PART I FILM INFORMATION
CAST AND CREDITS
Director: Ivan Sen
Script Writer: Ivan Sen
Cinematographer: Allen Collins
Producer: Teresa-Jayne Hanlon
Executive Producer: Douglas Cummins
Production Companies: Australian Film Finance Corp AFFC
Autumn Films Pty. Ltd.
Axiom Films (UK)
Distributor: Dendy Films
Lead Male: Damian Pitt
Lead Female: Dannielle Hall
Release Dates: Premiered Adelaide Festival 3rd-4th March
Released nationally 23rd May 2002
BIBLIOGRAPHICAL DETAILS OF INTERVIEWS:
Reporter: Daniel Browning
Reporter: Margaret Pomeranz
Reporter: Daniel Edwards
Reporter: Rebecca Baillie
Reporter: Garry Maddox
Reporter: Stephanie Bunbury
Title: Beneath Clouds
Reporter: Eddie Cockrell
Journal: Variety New York: Feb18-Feb24 2002
Issue: 1 pg 37
BIBLIOGRAPHICAL DETAILS OF REVIEWS
Reviewed by: Tom Ryan
Reviewed by: Paul Byrnes
Reviewed by: Katherine Murphy 20/09/2002
Jane Morrissey 18/09/2002
Katherine Crichton 21/08/2002
Reviewed by: Bill Hubbard
The net supplied basically all of my information for this assignment. I had a good look through the Murdoch catalogues and electronic journals but sadly found very little on such a great Australian film. Being a new film books are of little help. However, the trusty net has a lot on this film with reviews and interviews alike. I did have trouble finding an interview with Teresa Jayne Hanlon, the producer of Beneath Clouds, however a there is a really nice interview with Dannielle Hall and Damien Pitt, the two lead actors listed above.
I also unfortunately found nothing on the box office figures either.
Lena is a fair skinned teenage girl of mixed race who longs for a better life than she has with her Aboriginal mother in the small isolated town they live in. She hopes to find this life with her Irish father in Sydney, who she hasn't seen for some time.
Vaughn is a medium security prisoner who has escaped in the hope of reaching Sydney before his sick mother dies.
The two are thrown together whilst hitchhiking the open road and form an initially uneasy and almost distrustful alliance, that leads them both on a journey that turns out to be more important than the destination.
For Lena, the need to get out of the small town she lives in is evident from the first scenes in the film. Her young Aboriginal friend tells her on the way home from school that she is pregnant. Lena looks across at her friend's boyfriend and say's 'You know you're never gonna get out of this shit hole don't you Ty'.
The next couple of scenes show another very young girl pushing a pram through the fields, and finally when she arrives home her younger brother and his friend are being taken away by the police for stealing cigarettes. Her mother sits inside drinking, while her step father watches racing on TV. It is clear in this scene that she has had little love or support from her mother who she calls a disgrace.
In her room she has books and posters on the wall of Ireland. She gets out a small file containing photos of her real Dad, the rolling hills of Ireland, covered in mist, and a post card from Sydney. The next scene she is getting on a bus out of town. However when the bus pulls into a truck stop, she gets out and spends too long inside and the bus leaves without her.
Vaughn, who is in a medium security prison, is visited by his sister with news of his mother's deathly illness. It is very clear in this scene as well that Vaughn has had little to do with his mother as his first reaction is 'Well serves the bitch right doesn't it'. It becomes apparent in this scene that none of his family has been to see him since he was put in prison. He tells his sister he has to go, however early the next morning when a dairy truck arrives he takes his chance and jumps in the back.
When the two meet at the truck stop, Vaughn asks which way Sydney is and both begin to walk in that direction, however they do not walk together (as a team) just yet. The two are wary of each other with Vaughn thinking Lena is white with her fair hair and skin. When a car pulls alongside Lena, the white female driver asks if she is ok but hurriedly drives on when she sees Vaughn.
The two are soon picked up by two Aboriginal men and a girl with a child. It is in this car that Lena realises Vaughn is on the run from the cops, when a white police officer pulls them over asking about him. The driver lies to the police and car is allowed to continue on its way. When the child starts crying the driver hits the girl and tells her to shut the kid up. To this, Lena tells him to pull over and calling him an asshole, gets out and begins to walk.
Lena's choice to walk rather than ride with the driver shows how her thinking is obviously different or more expressed than the other girls in these small rural towns, and being thought of as white appears to allow her freedom to voice her opinion. She questions Vaughn about not doing anything when the girl was hit. She says she knows plenty of boys like him and tells him to stay away. The scene is a clear picture of exactly what Lena wants to get away from.
While Vaughn walks behind, a car with two white guys in it pulls up next to Lena. When she says she doesn't want a lift, the boys try to force her into the car. Vaughn stops them and they drive off. It is at this point in the film where the two make an alliance to travel together by Lena's simple words 'Ya coming'?
Throughout the film, most of the white characters look down on Vaughn because he is Aboriginal, calling him 'boy'. It is very obvious that the relationship between police and Aboriginal people in these towns is seriously damaged. Vaughn, due to this and prior experience, has developed a large grudge against white people and white society. He remarks to Lena, while they both look up at a large cliff, that his pop used to tell him of that place where the farmers chased all the black fellas from up the top, they just shot them and pushed them over the edge-now no one gives a shit. Comments like this and 'it don't make no difference were they come from, they're all white and they all stole our land show how angry Vaughn is with white society. Lena on the other hand speaks nothing of her heritage and identifies completely with the white world, blaming Aboriginal culture for the lack of love from her father.
She wants desperately to get away from Australia and her Aboriginal heritage, and make it to Ireland, 'where she belongs'. When an elderly white man offers the two a ride with no questions asked, Lena sits in the back with the sunlight drifting over eyes. She pulls out her photos and looks at the black and white shots of the rolling hills of Ireland, enveloped in mist, however when she looks out of the car window the image of the Australian mist covered hills is impossibly close to her photo. This is the first time in the film we see something that Lena longs for right in front of her eyes.
It is also in this car that we meet the first white character that is not at all racially prejudice towards Vaughn, and just sees them as a couple of kids that need a ride.
This is an important scene for both characters as it opens a separate door to each of them that neither thought they would find.
Another important scene in the film is when the two get picked up by some of Vaughn's friends. Here he finally gets an idea of her Aboriginal heritage when an elderly Aboriginal woman who sits in the back seat of the car asks Lena were her people are from and is the only person in the film to address her as anything other than white. As they drive past the large cliff Vaughn was talking of, she looks at it mournfully, remembering the atrocities that happened on top of it.
When the police pull the car over, Vaughn refuses to say his name to one of the officers and begins getting beaten on, another friend gets out of the car and the other cop starts with him. While this goes on, the old woman sits staring out the window, as if she knows this situation through experience.
This character represents many of the historical things Vaughn is angry about because it is her generation that remember and pass on the stories, while she also represents all the things Lena doesn't want to become, so wise in all her Aboriginal wisdom and experience.
When the car speeds away from the police they drop Vaughn and Lena at Vaughn's Mum's house and inside they realise they are too late as she has already died. Vaughn is clearly shaken and tells Lena to get lost. She leaves and makes her way to the train station. Soon after Vaughn follows her, all the while the police sirens getting closer. They stand at the train door, and Vaughn has tears in his eyes as they both realise their journey together must end here. They hug and Lena gets on the train.
The beauty about this scene and ending is that, even though as a viewer we want them to get on the train together, realistically Vaughn's and Lena's separate battles will continue, they have just shared a journey that has now furthered their search for purpose, identity and love.
Ivan Sen's first feature film has been shot beautifully with images, sound, non-verbal communication and location as its main tools. He has chosen landscapes and images that reflect emotion perfectly. Images such as a dead butterfly being eaten by ants, a cockatoo squashed on the road and a dead kangaroo over a road pole reflect the impossibly oppressive situation they live - if you're not quick and careful you will fall like the rest. This is not in the sense that they will die, but rather - for girls it is the worry of falling pregnant and for the males it is being locked away.
The leisurely pace with which he films it, tracking along the road next to them, complements the massive amount of non-verbal communication in the film and the effect that location and choice of shot can have. With no over the shoulder shot-reverse shots he has big close-ups that emphasise individual character emotion and feeling.
The original score, also co-written by Sen, ties these elements together beautifully. The slow-moving orchestral music works subtly and strongly together with chosen scenes to pull out even more emotion from the viewer.
Beneath Clouds was commissioned for the Adelaide Arts Festival. Sen wanted to use non-actors due to the shortage of young Aboriginal actors in Australia. He had a six month period trying to find the characters, especially Lena.
Ivan Sen also has a close personal relationship with the characters as Sen, like Lena, is of mixed race with an Aboriginal mother and German-Hungarian father. He too could hide his Aboriginal heritage and often chose to throughout his childhood and teenage years. The character of Vaughn is taken from several of Ivan's Aboriginal cousins.
He says 'I just wanted to write a story about a couple of kids that I sort-of know and one of them happens to be me.' (www.abc.net.au/message/blackarts/film/s720711.htm)
While Beneath Clouds is Sen's first feature film, he has also had had success with his previous short films. Tears released in 1998 has two characters, Vaughn and Lena who are getting away from their country town. When the two make it to the bus however Vaughn decides he doesn't want to go so Lena gets on the bus alone. While the characters are not the same here the film is certainly part of the building blocks of Beneath Clouds.
Wind, made in 1999 is set in 1857 where Jess, a young black tracker and his elderly white sergeant hunt down an Aboriginal murderer and when they find him, Jess has to decide whether to kill the man for his sergeant or whether to go with his aboriginal heritage.
Dust was made in 2000 and shows two Murri teenagers and one of the boys elderly mother journey out to the fields. They are joined by an angry white couple on the run. Tensions between the groups emerge as the day wears on.
In Journey, made in 1997, a 12 yr old Aboriginal boy leaves his isolated home town and hitchhikes to something new.
All these films are centred around Indigenous issues, cultural differences and small town oppressive situations. They clearly all have this common thread between them.
Tear and Dust were both produced by Teresa-Jayne Hanlon as was Beneath Clouds.
The critical uptake of this film was quite good with most critics seeing the simple beauty and deep meaning in the film. All were taken be the original score and locations Sen used. Some however felt that it was a little slow with not much in the script while others said they felt the flow was stilted due to both actors limited experience.
As far as the script goes, the limited dialogue only serves to further the non-verbal communication in the film and as far as the actors go I thought Damien Pitt was very good as a new-comer and Dannielle Hall was simply born to play Lena.
Beneath Clouds is an extremely Australian film, centred around Indigenous issues and cultural differences. The film was not released in America and is quite possibly too Australian for the American market. Like Many Australian films and especially Indigenous films it tells a story of what actually happens in remote parts of Australia rather than what the world thinks might happen in Australia. There is nothing Hollywood about this film, just a real story of a couple of kids in search of identity and love. A film to enlighten some of us as to what goes on in between city and country.
The most important misunderstanding of this film I think is people assuming it has only to do with racial and indigenous issues. While they are clearly there they are only a condition of the story, as the real story is about two people, finding themselves and where they belong.
Refer to Bibliographical details within.