Having premiered at Adelaide Film Festival in 2018, Emu Runner, helmed by Imogen Thomas in her feature film debut, is a story about how a mother’s death affects an Aboriginal family living in an isolated community. Gem, a strong-willed 8-year-old girl, is dealing with the grief of her mother by bonding with a wild Emu. While the bond helps her connection to her culture flourish, it puts her at odds with her social worker.

Emu Runner stars Wayne Blair as Jay Jay, Gem’s father. While Gem is struggling in her own ways, Jay Jay is also struggling with the loss of his wife, the added responsibility of being a working parent, and the troubles that his other children seem to get themselves into. Wayne Blair has been a screen and TV regular for years now, and his experience shows here as he delivers line with ease. I look at Blair, who directed 2019 hit Aussie rom-com Top End Wedding, as the Aboriginal equivalent to Morgan Freeman, with a smooth and soothing voice, and as such, it’s a pleasure to watch him perform.

Gem is played by Rhae-Kye Waites, who is also a pleasure to watch in her acting debut. Rhae-Kye is joyful, happy and is in her element playing around with Emu’s in the wild. Her on screen relationship with Blair works very well also, with the pair working quite well together. Gems Social worker, Heidi, is played by Georgie Blizzard. She plays the role well, showing concern for Gems welfare as she is supposed to. Another Aussie screen and TV regular in Rob Carlton plays Police Officer Stan. Carlton is good at looking like a grumpy judgemental cop, pushing stereotypes as the not unrealistic character.

Imogen Thomas, whose heavy workload included writer and producer as well as director does a good job at the helm, especially for her first time. The story is clear and concise, and the film comes together well, with decent cinematography from Michael Gibbs, but unfortunately in its entirety, it is a little bland.

While the script is well written, Thomas has put minimal conflict in between the characters. This lessens the impact of the dramatic events that go on throughout the film, in turn, lowering our investment in it, and in Emu Runner’s characters. For example, Aboriginal kids being taken by social services or the like is a real problem within Indigenous families and would be cause for more concern than portrayed in the film. On the same note, school absences – even when witnessed by Gems social worker – seemingly go unnoticed until after quite a lot of them. Heidi, the social worker, even witnesses Gem take food scraps from a bin and assumes it’s for food for her but ignores it.

But the performance from Rhae-Kye act’s somewhat as a remedy for this, her joyful innocence a big positive of the film. Blair’s performance also helps to restrain any ill feelings towards the film, offering a sincere performance, as a father trying to make the best out of a bad situation.

Emu Runner is a competent look at the relationships between a broken family, well-acted and well directed, but it doesn’t quite delve deep enough into those relationships, or the root causes of the issues it touches on to make a dramatic impact.

Director: Imogen Thomas

Cast: Rhae-Kye Waites, Wayne Blair, Georgia Blizzard

Writer: Imogen Thomas