Like fa­ther, and mother, Dy­lan’s a film win­ner


By his own ad­mis­sion, Alice Springs film­maker Dy­lan River has two key points of iden­tity.

“One is my Abo­rig­i­nal her­itage and the sto­ries I want to tell,” he says, “but then I’m also ab­so­lutely ob­sessed with mo­tor­bikes.”

The two threads came to­gether at the week­end when River’s eight-minute film Coat of Arms won best short at the Capri­cor­nia awards, a bi­en­nial com­pe­ti­tion run as part of the Dar­win In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val.

The work plays on themes of the na­tional sym­bols of emu and kan­ga­roo, of Abo­rig­i­nal history, of vi­o­lence and of the out­sider’s gaze, all the while im­bued with a dance-like sense of move­ment and fan­tasy.

He was also nom­i­nated sep­a­rately in the fea­ture film sec­tion for his doc­u­men­tary Finke: There and Back, a se­ri­ous ex­am­i­na­tion of the largest off-road mo­tor­sport event in the south­ern hemi­sphere, a highly dan­ger­ous ex­pe­di­tion into the Red Cen­tre in which he has com­peted seven times.

Which is where things get in­ter­est­ing. Although Finke didn’t take out the main prize, the in­ter­na­tion­ally ac­claimed pe­riod western Sweet Coun­try did.

In­spired by real events, Sweet Coun­try tells the story of an Abo­rig­i­nal farm­hand who shoots a white man in self-de­fence and then goes on the run, try­ing to es­cape a posse bent on re­venge.

It also hap­pens to have been made by River’s old man, War­wick Thorn­ton.

While this might seem to be a case of like fa­ther, like son, River’s mother, Pene­lope McDon­ald, is also a highly ac­claimed film­maker and the per­son to whom the young artist at­tributes much of his ob­ses­sive drive.

“I think what my Dad’s in­flu­enced me with mostly is the idea that we have these tools and we’re given these op­por­tu­ni­ties and it’s im­por­tant to re­ally say some­thing that’s worth­while,” River said.

“You shouldn’t make films purely for entertainment. What he’s taught me is to have some­thing to say. It’s as sim­ple as that.

“But my mother, she’s more hard­work­ing than him. He’s got some sort of nat­u­ral tal­ent, but I think I get a lot more work ethic from her.”

River de­scribes him­self as “an Abo­rig­i­nal Aus­tralian and very proud to be one”, but is quick to clar­ify that he also sees him­self as “that per­son who can float be­tween both worlds”.

“When I hang out with an Abo­rig­i­nal fam­ily or even just com­mu­nity, I’m def­i­nitely seen as the white­fella; when I hang out with my white friends, I’m the Abo­rig­i­nal guy. I find it a re­ally beau­ti­ful thing to be able to walk be­tween both worlds.”

Hav­ing bro­ken bones pur­su­ing his mo­tor­cy­cling pas­sion, he ad­mits it might be time to branch out. “You get older and that part of the brain that thinks about con­se­quences starts to kick in,” he said.

“But I’ve found other things. I’ve started surf­ing … yes, I know I live in the desert, but I spent a lot of time in Syd­ney re­cently.”


Dy­lan River at Dar­win’s Deckchair Cin­ema yes­ter­day

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