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Year: 2018

Sweet Country

Published / by Peter

Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.

Genre: Drama
Rating: MA15+ (adult themes, violent images, sexual content, language)
Length: 113 minutes
Starring: Hamilton Morris, Sam Neill, Bryan Brown
Director and Cinematography: Warwick Thornton
Script: Steven McGregor, David Trantor

Brief synopsis

Set in cattle country on the frontier in the Northern Territory after the First World War, Sam Kelly (Hamilton Morris), an Aboriginal station hand, works for a Christian station owner, Fred Smith (Sam Neill), who treats his Aboriginal workers with respect and care. A new station owner, Harry March (Ewen Leslie), a returned soldier, arrives in an adjacent property and asks Fred for help fixing his cattle yards. Fred, against his better judgement, sends Sam and his wife, Lizzie (Natassia Gorey-Furber), to help Harry. Harry abuses Sam, rapes his wife and sends them packing without food. Later, Harry pursues Philomac, a runaway Aboriginal boy, who escaped after he had been chained up. Mad and drunk, Harry approaches Fred’s house, thinking Philomac is hiding there. Fred is away but Sam and his wife are minding the house. Harry fires his gun several times into the house and then breaks the door down. Sam shoots him in self defence. Sam goes on the run, with Lizzie, knowing he has killed a “white fella”. Fletcher (Bryan Brown), the local police sergeant,  leads a posse in pursuit.

Questions for discussion
Some general questions might provide enough framework to get started:

  • What stood out as the main points/highlights in the movie?
  • What themes are explored?
  • What assumptions were embedded in the story?
  • What challenged you? What questions did it raise for you?
  • Are there aspects of the story that resonated with your own experience or with the experience of others in a similar situation?
  • Are there biblical or theological themes or characters that come to mind?

Coming to terms with our history: the Pastoralists
White settlers had just arrived and carved out station properties from the land occupied by Aboriginal people. Many Aboriginal people chose to travel further away or stayed and provided labour for the station owners. They became skilled stockmen, drovers and station hands. Without their labour these stations could not exist. Harry and fellow station owner Mick display the attitudes common at the time. Aboriginal people were a resource to be exploited and used. How is this depicted in the film? What happened later when Aboriginal people were given citizenship rights? Find out what has happened to wages held in trust for Aboriginal people. What do you know about the Wave Hill walkoff in 1966? Google and report back to the group.

Coming to terms with our history: the Missionaries
Mission Stations were established to promote the gospel but also provided a sanctuary for Aboriginal people. The Ernabella Mission in the north of South Australia was established primarily for the latter reason by Dr Charles Duguid, a Presbyterian. Unlike many other missions there was no compulsion to embrace Christianity and local language and customs were encouraged. People were taught trades in all types of farm work. A school, teaching literacy in Pitjantjatjara, and a clinic were established. Find out more about this and other missions, such as Poonindie, Point McLeay and Point Pearce. See the case study….

Owen Karpany: a Case Study
Born to a stockman father and midwife mother at Wallaroo Hospital, Mr Karpany said the indignity of having to ask the mission superintendents for permission to come and go or take part in cultural activities was replaced by abandonment and the government of the day selling off the rich farmland then later leasing it back to the Aboriginal people.

The 65-year-old recalls when Point Pearce was a bustling community where work was plentiful and young people had career options. He spent time working as a gardener, carpenter, stockman and considered a career as a jockey before he got too heavy.

“We had a mechanic shop, people were working on home maintenance, carpenters, painters, gardeners and there was a dairy that provided milk,” he recalls. “There was a butcher shop, a piggery, cattle, horses, trucks tractors and tractors and stuff like that.”

The dairy lasted for a while but now Point Pearce has little to offer its young residents and does not even receive internet access. “When I was young we had choices, now the kids here have got nothing,” Mr Karpany says.                  Source: AndrewDowell, Sunday Mail, 20 Jan 2018. AdelaideNow
What do you think went wrong? How can we fix this?

Coming to terms with our history: the Government
The authority figures in this film are the police and Judge Taylor (Matt Day). Police relied on Aboriginal trackers to pursue felons. If the felons were Aboriginal the police had little chance of finding them. On encountering a group of Aboriginal warriors while in pursuit of Sam, Archie the tracker (Gibson John) retreats but Sergeant Fletcher (Bryan Brown) takes no notice until too late. He calls to retreat but his constable panics and fires his gun killing one of the Aboriginals, whereupon he is killed in turn. This sort of incident was not uncommon and has been termed the Frontier Wars. The existence of massacres has often disappeared from local histories only to be rediscovered later.
Why do you think these events were forgotten by Europeans?
Early governments tried to treat Indigenous people as equal citizens under British Law but this did not always work. Why? Can you find or know of recent examples?

Philomac (played by twins: Tremayne & Trevan Doolan) is an Aboriginal boy. His father is likely to be Mick Kennedy (Thomas M Wright), the owner of the station. Philomac is poorly treated but knows how to survive. He helps himself to anything going and tells people what they want to hear. Archie tells him how he, Archie, was taken from his parents and that this is not his country. He warns Philomac against the “white fella” things that will get him into trouble.
What do you know about the stolen generations? What future do you see for Philomac?
What is he up against? Is it any different today?

Standing up against racism
After some derogatory remarks regarding the Aboriginals, Fred Smith replies, “We’re all equal here. We’re all equal in the eyes of the Lord.”
What other examples did you notice of racism in the film. How did people respond?
The judge arrived in town to try the case against Sam.
What obstacles did he meet and how did he respond? Have you seen similar examples in our community today? How should we respond?

These people haven’t got a hope. Our country hasn’t got a hope.
Fred wanders off into the bush, in despair, speaking these words.
What would be your response? What indicators of hope were there? Discuss?

© Peter Russell, 2nd February, 2018, Pilgrim Uniting Church.
This resource is freely available to download and copy but kindly attribute copyright
Download pdf file here . . .  Sweet_Country

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Published / by Sandy

Movie discussion resource
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.

Rating: MA15+
Length: 1 hour 55 minutes
Starring: Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell
Writer/Director: Martin McDonagh

Brief synopsis 

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a darkly comic drama from Academy Award nominee Martin McDonagh (In Bruges). After months have passed without a culprit in her daughter’s murder case, Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) makes a bold move, painting three signs leading into her town with a controversial message directed at William Willoughby (Woody Harrelson), the town’s revered chief of police. When his second-in-command Officer Dixon (Sam Rockwell), an immature mother’s boy with a penchant for violence, gets involved, the battle between Mildred and Ebbing’s law enforcement is only exacerbated. Written by Fox Searchlight Pictures

General questions for discussion
Some general questions might provide enough framework for you to discuss the movie:
* What stood out as the main points/highlights in the movie?
* What themes are explored?
* What assumptions were embedded in the story?
* What challenged you? What questions did it raise for you?
* Are there aspects of the story that resonated with your own experience or with the experience of others in a similar situation?
* Are there biblical or theological themes or characters that come to mind?
* Where is God present in the story? Where does God seem absent?
* What Christian themes speak into the context of this narrative?

Rev Steve Francis, Moderator, WA UCA Synod, writes: 
Every once in a while, I watch a film that disturbs and depresses me, while at the same time commands my respect and confronts my sensibilities.You can watch the preview of the film here.
But be warned – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is not a light-hearted comic romp, where everyone ends up living happily ever after. It is a black tragi-comedy. It won four Golden Globe awards this year including Best Screenplay, Best Actress and Best Film (Drama), and many BAFTA nominations.
While I found myself at times smiling and even laughing, for the most part, I was struggling with the powerful themes of forgiveness and revenge, life and death, damnation and redemption, which collided with a blisteringly foul-mouthed script. There were some tender moments, but the issues of suffering, domestic abuse, suicide, violence and rape were very much in your face. 
Without giving too much away, the story centres on a divorced mother, Mildred, who is grieving the abduction, rape and murder of her teenage daughter. She is angry, really angry at the lack of progress in the police investigation. Fuelled by this deep frustration, she rents three abandoned billboards near her home which read in sequence, “Raped while dying”, “And still no arrests”, and “How come Chief Willoughby?” These three billboards create great controversy in the town and while having sympathy for the grieving mother, most of the town seems to side with the police chief who is himself struggling with cancer.
The film is full of painful confrontations like how to deal or not deal with domestic abuse, suicide, arson, injustice and racism.
Part of what hit me was the sense of anarchic nihilism that pervades the film, where so much emotion and action come from the toxic power of revenge. At one moment the hurting mother reflects on the awful possibility that “there ain’t no God, and the whole world is empty and it doesn’t matter what we do to each other”. Is this really the truth about our existence?
Momentarily in my mind when I heard Mildred say these words, I wanted to put up three alternative billboards before her, “there is a God”, “the earth is charged with the grandeur of God” and “life is precious and we all matter”.
How tragic that the pain and suffering of life with all its questions and injustices can lead to a conclusion that essentially life has no ultimate meaning.
The Christian gospel operates from a very different script where justice can replace revenge, love can overcome hate and forgiveness can trump bitterness.  “Three Billboards” is a powerful film and points to a journey towards redemption and ruin. I found myself wishing some of the characters were more open to the road less travelled, the way of Jesus.
Probably intentionally the film is full of caricatures; corrupt police, white racists, male abusers and predictably a Catholic priest who is viewed as insensitive and hypocritical.
Thankfully, we need not live out a caricature.
The Christian community can be a billboard for love, peace and reconciliation that our world needs to see. I pray that in some small way, the billboard people see in our lives may promote the Christian hope of wholeness, a restored community and the new beginning that the gospel brings.
=> Discuss your response to Steve’s comments about the film.

Lacing a western-tinged tale of outlaw justice with Jacobean themes of rape, murder and revenge, the film finds a grieving mother naming and shaming the lawmen who have failed to catch her daughter’s killer. The anarchic nihilism of the narrative is underpinned with a heartbreaking meditation upon the toxic power of rage. When characters, struggling to make sense of all this chaos, utter platitudes such as “anger just begets greater anger” and “through love comes calm”, it seems less like a killing joke than a weirdly sincere mission statement.
Seven months after her daughter, Angela, was abducted and killed, Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) emblazons the roadside billboards of the title with signs taunting police chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) about the lack of arrests. For Mildred, the Ebbing police force is “too busy going round torturing black folks” to solve crime. “I got issues with white folks too,” declares bozo cop Jason Dixon (Sam Rockwell) after throwing someone out of a window – a bravura one-shot sequence pointedly orchestrated to the lilting strains of His Master’s Voice by Monsters of Folk.
The righteously angry Mildred has her own demons, torturing her bullied son, Robbie (Lucas Hedges), with her guilt-driven vendetta, wrestling with the awful possibility that “there ain’t no God, and the whole world’s empty, and it doesn’t matter what we do to each other”.
From the opening morning-mist shots of those lonely billboards to the flames that evoke the burning crosses of the KKK, cinematographer Ben Davis perfectly captures the film’s knife-edge balance between humour and horror, mayhem and melancholia.
Whether each of these characters is on a road to redemption or ruin is left open-ended.
=> Discuss your response to this excerpt (from an article by Mark Kermode in The Guardian).

© Rev Sandy Boyce 17th January 2017
Pilgrim Uniting Church, www.pilgrim.org.au
This resource is freely available to download but kindly attribute appropriate copyright

Movie discussion resource.ThreeBillboards