1988 / Director. Steve Jodrell.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
Every year when Australia Day approaches I turn my attention to culturally and/or historically significant films. I ordinarily watch a heap of Aussie films but this time of year provides more resonance to them. One of the most important Australian films was the 1955 classic JEDDA. It was the first film to feature Aboriginal lead actors and while its story and its portrayal of indigenous culture is less than perfect, it remains an important film nonetheless. Its breakthrough star was Robert Tudawali, who had been scouted by the legendary filmmaker Charles Chauvel. Coming from a remote community in the Northern Territory, Tudawali was taken to Sydney where he soon became a house-hold name. With the death of Chauval shortly after JEDDA's premiere Tudawali struggled to maintain his stardom and soon found himself battling to keep his head up. At the height of his fame he had starred in two feature films, a television series (Whiplash) and a vocal spokesman for Indigenous rights. Sadly following Chauvel's death Tudawali ran out of money, lost his family and returned home broke. His own death was at the hands of fellow members of his community who threw him onto a fire. It is speculated that they were envious of his celebrity status. Tudawali's story is an inspiring and heartbreaking one, which was told in this 1988 film TUDAWALI. Directed by Steve Jodrell (SHAME) the film is biographical and smartly narrates his life with intermitted scenes of him laying in hospital. The film captures the era nicely and depicts a time in Australia's history when indigenous people were still constitutionally considered as fauna and had no rights. For an "abbo" to become a movie star was outrageous at the time and the film captures that sentiment well. This was also a breakout performance for Ernie Dingo who, of course, went on to become a household name in his own right. He delivers a rock solid performance and embodies the character. Being a made-for-television film from the 80s, TUDAWALI is still unknown to may people. If you've never heard of it either then I highly recommend tracking it down... and while you're at it, grab a copy of JEDDA too (sadly, harder to find).