May 12, 2013
Echoes of two real-life killings surround the new Australian film Mystery Road.
During filming in outback Queensland, an accused killer on the run auditioned for an extras role. He won the job – playing a cop – but had to leave town before he was needed on set.
Arrested later in Darwin, the would-be extra was alleged to have decapitated a neighbour.
Director Ivan Sen’s tale, about an Aboriginal detective investigating the murder of a teenage girl in an outback town, made headlines for that incident last year and has been chosen to open the Sydney Film Festival next month.
”That morning I had to go and pick up another cast member in Longreach,” he says. ”But it was quite weird.”
Hugo Weaving, who plays ”a left-of-centre cop”, also missed the wanted man’s visit.
”I went up there a couple of days after that,” he says.
Until he launched the festival program last week, director Nashen Moodley knew nothing of what he calls a bizarre story but considers Mystery Road an impressive new work – part western, part murder mystery – from one of the country’s most talented directors.
”It works really well as entertainment but is also saying something very important,” he says.
But the real crime connection goes well beyond that incident on set.
Sen, an indigenous filmmaker who grew up around Moree, says the death that sparks the investigation in Mystery Road was inspired by the unsolved murder of a teenage Aboriginal girl who was a distant relative in northern NSW.
As in the film, she was found, brutally beaten, in a drain under a highway.
”The police have seemingly done very little to bring her killer to justice and this has brought resentment from the local indigenous community,” he says.
The film shows the detective navigating the racism experienced by the Aboriginal community and their contempt for a predominantly white police force.
Like The Mule, a film about a drug courier which is shooting in Melbourne, Mystery Road shows Weaving’s interest in working on small-scale Australian projects despite his international profile afterThe Matrix, The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies.
”I think I enjoy them more,” he says. ”They’re smaller, more intimate productions, fewer people on set, working in this country with fellow actors from here. There’s something about doing that that really excites me more than anything else.”
Weaving is also head of the jury at the festival, which runs from June 5 to June 16.