LIFF25: Toomelah - Cinema Review

'sixty percent of the shots are either out of focus, or switching between focuses, sixty percent of the time'

Toomelah hits, square on the nose, one of those inconvenient problems films come up against when casting non-professional actors. They can't act. Actually, that's obviously not fair. Lead Daniel Conners is rather wonderful and a few other scattered performances are decent too. But Daniel's on-screen mother is woeful and the vast majority of performers look distinctly uncomfortable in front of the camera.

That camera, controlled by writer/director Ivan Sen is the film's biggest problem. Sixty percent of the shots (particularly the mid-length ones) are either out of focus, or switching between focuses, sixty percent of the time. It's one of the most annoying and unnecessary things you can do when shooting a film and it soon starts to distract, then actively detract.

Unlike other works looking at Antipodean communities (notably Once Were Warriors), Toomelah succeeds in balancing its critiques with pangs of hope. Sen should be praised for the film's few lighter moments and his willingness to look to the future in focusing on the children. Equally its balance of critique is good too. The promotional material would have you believe the film looks specifically to the male role models but Daniel's female relatives are very obviously equally in the firing line.

The kicker - from an acting and directing standpoint - is the fact that there are at least four moments when actors look into the camera. There's no excuse for those shots not to have been re-shot and the narrative arc of Toomelah just isn't strong enough to make you forget about its significant technical failures. A shame, seeing as there are some notable ideas operating here.

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'Sen’s handheld digital camerawork, much of it shot at sunrise or sunset, is tasty and colour-saturated; there are no haunting didgeridoos on the soundtrack, instead the kind of commercial hip-hop that young people on the reservations actually listen to' - Screen Daily

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