SYDNEY (Reuters Life!) - Australia's indigenous films have come of age with a series of box office successes for movies depicting not only the harsh reality of life for disadvantaged Aborigines but also their comic streak and rich culture.
"Bran Nue Dae," a comic coming of age tale, took A$2.6 million ($2.34 million) at the Australian box office during its first week in January and has received widespread acclaim at the Sundance and Toronto film festivals.
"To be at each of those film festivals is unprecedented," said director Rachel Perkins, who also screened her film at the Berlin film festival. "It's a badge of honor in itself, so we are very proud of that."
"There are a lot of filmmakers that have realized that there are great stories to be told that come from the indigenous world. It's the first time that we've had something mainstream and comic and so it's managed to cut through," she added.
"I hope that it becomes another voice in the conversation about what Australia is about. Because, ultimately, cinema reflects the stories of a people and a country and there are many voices in Australia and Bran Nue Dae is one of them."
Bran Nue Dae has broken out of arthouse cinemas to be screened in mainstream movie complexes and heralds a shift in Australian cinema, say the country's film critics.
Sydney Morning Herald newspaper film critic Sandra Hall says Bran Nue Dae may encourage other Australian filmmakers to use a light touch in telling aboriginal stories.
Australia's disadvantaged 460,000 Aborigines make up about 2 percent of the population. They have a 17-year lower life expectancy than other Australians and suffer higher rates of unemployment, imprisonment, domestic abuse and substance abuse.
Bran Nue Dae is based on the hit 1990 play by Jimmy Chi about a teenage boy's search for his aboriginal identity and tracks his comic journey from the city to his outback home to meet a girl.
Director Perkins said she was drawn to the story because of, "its cheekiness and its humor and its subversive undertone."
Bran Nue Dae is in the same whacky, comic genre as internationally successful Australian movies "Priscilla Queen of the Desert" and "Muriel's Wedding," she added.
The film reportedly took more than A$5 million in three weeks, putting it in the top 50 Australian films of all time at the local box office, says Inside Film (www.if.com.au).
Ernie Dingo, one of Australia's leading aboriginal actors and a star in Bran Nue Dae, says the recent line of indigenous films, which also include "Stoner Bros," "Samson and Delilah" and "10 Canoes," have appealed to a broader, more receptive audience.
"For those who like something different, that like something Australiana, they'll find the beauty in it," Dingo said.
"It's no Ben Hur and it's no Avatar, it's just a fun movie, a happy go lucky movie that's made in Western Australia on a small budget, but with big prospects," he told Reuters.
Samson and Delilah, a story about Aboriginal love set in the outback amidst drug and alcohol abuse, won many awards at home, grossed A$3.2 million at the Australian box office in 2009 and was shortlisted for best foreign language Oscar.
"Each film is a different style, with a different story to tell, to a different audience. It's great to have that diversity," said Dingo.
Editing by Miral Fahmy