The film is based on a real life true crime murder case where an Aboriginal man was arrested and put on trial for murdering a white man in central Australia during the 1920s.
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The picture's director Warwick Thornton has said of this movie's filming locations and settings: "That landscape around Alice Springs is sacred. The MacDonnell Ranges are always in my mind from growing up there with my family. So, Sweet Country (2017) is a film about the land and our family, and what happened when the missionaries and pastoralists arrived."
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Many local townspeople of the Australian outback town of Alice Springs in the Northern Territory appeared in the film as extras and background artists.
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Reportedly, the film' screenplay was inspired by indigenous Australian Aboriginal tribal stories told down the ancestral line by the grandfather of the film's co-screenwriter David Tranter.
Reportedly, the character of the teenage boy Philomac is actually portrayed by two actors, Trevorn Doolan and Tremayne Doolan, who are both brothers and also twins.
The name of the silent movie screened in the country town was not "The True History of the Kelly Gang" but 1906's "The Story of the Kelly Gang". In 2007, "The Story of the Kelly Gang" was inscribed on the UNESCO Memory of the World Register for being the world's first full-length narrative feature film.
Director Warwick Thornton has said of the film's exploration of frontier justice: "The rule of law was the last to arrive and the first to be broken. Sweet Country (2017) is our history."
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Publicity for this picture states that this Australian film "is a true collaboration utilizing locations, government assistance and filmmakers from all across Australia".
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The majority of this Australian film's cast are primarily indigenous Aboriginal Australians.
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The production filmed at a whole colonial town set which had been constructed for a film of Henry Lawson's story 'The Drover's Wife'. This story has been filmed at least twice [See: The Drover's Wife (1968) and The Drover's Wife (1984)]. This mini set town is located at Ooraminna Station which is approximately about forty kilometers south of Alice Springs in the Northern Territory. Previously, the South Australian pioneer village of Old Tailem Town at Tailem Bend had been used for Twin Rivers (2007) whilst town scenes for Lost in the Wild (1976) were filmed at the heritage listed Australiana Pioneer Village in New South Wales, Australia. However, neither of these two earlier films which used pioneer villages as town sets, were "westerns". Sweet Country (2017) producer David Jowsey has said: "At Ooraminna there's a whole town that was built for 'The Drover's Wife', there's an old police station and a general store already there, we've just added a few things to fit in with our film".
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Though the film is described as a "western", the era of "The West" officially ends by the early 1900s or by circa 1912, and this film is set during the 1920s in 1929. As such, the film, arguably, cannot technically be classified as a "western" within the traditional historical time-frame of the era of the American West. Some historians state that this period of the American West ran for only three decades or thirty years, i.e. from 1865 to 1895, which is a period which has an even earlier end date. The 'American Historama' website states: "The period of the Wild West was from 1865-1895, a period of thirty years." The Wikipedia website define the era of the "American Frontier" in two classes: Territorial Expansion (1607-1912) and Myth of the Old West (1783-1920). During the 1970s, Hollywood made a western-style western picture which was set in the middle of the 20th century, in 1945 [See: Comes a Horseman (1978)]. Most Western movies are set during the second half of the 19th century (1850-1899) with some being set in the first half of the 1800s (1800-1850).
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The film won two awards at the 2017 Venice Film Festival - the Special Jury Prize and the Premio Bisato d'Oro award, the latter of which is the Venice Critic's Award for Best Film at the festival. Panelists on the Venice Jury included [in alphabetical order by surname]: Annette Bening, Ildikó Enyedi, Michel Franco, Rebecca Hall, Anna Mouglalis, David Stratton, Jasmine Trinca, Edgar Wright and Yonfan.
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Actors Sam Neill and Bryan Brown have both previously starred together in such feature films as The Good Wife (1987), Dirty Deeds (2002), My Talks with Dean Spanley (2008), as well as the television series, Old School (2014). The pair have also collaborated on Leunig: How Democracy Actually Works (2002) and both appeared in such other filmed productions as the documentary David Stratton: A Cinematic Life (2017) and the "Von Stauffenberg's Stamp" episode of the television series Two Twisted (2005) [See: Two Twisted: Von Stauffenberg's Stamp (2006)].
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Publicity for this picture has reported that this film "received major production investment and development support from Screen Australia's Indigenous Department, in association with the South Australian Film Corporation, Screen NSW, Screen Territory, and the Adelaide Film Festival, with international sales being handled by Memento, and the Australian release by Transmission Films."
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This movie is debuting theatrically in 2017 having its cinema premieres in this year which is the 30th Anniversary of The Good Wife (1987), which was the first full dramatic theatrical feature film that actors Sam Neill and Bryan Brown both starred in together, with both appearing again in Sweet Country (2017), which is the actors' fourth feature film collaboration together. Their other two cinema movie collaborations are Dirty Deeds (2002) and My Talks with Dean Spanley (2008).
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Arguably, this movie is the first ever major indigenous Australian Aboriginal theatrical feature film in the western film genre.
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Second film with the word "country" in the title of director Warwick Thornton who previously directed a documentary called Buried Country (2000). Moreover, it is also the second filmed production of director Warwick Thornton to feature the word "sweet" in the title, after the "Bitter + Sweet" episode of the Art+Soul (2010) television series [See: Art+Soul: Bitter + Sweet (2010)].
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One of the film's producers, Greer Simpkin, has said of this picture: "It is a great privilege to bring together a team of indigenous creatives that we have admired for years to realize Sweet Country (2017). This is a powerful story from the heart of the country that we believe will resonate with audiences here and overseas."
CEO of the South Australian Film Corporation, Annabelle Sheehan, said of this film in 2017: "Sweet Country (2017) is a visceral and compelling film, and so richly deserves its place premiering on this prestigious international stage. Having Warwick [director Warwick Thornton] work with our South Australian crews was a fantastic opportunity", and prior to production in 2016, "the creative team behind Sweet Country (2017) is extraordinary and they have developed a really compelling project for which northern South Australia will supply a magnificent backdrop to tell part of that story. The film's highly talented director Warwick Thornton generously gave his time to mentor South Australian Aboriginal filmmakers at our August drama workshop. We are delighted to welcome him back to the state."
Debut produced screenplay for a full length dramatic theatrical feature film for both of the movie's screenwriters David Tranter and Steven McGregor.
The Ooraminna Homstead was used as the main location base originally for a film that never was made over 25 yrs ago. But it all needed major repair work & changes by the Art Department to make it safe to film in & change the time period & style to 1929. Major sets were built for this movie including the Police Station set & the Prison Cells they were not existing along with the main Homestead of Sam Neils character that was later removed back to its natural bush state. But FYI the police station & cells are still there at the homestead but they wanted them moved 60 meters so they are still there if you want to look at it along with all the other town set and the other small homesteads made and modified that made into the Directors vision of "Sweet Country".
The 'Creative Spirits' website reports that "Sweet Country (2017) was filmed at Ooraminna Station, about 40 kilometres south of Alice Springs, NT [Northern Territory, Australia]".
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CEO of Screen NSW, Courtney Gibson, who part funded the production, said of this film: "Warwick [director Warwick Thornton] is a fearless, hugely creative filmmaker whose work is profound and deeply affecting. We're proud to support him on Sweet Country (2017) as he works alongside two of NSW's leading producers, David Jowsey and Greer Simpkin".
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This movie is debuting theatrically in 2017 having its cinema premieres in this year which is the 30th Anniversary of another "Sweet Country" movie, an unrelated Michael Cacoyannis (Michael Cacoyannis) same-titled film which shares the same name [See: Sweet Country (1987)].
This western movie, which in part shot in South Australia, debuted in 2017, which was the 65th Anniversary year of the 20th Century Fox produced American Hollywood western movie Kangaroo (1952), which also was in part shot in South Australia.
The picture received major production investment and development support from Screen Australia's Indigenous Department, in association with the South Australian Film Corporation, Create NSW, Screen Territory and the Adelaide Film Festival, with international sales being handled by Memento Films International with the Australian release distributed by Transmission Films.
This Australian film was filmed in both South Australia and the Northern Territory but was post-produced in New South Wales. As such, the production of this picture took place across three Australian states or territories.
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The official Producers' Statement about the film by its producers Greer Simpkin and David Jowsey reads: "Warwick Thornton's films mark him as a unique voice in Australian cinema. His great film, 'Samson and Delilah' won the prestigious Camera d'Or at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival. His short films have played at the A List International festivals. Both 'Nana' and 'Greenbush' premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival - with 'Nana' winning the Crystal Bear for Best Short Film. Each of Warwick's films offers a powerful personal vision.. He is above all, a director, but Warwick Thornton is also an award-winning cinematographer and he shot 'Sweet Country' together with his son Dylan River. 'Sweet Country' is a period western and a chase thriller, delivering the unique and artistic vision Warwick Thornton brings to his films. Warwick employs the iconography of a classic period Western, evidenced in wardrobe, location and the production design. Yet he brings his own particular visual style and staging to the film. The film employs a wonderful mix of marquee Australian actors and local first time actors from Alice Springs which gives a powerful sense of authenticity to the story and the world. We have Sam Neill as religious good Samaritan 'Fred Smith', Bryan Brown as the tough local police sergeant 'Fletcher',Ewen Leslie as the shell-shocked first world war veteran 'Harry March', a Thomas M. Wright as the selfish narcissist 'Kennedy'. They all deliver outstanding performances. These performances are matched by our local Alice Springs Aboriginal actors primarily from the 'Arrernte' tribal group and most related to one another. Hamilton Morris plays 'Sam Kelly', one of the lead roles in the film. Hamilton had acted on the television series '8MMM' shot previously in Alice Springs. The role of the young boy Philomac was in fact played by 13 year old identical twins, Tremayne and Trevon Doolan. It was the twins' first experience in front of the camera and they combine brilliantly to portray the vulnerable Philomac coming of age into a rapidly changing world. 'Sweet Country' offers a stunning cinematic vision set in the magnificent desert landscape of the MacDonnell Ranges around Alice Springs in central Australia. The fictional town of 'Henry' is located at Ooramina Homestead some 30 kilometers from the town of Alice Springs. Ooramina boasts some period buildings built as a set for an earlier movie that never eventuated. Production Designer Tony Cronin was able to extend and enhance the existing buildings and construct more buildings to make the period town of 'Henry'. When the Europeans first came to settle in Central Australia they tended to be either pastoralists or missionaries. In Sweet Country the character of 'Fred Smith' (Sam Neill) represents this religious engagement with the Aboriginal people. Fred is a good man [he says at one point] 'we are all equal in the eyes of the Lord', and so he treats his Aboriginal workers well. We see Fred leave his station in the care of his main stockman 'Sam Kelly' (Hamilton Morris) and head into the frontier town of 'Henry' to oversee the building of the new church. However by the end of the film we learn that all of Fred's good intentions mean nothing and his religion cannot 'save' Sam. 'Sweet Country' has no music in the film. Director Warwick Thornton chose not to have music, instead wanted to create a soundscape of the desert, inviting audiences to feel and hear the desert wind, the birds and insects. Warwick Thornton's films always say a lot about our society and identity. 'Sweet Country' is a stunning complex and layered work that comes together brilliantly as an action chase thriller, but also in its deeper exploration of the violence and bigotry at the heart of our country and its history. 'Sweet Country' delivers a story of black and white frontier conflict, yet turns the central theme of justice on its head, to both surprise and ultimately move audiences."
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The film was entered into and selected to screen in Official Competition at the Venice International Film Festival in September 2017 where it made its World Premiere. The film was one of four Australian films selected to screen at this film fest. Screen Australia reported: "West of Sunshine (2017) will also make its world premiere competing in the Orizzonti section and The Knife Salesman (2017) will screen in competition in Orizzonti - Short Films. In a first for an Australian film, 'Strange Colours' will screen as part of the Biennale College."
Screenwriter David Tranter's filmography features an extensive background in sound department roles, such as boom operator and sound recordist, but Tranter did not do sound duties on this filmed production.
The film was selected to be the Closing Night Film in the Platform section of the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival.
Producers David Jowsey and Greer Simpkin recently produced another Australian outback dramatic thriller movie, Goldstone (2016), which was set in contemporary times, unlike Sweet Country (2017), which is an historical period western suspense adventure drama.
This western movie, which shot in part in South Australia, is not the first western picture to film in this Australian state. The silent western The Rancher's Daughter (1925) was filmed in the Adelaide Hills and Mount Barker, whilst the Hollywood produced western film Kangaroo (1952), from the 20th Century Fox Studio, filmed in both New South Wales and South Australia, of the latter Australian state, South Australia, mainly in the environs of Quorn, Port Augusta, Sandy Creek, Catninga, Buckaringa Gorge, and the Flinders Ranges.
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This western film, which in part shot in South Australia, features a cast of mainly indigenous Aboriginal Australians. The earlier Australian western movie, Kangaroo (1952), which also shot in part in South Australia, also featured indigenous Aboriginal Australians in some sequences. So did the later Australian "western" pictures Red Hill (2010), The Proposition (2005), and Quigley Down Under (1990).
The film is having its Australian premiere at the Adelaide Film Festival just as its director Warwick Thornton's previous and first dramatic feature film Samson and Delilah (2009) had done in 2009.
The film was originally intended to "be ready for Cannes 2017" according to an article published by 'Screen Daily' published on 3rd November 2016. Director Warwick Thornton's previous and first dramatic feature film Samson and Delilah (2009) won the prestigious Camera d'Or award at the Cannes Film Festival in 2009.
Artistic Director of the Adelaide Film Festival, Amanda Duthie, which is launching this film's Australian Premiere about a month after its World Premiere at the Venice Film Festival, said that it was important to have visionary film makers like director Warwick Thornton telling real Australian stories. She said: "The Adelaide Film Festival is proud to have funded Sweet Country (2017) and we look forward to presenting the premiere in October".
Director of Screen Territory, of Australia's Northern Territory, Sally Ingleton, said of this film: "Screen Territory is thrilled that Sweet Country (2017) is going to premiere at the prestigious Venice Film Festival. We are proud to have supported the film and the screening is a chance for the world to witness the amazing creative talent that resides in the Northern Territory."
Producers Greer Simpkin and David Jowsey, of production house Bunya Productions which produced this picture, said of the film's World and Australian premieres: "We are deeply honored that Sweet Country (2017) has been selected in Official Competition in Venice, and that it will have its Australian premiere at the Adelaide Film Festival in October " and "to represent Australia on the cinematic world stage with such an important story is both humbling and thrilling. To our stellar cast and crew we thank you; to our inspiring director, we salute you, and to our funding partners who believed in this production from the start, we are sincerely grateful."
CEO of Create NSW [Create New South Wales], Michael Brealey, said of this film's World Premiere: "Selection at the Venice Film Festival is a stunning achievement for director Warwick Thornton, one of the country's finest filmmakers, and also for NSW-based producers Greer Simpkin and David Jowsey. 'Create NSW' is proud to have supported Warwick, David and Greer on many of their projects over recent years. We look forward to Sweet Country (2017) being warmly received at Venice."
Director Warwick Thornton's first dramatic feature film in around eight years, and only his second, after his first, Samson and Delilah (2009). In the interval in between, Thornton directed a number of other filmed productions, including shorts and made-for-television productions, and also directed the documentary feature films The Darkside (2013) and We Don't Need a Map (2017), as well as the "True Gods" segment from Words with Gods (2014), and the "Big World" segment from The Turning (2013).
Tanja Meissner, sales executive for Memento Films International, who are handling international sales for the film, in an article published by 'Screen Daily' on 3rd November 2016, said of this picture when at script stage prior to production: "The project resonates so much with today's issues of injustice and racism, it's uncanny. The script manages at the same time to pack a lot of action and to paint a subtle (and quite hard) portrait of a nation being built".
Third major theatrical feature film in eight years to have support, funding, and investment from the South Australian Film Corporation (SAFC) and to feature the word "country" in the movie's title. The previous two pictures were Dark Frontier (2009) and Charlie's Country (2013). For each of the three movies, there is a four year interval between each production, from Dark Frontier (2009), then to Charlie's Country (2013), and then to Sweet Country (2017). Moreover, the unrelated similarly titled short film, Sweet, Sweet Country (2013), debuted in the same 2013 year as Charlie's Country (2013), and further, Sweet Country (2017) director Warwick Thornton's first dramatic feature film, Samson and Delilah (2009), premiered in the same 2009 year as Dark Frontier (2009).
The film is not the first feature film "western" supported, produced, funded, or financed by the South Australian Film Corporation (SAFC). The SAFC films Dark Frontier (2009) and Robbery Under Arms (1985) have been classified as "westerns", the latter of which was a SAFC remake of the pre-SAFC western picture Robbery Under Arms (1957), which also shot in South Australia.
One of a small number of western genre classified movies filmed or shot in part in the Australian state of South Australia. The films include: Kangaroo (1952), Dark Frontier (2009), Robbery Under Arms (1957), The Rancher's Daughter (1925), Sweet Country (2017), and Robbery Under Arms (1985) (for the latter, see also On Location with 'Robbery Under Arms' (1985)). Also filmed in the state of South Australia have been other adventure "western genre related" pictures such as Bitter Springs (1950) and The Sundowners (1960), the latter of which was nominated for 5 Academy Awards including Best Picture (and for the latter also, see also On Location with 'The Sundowners' (1960)).
The name of the western town was "Henry" or "Old Henry Town" whilst the name of the outback pub there was the "Henry Hotel". The picture filmed in a small pioneer village movie set town which had previously been used for a film version of legendary Australian writer Henry Lawson's story "The Drover's Wife", alas, the author's name also featuring the name "Henry". This story has been filmed at least twice [See: The Drover's Wife (1968) and The Drover's Wife (1984)].
Indigenous Australian Aboriginal actor Hamilton Morris receives an 'introducing' credit in the film's trailer.
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Sweet Country (2017) premiered in 2017 which was the 15th Anniversary year of the earlier film Black and White (2002), a film also supported by the South Australian Film Corporation, which also dealt with an actual unjust true crime real life murder trial, the Max Stuart case. Sweet Country (2017) also debuts in the 15th Anniversary year of Rolf de Heer's The Tracker (2002), with both pictures featuring Aboriginal tracker characters. The Tracker (2002), which also starred actor Gary Sweet, had a 15th Anniversary screening at the 2017 Adelaide Film Festival, where Sweet Country (2017) has its Australian Premiere.
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One of at least three feature films supported by the South Australian Film Corporation films featuring Aboriginal tracker characters. David Gulpilil played the Aboriginal tracker character, billed as "The Tracker", in the film of the same name; Gibson John plays the Aboriginal tracker Archie in Sweet Country (2017), and in One Night the Moon (2001), Aboriginal tracker Albert Yang was portrayed by Aboriginal actor Kelton Pell, with this film being inspired by the "Blacktracker" episode of Message Stick (1997) [See: Message Stick: Blacktracker (1997)].
The film's "Sweet Country" title has dual meanings. First, it refers to the water-melon patch of the grandfather of the film's co-screenwriter David Tranter, and second, it refers to the landscape and countryside of the picture which is lush, beautiful, and sweet.
Indigenous Australian Aboriginal actor Hamilton Morris plays a character, Sam Kelly, who has the same first name as his co-star, Sam Neill, who portrays Fred Smith.
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The film screened in competition at the Venice Film Festival in 2017 which was about eight years after Warwick Thornton had been awarded the prestigious Camera d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival for Samson and Delilah (2009).
Actors Sam Neill (Fred Smith) and Ewen Leslie (Harry Match) previously played a father and son respectively in The Daughter (2015).
The film features footage projected during an open-air screening of the silent film The Story of the Kelly Gang (1906). The traveling cinema operator, played by Sotiris Tzelios, is billed in the credits as "Picture Show Man". This Australian film Sweet Country (2017) is released in the 40th Anniversary year of the classic Australian film The Picture Show Man (1977).
The film won the Audience Award for Best Fiction Feature film at the 2017 Adelaide Film Festival.
The official Director's Statement about the film by its director Warwick Thornton reads: "'Sweet Country' is a western. A period western set in Central Australia. It has all the elements of the genre - the frontier, confiscation of land, subordination and conquest of a people and epic sweeping landscapes. 'Sweet Country' is based inspired by a true story. The origin of 'Sweet Country' was told to me by writer David Tranter. It is loosely based on stories told to him by his Grandfather. One of these stories is the true story of an Aboriginal man, Wilaberta Jack, who in the 1920s was arrested and tried for the murder of a white man in Central Australia. He was found innocent on the grounds of self-defense. The politics of the era didn't accept the verdict and Wilaberta Jack was the victim of a revenge killing. Wilaberta Jack is our Sam, who has become his own character with his own original story. While Sam drives the plot and is our central character, the story also affects the character of Philomac. Philomac is an Aboriginal boy of fourteen who lives on a cattle station and is coming of age while caught between the social upheaval and cultural conflict of frontier life in 1920s Central Australia. 'Sweet Country' was shot in the MacDonnell Ranges. This is mesmerizing country, it's where I grew up. The landscape becomes another character in the film, especially in the scenes with the posse chasing Sam and Lizzie across the countryside. 'Sweet Country' uses the vast spaces of the desert and its silence to emphasize the story of our characters and the hardships they face. The Aboriginal characters' communication will also reflect the authenticity of the local culture - using looks, hand signals and that understanding between them rather than being all in the dialogue. The world of 'Sweet Country' has been newly established by the British Crown through the forceful taking of Indigenous Lands. Yet these are lands which had and still possess a deep and complex web of ancient Indigenous laws, customs and life. 'Sweet Country' is set on a frontier outpost in 1929, where different cultural worlds collide, in an epic and beautiful desert landscape. It is a place where Indigenous, and non-Indigenous people push against each other like tectonic plates. It is a clash of cultures, ideologies and spirits that still continues today from when the colonizers first arrived in Australia. The issues raised in 'Sweet Country' rarely find their way into mainstream consciousness. David Tranter and Steven McGregor have written an authentic story of a world which is as brutal as it is heartfelt. My aim has been to use the accessibility of the western genre for audiences to enter the story and be drawn into this world and so experience the issues faced by an occupied people. This immersive approach is designed to break down the cultural boundaries between us and bring us together."
This movie was filmed during late 2016.
The film was screened in the main competition section of the 74th Venice International Film Festival and in the Platform section at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival. At Venice, it won the Special Jury Prize award, and at TIFF it won the Platform Prize. It also won Best Feature Film at the 2017 Asia Pacific Screen Awards.
'Palm Beach' (2019) is the fifth theatrical feature film starring actors Sam Neill and Bryan Brown after 'Sweet Country' (2017), 'Dirty Deeds' (2002), 'Dean Spanley' (2008), and 'The Umbrella Woman' (1987). 'Palm Beach' (2019) is director Rachel Ward's second theatrical feature film as a director after 'Beautiful Kate' (2009). Both 'Sweet Country' (2017) and 'Beautiful Kate' (2009) were productions which were significantly supported by the South Australian Film Corporation.
First film directed by director Warwick Thornton which Thornton has not also been a writer on.
The film's closing credits declare that this picture was: "Filmed On Location at Alice Springs, Northern Territory and Lake Gairdner, South Australia".
The film in 2018 was nominated for 10 AACTA (Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts) Awards including Best Supporting Actress (Natassia Gorey-Furber), Best Sound (David Tranter, Thom Kellar, Sam Gain-Emery, Will Sheridan), Best Costume Design (Heather Wallace) and Best Casting (Anousha Zarkesh). In the end, the film won 6 AACTA Awards, including Best Film, Best Director (Warwick Thornton), Best Lead Actor (Hamilton Morris), Best Editing (Nick Meyers), Best Cinematography (Warwick Thornton), and Best Original Screenplay (David Tranter, Steven McGregor).