Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Beck Cole
Stars: Shai Pittman, Marcia Langton, Vanessa Worrell, Betty Sumner, Pauline Whyman, Tanith Glynn-Maloney.
Here I Am, which launched the Message Sticks Indigenous Film Festival, is a counterpoint to the recent Mad Bastards. Whereas that film was set in the Kimberleys and dealt more with issues facing indigenous males, Here I Am is a contemporary drama set in Adelaide and looking at the plight often facing indigenous females trying to survive in a hostile and often unforgiving environment.
Karen (Shai Pittman) has just been released from prison after a two-year sentence for drug-related offences. She is keen to reconnect with her young daughter, but her unforgiving mother Lois (Marcia Langton) is resentful of her presence and blocks all attempts at reconciliation. Meanwhile Karen has to convince the authorities that she has turned her life around.
She finds temporary accommodation in a woman’s shelter, run by the formidable Big Red (Vanessa Worrall). There she swaps personal stories and interacts with some of the other residents, including the angry Anita (Betty Sumner), the jovial Skinny (Pauline Whyman), and the drug addict Jody (Tanith Glynn-Maloney).
This is a heartfelt film about survival, redemption, forgiveness, and troubled mother-daughter relationships. There is an honesty and an emotional rawness to the material, although it ends on an optimistic note suggesting that Karen will be able to turn her lot around. The film is quite frank at times, and delivers some startling statistics about the likelihood of indigenous people ending up in prison; but there is something slightly prosaic about the way in which this information is handled.
Here I Am is the first feature film from writer/director Beck Cole (First Australians, etc), and she puts her short film and documentary background to good use in constructing a film that looks and feels realistic. Cole has used largely unknown and non-professional performers to bring a sense of verisimilitude to the material, although sometimes their lack of experience shows in the stilted delivery of dialogue. There is no denying the passion and commitment they bring to their roles though.
Langton is a well-known aboriginal rights activist, but she brings a suitably cold and severe quality to her performance. Whyman is a veteran aboriginal actress, and she brings some earthy humour to her performance. In her film debut Pittman, who is on screen for most of the film’s brisk 90 minutes, brings a wonderful combination of anger, frustration and vulnerability to her performance. Worrall is a social worker in real life, and this lends an authenticity to her performance.
The film is set in Adelaide and the locations are well used to add further authenticity to the material. Another bonus is the crisp cinematography from Cole’s husband Warwick Thornton (Samson & Delilah, etc).