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Interview with Warwick Thornton

Aired March 25, 2010 - 17:49:00   ET




MAX FOSTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Australian film director Warwick Thornton isn't afraid of taking on hard-hitting subjects. His internationally acclaimed film, "Samson and Delilah," brings the plight of Australia's indigenous communities to the big screen. Set in an isolated town in the Central Australian desert, two teenagers fall in love.


FOSTER: Despite a lot of poverty, violence, drugs and abuse, they manage to survive.

WARWICK THORNTON, DIRECTOR: I wanted to make a film that was about the beauty of our children and the -- and the smartness and the -- and the love that we should have for them as human beings, not as problems or victims.

FOSTER: Aboriginal filmmaker Warwick Thornton grew up in Alice Springs, near where his movie was shot, and says that everything in the film is seen with his own eyes. He describes "Samson and Delilah" as an untold story, one he simply had to tell.


FOSTER: It's gone on to win a host of international awards, including the Camera d'Or for best feature film at the Cannes Film Festival last year.


FOSTER: A director whose film is a snapshot of Australia the world really sees, Warwick Thornton is your Connector of the Day.



I'm Max Foster.

And I caught up with Warwick here in London and asked him what viewers will take home after watching the film.


THORNTON: It's a teenage love story set in -- in a place that probably a lot of people have never had access to before, which is Central Australia. And, you know, we've all fallen in love. And, you know, we've all had those sort of tragedies in our lives. And I think it's the -- the most empowering thing about "Samson and Delilah" is that there is that connection -- a universal connection to -- to love and using it to survive.

FOSTER: Is this is about kids, teenagers in neglected areas or is this about aborigines?

THORNTON: It's -- you know, the universal thing is that, you know, you may never meet Samson and Delilah, two kids from Alice Springs who were in love but homeless and -- and neglected, but they are on the streets of London and they are on the streets of -- of New York. And they're in the little towns scattered around the world.

So it's -- you know, it's -- there is a -- for me personally, I'd -- I'd hope that people would see that bigger picture.

FOSTER: OK. A lot of the questions coming into us are from people who've seen it and sort of look to you for sort of inspiration and answers to huge questions. I'm going to give them a go.

Here's W.E. Gutman from Los Angeles in the US: "Is there hope for the aboriginal people of Australia or do you predict that they'll be, ultimately, led to extinction, as Native-Americans have been in the US?," in their words.

THORNTON: Oh, I -- I -- I think there'd be a lot of Native-Americans absolutely turning upside down at the moment. No, we -- we're here to stay. You know, we've had every possible thing thrown at us, from genocide to, you know, just -- just pure neglect. And, you know, we've -- we've actually become stronger and more instilled and distilled in our -- in our thought processes as indigenous people.

This is the thing, you know, there is -- that is -- there is that sort of argument about color in that. But you can actually -- a lot of indigenous people are, you know, light colored like me. You know, it's the blood that frows -- flows through your veins and you keeping your spirituality and your culture alive.

So, you know, I -- we will be here forever...

FOSTER: That...

THORNTON: -- which is a beautiful thing.

FOSTER: Yes. And it's -- this is a link question from Z.C. Wang, but it's more international, if you like: "There are people around the world," he says, "that have been oppressed and some of them are still being oppressed and maligned by mainstream culture. Do you think -- or what do you think people can do to help them or you can do to help them?"

THORNTON: Knowledge -- knowledge is power, do you know what I mean?

And it -- it is that kind of idea that -- that you -- if you give something like "Samson and Delilah" to a wider audience and you teach them some ways that -- that we know as indigenous people, you know, these sort of things make you a better human being and, you know, you can use that next time you meet an aboriginal, you know, in Central Australia or indigenous people from all around the world. You know, we are fighting for our survival and our own uniqueness and our language. We want to keep our language and our lore and our cultures alive.

So it's really important to -- to -- for us, as aboriginal people, to give, you know, information and for us to -- to share our culture with the rest of the world.

That will -- I think that is -- is -- that passing on of those kind of things, that sort of giving is something that will actually create, you know, a better world.

FOSTER: Land does come into it very often and it has in this one.

Ana Beloso from the Caribbean thinks that: "a sense of pride should be restored to the aboriginal community" and thinks the best way to do this would be to grant communities large areas of land.

What do you think of that?

THORNTON: You know, we -- well, we -- we do have large areas of land. And we, you know, we use it for all of our sort of cultural maintenance that, you know, of language and story and songs, because all of our songs are pretty well based on -- on the, you know, the knowledge of the land and the sort of journeys through the land.

It -- you know, it's -- it's -- it's about everything, you know. It's -- it is about land, but it's about economics and it's about taking -- you know, it's really basic things, like education for children and health, you know, for children. These kind of things are very much neglected in indigenous communities because they're so far out in -- in the middle of deserts and sort of out of the way of the tourist trek and all that kind of stuff, that they can sort of be pushed to the side.

And for governments, they're very -- they're very expensive, because, you know, putting a clinic into a place that's in the middle of nowhere, you know, for a couple of hundred people, it can be very expensive. And they'd rather, you know, do it in a city.

FOSTER: Well, you've achieved huge things with this film. The critics around the world absolutely adore it, don't they?

And this is a question from Jurgen Brul from the Republic of Suriname. That's in South America. He asks: "What can we expect from you in 2010?"

You've got a lot to live up to, haven't you?

What are you going to do next time?

THORNTON: Yes. There's -- there's an awful amount of pressure for the -- for the new feature film. I just -- straight after Cannes last year, I started a documentary series called "Art and Soul," which is about indigenous art in Australia and how incredibly empowering and beautiful and how all our art comes from, you know, a pure spirituality and sort of dissecting certain works and meeting incredible artists in remote places.

So I'm just about to finish that documentary series. And then straight after that I've got a new picture film that I'm writing called "The Father and the Son," which is a period film set in the 40s in a -- in a Benedictine monastery. And it's sort of the clash of Christianity and aboriginal spirituality and how they -- they're like sort of two rams butting their heads against each other, but then again, they gel incredibly beautifully, as well.


FOSTER: Warwick Thornton there.

Make sure you tune in for tomorrow's Connector of the Day. That's musician and social activist Pete Wentz. You may know him better as the front man for the U.S. band Fall Out Boy. He's also married to one of the most posh -- closely watched celebs on the paparazzi circuit, and that is Ashlee Simpson.

If you've got something you'd like to ask Pete, then do send us your question and remember to tell us where you're writing from. And all the details you'll find at