Yet, here’s where my foot stomping comes into play:
Where the fuck is Sweet Country on ‘Best of 2018’ film lists?
Over on Metacritic, Sweet Country sits comfortably in the eighth position alongside Bisbee 17, Can You Ever Forgive Me, Hereditary, and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse as being some of the films with a rating of 87/100. Almost all of the other films in the list are mentioned at length in ‘Best of 2018’ lists.
The lists that have featured Sweet Country include:
The Irish Times – ranked 27th out of 50
The Guardian (UK) – ranked 40th out of 50
The Guardian (US) – ranked 42nd out of 50
Vue Weekly – not ranked
BBC Culture – not ranked
Scene 360 – ranked 7th out of 10
Here’s where I need to give myself a reality check:
I love Sweet Country. I think I’ve made that pretty clear with the coverage I’ve given on this site, as well as the constant mentioning of the film on social media. I honestly believe that if it had the Coen Brothers-level name on it, it would be sitting right at the top of the Oscar prediction charts and people would be falling over themselves to call it the best film of the year.
But, it isn’t directed by the Coen Brothers. Nope. It’s directed by Warwick Thornton – an indigenous Australian filmmaker.
There’s little that’s ‘romantic’ about Australia. It’s a harsh, desolate place. There’s a misguided perspective that everything in Australia wants to kill you. The wounds that birthed modern Australia still bleed, and the reconciliation that indigenous Australia deserves remains disturbingly absent. Sweet Country comes along, digging deep into those wounds and explores Australian history from an indigenous perspective, working to get viewers to understand and empathise that this trauma resonates through time.
This is not to say that American history is ‘romantic’ – quite the opposite. It’s just that there are more people willing to have the discussion about American history than there are willing to explore Australia’s history.
In a year where Spike Lee looked at the history of racism in America with BlacKkKlansman and held a mirror up to society and forced us to realise how little has changed, it’s a shame that the same accolades that are (justifiably) lauded onto that film aren’t applied to Sweet Country. Films about American history and the racism that has unfurled through time regularly get discussed – mostly because racism is still a major issue plaguing the country at large. 12 Years a Slave comes along and wins Best Picture at the Academy Awards. It’s a film that’s equally as traumatic a watch as Sweet Country – nobody leaves the film feeling better than they went in.
(I want to make it clear, I’m not saying these films shouldn’t be discussed, I’m merely asking, why aren’t Australian films added into the discussion?)
Maybe that’s why Sweet Country failed to connect with people on a wider scale? While America is open to explore its history and the foundations that the country was built on, Australia is a country that is less open to this occurring. So when Sweet Country comes along and digs into the traumatic past of Australia, viewers shrug their shoulders and say it’s too bleak, or too dark, or boring. As Warwick Thornton said, Sweet Country is a film that’s for Australia. But, if Australia doesn’t even bother to embrace Sweet Country, then what’s the point?
Heck, what’s the point of the AACTA Awards if it does little to encourage people to watch the films that win? The AACTA Awards have already gone through an identity crisis of late with purely American films (Hacksaw Ridge and The Great Gatsby) winning the top prize simply because they had Australian funding and because they were made in Australia. In a bid to try and be relevant to international audiences, the AACTA Awards appear to kowtow to decidedly non-Australian films. It comes off as a little bit desperate.
From an international perspective, the AACTA’s barely get a mention in the news. Variety put out a quick copy and paste of the press release announcing the awards, and The Hollywood Reporter gave a puff piece about Nicole Kidman winning an award (Sweet Country doesn’t get a mention til paragraph four) but there’s little value put in the awards themselves – especially when compared to the BAFTA’s or the Cesar’s. This is part of a wider discussion that definitely needs to be had, with the instigating question being: what makes an Australian film Australian?
After all, if you take a quick gander at the box office for Australian cinema this year, you’ll find that the decidedly un-Australian Peter Rabbit is the highest grossing Australian film of the year. The irony is real – the rabbit-proof fence couldn’t stop the invasion of the lupine maniacs in this bastardisation of Beatrix Potter’s greatest creation on the Australian box office.
Here is a look at the top ten Australian films for 2018 (figures taken from Box Office Mojo):
- Peter Rabbit – $20,492,835 (8 overall)
- Ladies in Black – $8,531,553 (26 overall)
- Breath – $3,285,371 (61 overall)
- Sweet Country – $1,386,039 (95 overall)
- Swinging Safari – $1,236,408 (98 overall)
- Boy Erased – $943,141 (103 overall)
- Gurrumul – $704,070 (113 overall)
- Winchester – $554,343 (121 overall)
- Working Class Boy – $535,182 (125 overall)
- Mary Magdalene – $420,705 (143 overall)
Now, nobody expected a film like Sweet Country to be the top of the box office, and its return of $1,386,039 is a very modest take. But, Australian films need to start becoming relevant internationally for them to push past being discussed in a small group of dedicated film fans. Yes, there are many out there who push the Australian film agenda – and for those that do, thank you! – but what use is an Australian film industry if it’s not reaching abroad? What use is a catalogue of Australian culture if there are few people engaging with it?