: Satellite Boy

Satellite Boy

Sam Blashki

satellite boyWritten and directed by Catriona McKenzie; starring David Gulpilil, Cameron Wallaby, Joseph Pedley; Hopscotch Films, 2013; 90 mins.

Satellite Boy tells the story of Pete (Wallaby), a young Indigenous boy living in the outback town of Wyndham with his grandfather, Jagamarra (Gulpilil). When a mining corporation threatens to take over his home, Pete becomes determined to walk into the city and confront the company responsible, recruiting his friend, Kalmain (Pedley) to join him. When Pete’s idea doesn’t go to plan, the boys find themselves in a dire situation, lost and trying their best to stay alive.

As Catriona McKenzie’s directorial feature debut, Satellite Boy showcases the stunning Australian landscape. Sweeping panoramas — rugged mountain ranges and vast stretches of desert — command attention, while a charming yet familiar story of Pete’s self-discovery unfolds.

Satellite Boy is a slow, yet engaging film. As it progresses, there’s a sense that the landscape is meant to be viewed as a central character itself. There is a subtle sense that the desert is allowing two young boys to suffer in its midst, unrelenting until they manage to discover truths about themselves and their traditional culture. As the boys learn to respect the land on their modern day walkabout so too do we, overwhelmed by the imposing presence of the Kimberleys.

The intensity of the film is aided by a masterful score, which manages to build and release tension with finesse and precision. Like a meditation session, the film takes the audience out of the fast-paced modern world and forces us to slow down. By the end, it is almost frustrating having to enter back into the rush of daily life. Beyond that, the film is a reminder that culture and history play an important role, allowing each of us to discover who we are and who we want to become.

The narrative is carried by the strong and believable performances of two young actors, Cameron Wallaby and Joseph Pedley. However, it should be said that, at times, the metaphor of Pete being on a ‘modern day walkabout’ does feel slightly forced and some scenes appear little more than an excuse to show off a majestic setting. Yet Satellite Boy is punctuated by moments of brilliance, including a moving scene where Kalmain wades across a river carrying Pete, who cannot swim.

Satellite Boy is a moving fable that has far more impact as a metaphor than as a narrative at face value. The film is an accessible and engaging exploration of the relevance of traditional Indigenous customs in a changing world and, more broadly, the importance of taking time to discover ourselves. Supported by a beautiful score and awe-inspiring cinematography, Satellite Boy makes for a film worth watching.

SAM BLASHKI is an Arts/Law student at Monash University, with interests in film as well as social justice.

(2013) 38(2) AltLJ 136
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