8:00 PM, 23rd August, 2002
Fundamentally, this film recognises that the government policies responsible for separating indigenous children and families had a devastating and lasting effect. However, I found the film remarkably balanced and non-judgmental, rare traits when dealing with issues as sensitive, complex and controversial as these. Personally, I didn't feel manipulated into a response, and the lack of a 'preachy' tone made the film's emotional impact even stronger. Adapted by Olsen from a true story by Doris Pilkington, the film depicts three Aboriginal girls who were removed from their families, and their arduous journey and grim determination to get back home. They followed the rabbit fence for 1,500 miles, encountering different people and reactions along the way, yet staying ahead of Mr. Neville (Branagh in an illuminating portrayal of the Chief Protector of Aborigines) and the hired blacktracker (a stirring performance from Gulpilil). The female leads also give intense and inspiring performances.
The film's impact relies on sparse dialogue, non-professional actors, and powerful visual images. At times I felt Peter Gabriel's soundtrack, although critically acclaimed, was a distraction. Australian screenwriter Christine Olsen has described the very first public screening of the film, in the community where much of the casting and filming had occurred, as an intensely moving experience. An elderly Aboriginal woman learned that the film's subjects had made the best possible use of the presence of settlers by using their white-man's fence as a guide back home, and had one comment: 'Bloody good fence.'
10:00 PM, 23rd August, 2002
Mongezi Manquina is guilty of participating in the murder of a white American student (who, ironically, had travelled to South Africa to fight apartheid). Former policeman Eric Taylor is guilty of participating in the secret murder (according to official reports at the time, they simply disappeared) of four black protestors. Robert McBride is guilty of killing three women with a car bomb. Thapelo Mbelo was a police informant who's partly responsible for the deaths of seven innocent men. The four are seeking amnesty for their crimes from the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, set up by President Nelson Mandela in 1995 and chaired by Bishop Desmond Tutu. They felt it would be a grave mistake to ignore the past by granting a general amnesty to all apartheid-era crimes, or by failing to investigate them - and an equally grave mistake to exact revenge for the sake of exacting revenge.
The title is an allusion to Eugene O'Neill's play, "A Long Day's Journey into Night", the depressing story of four people for whom there is no hope. The judges and facilitators on the TRC realise if there's no hope of reconciliation between the victims and perpetrators of violent crimes, there's no hope for South Africa. We see some of those who committed acts of violence under the old regime are able to repent, and some of their victims are willing to forgive.