Sydney Film Festival Review: ‘We Don’t Need A Map’

We Don't Need A Map

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This review is part of a wrap from Sydney Film Festival 2017. Read more here.

In 2010, not long after the release of his critically acclaimed first feature Samson and Delilah, Indigenous filmmaker Warwick Thornton told a journalist he was worried that the Southern Cross was becoming an icon of division and hate. “I’m starting to see that star system symbol being used as a very racist nationalistic emblem,” he said. “We don’t want to turn the Southern Cross into a swastika.”

Naturally, the director’s comments went down like a lead balloon, especially among those whose love-it-or-leave-it brand of patriotism seems to grow more and more fashionable with every passing year with the kinds of people who consider themselves “real” Australians (whatever the hell that even means). The kinds of people who think a beach is for them and nobody else. The kinds of people who rage against boat people without ever thinking about how their own family got to this country in the first place.

“I got really afraid,” Thornton admitted in an interview with Screen NSW earlier this year. “People had access to just abuse the fuck out of me on social media. So I got quite scared, and sort of slowly over the last couple of years that fear turned into anger.”

Ultimately he channelled that anger into We Don’t Need A Map, an entertaining gonzo-style doco about the history and meaning of the southern hemisphere’s most iconic constellation. Thornton speaks with Australians from all walks of life: astrologers, academics, rappers and even ad execs, as well as a tattoo artist who made a killing in the wake of the Cronulla riots (go figure). Then there’s the tattoo removalist who, in a stroke of perfect irony, is currently in the middle of having her own Southern Cross tatt lasered from her skin.

But the movie’s most memorable moments are the quiet conversations between Thornton and a number of Indigenous elders, who share stories of what the stars mean to Australia’s First Peoples — of creation, and the dreaming, and a giant celestial emu that left a footprint in the sky.

Tom Clift is Junkee’s weekend and morning editor. He also writes for Concrete Playground, is the co-founder of Movie Mezzanine, and tweets sporadically at @tom_clift