Continuing in the tradition of Australian films told through an indigenous perspective is the musical/comedy Bran Nue Dae.
Based on a long established stage musical written by Jimmy Chi, and set in the vast Western Australian landscape, Bran Nue Dae tells the story of a lovesick Aboriginal teenager who runs away from his Catholic boarding school, and gets into all sorts of trouble on his long road back to his home in Broome.
Playing the role is 15 year old Broome local Rocky McKenzie, who makes an impression in his film debut, singing, dancing, and acting alongside the likes of Oscar winner Geoffrey Rush and local pop starlet Jessica Mauboy.
The following is a conversation I had with young Mr. McKenzie about the film, his community, and his aspirations.
You had the premiere in Broome. How was that experience?
That was good! All of the community and everyone loved it.
Broome is your hometown. Did the family attend as well?
Yeah, a lot of my family came up and watched the film. They are pretty proud of me, so that was good.
Explain how you came about to audition for the role.
The producer (Graeme Isaac), director (Rachel Perkins), and choreographer (Stephen Page) came to the school, and wanted to meet some of the boys from the Football Academy, which is an indigenous program for young boys want to excel in football or any other career. And I went to the auditions to get out of the history class (laughs). So I did the auditions, me and about 20-30 boys from the Academy, got a call back, did multiple auditions, then flew down to Sydney and did a workshop, and then eventually got the part.
Was the auditions the first time you were aware of the stage play?
I was first aware of the stage play around two year ago, when I first met Jimmy Chi. So when I was around about 13.
I’ve noticed a lot of parallels between yourself and your character Willie. Did it often feel like you were playing an extension of yourself in front of the camera?
Yeah, it did actually. Willie is form Broome; I am from Broome. He goes up to Perth; and I was meant to go up to Perth school, but I decided not to and I am schooling in Broome now. So there a lot of similarities.
The part required you to dance and sing, as well as act. What type of preparation did you undergo beforehand?
Two weeks rehearsals. So I had to do dancing and singing....that was the first experience I had acting, singing, and dancing.
Well, you pulled it off rather well.
Jessica Mauboy and Missy Higgins also had their film debuts. Did it feel good to know that you weren’t the only new guy, and did you support each other through the shoot?
Yeah, we all sort of worked off each other, that sort of give and get. Geoffrey (Rush), Ernie (Dingo) and all of the experienced actors they made it easier for us, so that really helped. They didn’t really show us off, I would say. So that was kind of them. A lot of us non-actors kind of saw them as mentors. They gave us tips and we sort of learned from them.
Was it a daunting to task to work alongside an Oscar winner?
Yeah, it was. But I found it a privilege to act alongside such big names. It was a pleasure.
Geoffrey, of course, plays a Catholic priest in the film. Does the Catholic Church still have a prominent role in the community?
I wouldn’t say in Broome, but 200 km up from Broome there a lot of Catholic churches. That is where it is most strong, I reckon.
You mentioned before that you were poised to attend a Catholic boarding school in Perth...
Yeah, I got a couple of scholarships. But, I didn’t really....
So would acting be your new vocation? Is it something you’re looking to pursue?
I wouldn’t move anywhere to do any study of film or anything, but I reckon if opportunities or offers come my way, I’ll end up taking them.
You are a sports fan as well....
Yeah, I am pretty big on basketball and AFL.
And you have stated that in the future you would like to be a teacher in your community.
Yeah, I wouldn’t mind being a teacher or a sports and recreation officer...going out to all of the communities and helping all of the young indigenous people with their sport...because sport is pretty big in the indigenous community. It’s a way to get them out and get engaged in life.
Bran Nue Dae will be released on the 14th of January through Roadshow Pictures.