his friend Kalmain, who has his own reasons for leaving town. Together the boys travel through epic and stunning Kimberley country and when they get lost in the bush, Pete has to remember some of the old Aboriginal bush skills his grandfather taught him for them to survive.

 

Satellite Boy - David Gulpilil and Cameron Wallaby
Satellite Boy – David Gulpilil and Cameron Wallaby

 

SATELLITE BOY is a dreamtime film in the traditional sense of the Aboriginal culture. It is simple in its telling and told through great acting, fine directing and some of the most superb cinematography of the Kimberley region of this awesome country. Pete is at a divergence in his life, one path leads to the mother who abandoned him, it is more modern, there are shops, game boys, fast food and faster life and then there is the life of tradition and culture as old as time itself pursuing the life with his grandfather. It is solitary and sheltered from the modern world. Both have their advantages and their disadvantages. In hindsight as a 40yr old male I know which one I would have preferred back then if I was in that situation but what will Pete do?

 

CAMERON WALLABY as PETE in SATELLITE BOY. A Satellite Films production. Photo by Matt Nettheim
CAMERON WALLABY as PETE in SATELLITE BOY. A Satellite Films production. Photo by Matt Nettheim

 

Catriona McKenzie brings a great first feature to the Australian film library and does it while showing off this superb country. You can tell she has a very strong belief in the country and the culture and a passion for this story which she first drafted in 2007. The passion one must have to be able to last six long years bringing a thought to fruition. And then throw in the endless process of making this film in this region – here are just a few issues with making this film in the Kimberleys;

* It is the first film allowed permission to film in this world heritage listed area of the country

* It had to completely respect the land so was classed as a “dry-shoot” – all cast and crew only lived and slept in tents on the land

* It would be a 200km drive to get screws to repair the cinema screen in the abandoned drive in

* No motor vehicles allowed within 2km of the Bungle Bungles so all equipment had to be carried in on canvas stretchers

Now there is some true dedication to making a film. McKenzie states “It was rewarding at the end of filming to to be stopped on the streets by strangers who thanked me for showing respect to the traditional owners and the community”. Hearing things like makes it all worthwhile.

 

 

DAVID GULPILIL as JAGAMARRA,  JURUNBA-MARK WEAVER as BELLYUP, DOUGIE McCALE as GEORGE and CAMERON WALLABY as PETE in SATELLITE BOY. Photo by Matt Nettheim
DAVID GULPILIL as JAGAMARRA, JURUNBA-MARK WEAVER as BELLYUP, DOUGIE McCALE as GEORGE and CAMERON WALLABY as PETE in SATELLITE BOY. Photo by Matt Nettheim

 

There is only two mild negatives with this film. I found the kids, Cameron Wallaby and Joseph Pedley, sometimes struggled with a scene or two, but I found this mostly at the beginning and originally thought the film was shot in sequence. Or perhaps this was me getting acclimitised to their styles. It just did not flow well in a few scenes but I felt they got the hang of it until I was rooting for them. By the end of the film I thought Wallaby was a sensational actor who could easily carry a film. Then there is the showcasing of Aboriginal culture and the dreamtime and the mystery of it all. Occasionally I thought the film took too many liberties with it and fictionalised the use of it too much. Is it my cynicism? I just thought that Pete and his grandfather having “kind of” spiritual phone calls a bit tacky but I do not know the spiritualism of it all – I always thought the listening to the earth was more symbolic of its needs, but thinking messages to each other, I don’t know – judge for yourself.

Gulpilil is as you would expect, a stoic and solid piece of Australian culture who is so believable in every native role he plays – he is a pleasure to watch. And to see him cry at the end broke my heart a little, I had never seen that depth of emotion out of him before. It showed a true fragility regardless of his connection to the earth.

 

Satellite Boy - by Catriona McKenzie
Satellite Boy – by Catriona McKenzie

 

There are so many visuals that I love about this film and so much I learnt. Pete and Kalmain survive thanks to the old ways Pete learns from his grandfather – as much as he whines about it he remembered it all and it kept them alive and the awesomeness of this was that we got to learn about it – and got to see it thanks to the superb cinematography of legend Geoffrey Simpson. Simpson has filmed things like ROMULUS, MY FATHER and LITTLE WOMEN, THE LAST DAYS OF CHEZ NOUS, FRIED GREEN TOMATOES, OSCAR AND LUCINDA, SHINE – it goes on and on and on and is one impressive CV. The way he captures the Kimberleys was superb. The Boab trees, the colours, the nature, everything – I JUST LOVED IT. I have spent some time in Alice Springs and it is so hard to describe the beauty but to see it – you feel it again and bond with it. The highlight of the cinematography for me was one simple shot of Gulpilil’s hands, it was astonishing the character in those hands.

And to learn of the amazing Sugar Bags, this was very cool, this was one thing I never ever learned. You will see and learn when you see the film, no lesson from me :). It could have been good to see the kids catch a goanna or a snake for a meal, but to see them get sustenance the way they did, and to learn it was actually possible, got me a bit excited.

 

DAVID GULPILIL as JAGAMARRA and CAMERON WALLABY as PETE in SATELLITE BOY. A Satellite Films production. Photo by Matt Nettheim
DAVID GULPILIL as JAGAMARRA and CAMERON WALLABY as PETE in SATELLITE BOY. A Satellite Films production. Photo by Matt Nettheim

 

SATELLITE BOY is a great Australian film suitable for the entire family. It is releasing on JUNE 20th and stay tuned for my interview with Director, CATRIONA MCKENZIE coming very soon.

For the trailer, as I have already posted it – follow this link to my other article with the trailer – RIGHT HERE

 

3 and a Half Pops