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Laramie Movie Scope:
Rabbit-Proof Fence

One of history's greatest escapes

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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April 7, 2003 -- "Rabbit-Proof Fence" is a haunting film about one of the great escapes of all time. Young girls, separated from their mother by Nazi-like racist government policies in Australia, escape from their captors and set off on an incredible journey of 1,500 miles on foot to return to their family. Based on a true story set in 1931, it is an escape which matches any other in the degree of courage, daring, endurance and ingenuity exhibited by the three little girls who attempted it.

The three Aboriginal girls, Molly (played by Everlyn Sampi) 14, her sister, Daisy (Tianna Sansbury) 8, and their cousin Gracie (Laura Monaghan) 10, live with Molly and Daisy's mother Maude (Ningali Lawford), their Grandmother Frinda (Myarn Lawford) and Gracie's mother Lily (Sheryl Carter) near the small Western Australian depot of Jigalong. Since the three girls have fathers who are white, they are considered "half-caste" children. Government policies dictate that they are not allowed to marry other Aborigines. The idea is to breed out the Aboriginal racial characteristics completely.

A.O. Neville (Kenneth Branagh of "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets"), the governmental Chief Protector of Aborigines in Western Australia, orders the three girls to be relocated to a facility 1,500 miles away. They are forcibly separated from their mothers. At the school where they are sent, they are trained to be domestic servants. They are taught to read and write, but they are forbidden to use their native language. Occasionally, girls try to escape from the school, but they are always caught by the school's native tracker, Moodoo (David Gulpilil of "Crockodile Dundee"), whose own daughter is being held at the school.

One day, Molly, the oldest, sees a thunderstorm on the horizon. Knowing that the rain will erase their tracks, she decides immediately to escape with Daisy and Gracie. The run across country to escape the tracker and to get back home. They know the approximate direction they must travel, but they don't know the exact way home until they come across the rabbit-proof fence. The fence, the longest in the world, was built to keep the rabbits out of the agricultural areas of Australia. Molly knows that if they follow the fence it will lead them home since the same fence runs near Jigalong. In fact, their fathers, who have long since moved on, helped to build the fence.

Moodoo loses the trail of the girls in a stream, but authorities eventually figure out that the girls are following the fence, so Moodoo and police are dispatched to patrol the fence, looking for them. In addition to hiding from their pursuers, the girls must also survive the hostile desert country they find themselves in. Finding food and water in this vast wasteland is not easy, but their traditional Aboriginal upbringing gives them the skills they need. One of the many interesting things about this story is that the three girls are helped by many people along their journey, including some white people. The governments resettlement policy was not widely known, it seems, or supported by many whites. They saw young girls who needed help and they helped them.

Cinematographers Christopher Doyle ("The Quiet American") and Brad Shield capture the stark beauty of the Australian Outback in a variety of wide angle, telephoto and aerial shots. The images, from sweeping vistas to closeups of people's faces, are handled expertly. One interesting shot shows a close up of Molly's face, using a telephoto lens. Molly's face shimmers in the heat distortion of distance. The actors in the film are all convincing, and director Philip Noyce and screenwriter/producer Christine Olsen conjure up a compelling story based on the intertwined elements of human drama, survival and pursuit. The screenplay also demonstrates how people can sometimes do terrible things with the best of intentions. In the film, Neville clearly thinks he is helping the children he has ordered separated from their families. In fact, he thinks he is helping the entire aboriginal race, which he thinks is dying out. This is an instructional film, and it is a compelling drama at the same time. It rates a B.

Note: This movie is based on the book: "Follow The Rabbit-Proof Fence" by Doris Pilkington Garimara. Doris is the daughter of Molly, portrayed in the movie by Everlyn Sampi. After Molly returned home, she married and had two children. She and the two children were captured and forcibly separated from each other by the government. Once more, Molly escaped and returned home, carrying Annabelle, her baby. Once more Annabelle was taken from Molly, and she never saw her again, but she was reunited with her other daughter, Doris, 30 years later. Molly (85 years) and Daisy (79 years) are still living in Jigalong today and we do see them as they appear now at the end of the movie. The governmental policy of removing half-caste children from their families continued until 1971.

Click here for links to places to buy this movie in video and/or DVD format, the soundtrack, books, even used videos, games and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2003 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)