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Ivan Sen is one of Australia’s most valuable directors. His films are emotionally charged, haunting and visually stunning. They explore social issues that are happening right here and right now. His latest film, Toomelah, is no exception. Set in one of the poorest Aboriginal settlements in the country, non-professional actors from the local area work with Sen to convey the stories of this community and its people.

Daniel (Daniel Conners) is a troubled ten-year-old who lives on the Toomelah mission in rural New South Wales. Often slipping under the radar of his loving but drug-dependent parents, he wags school and starts fights with fellow classmates. He soon latches onto a group of young men led by Linden (Christopher Edwards). What makes this mob appealing to Dave is not just their status in the community as drug dealing gangsters, but also — and perhaps more importantly — their willingness to explain his Aboriginal heritage. They take him fishing, explain traditional indigenous customs and teach him a few words in his dialect.

It is among the dusty landscape of the mission, littered with car wrecks and dancing clotheslines, that Daniel wanders around to ponder his background, identity and future. Fast falling into the life of crime his mother wants to protect him from, Daniel is faced with a choice: either return to school or slip further into a life of trouble with his mates.

Toomelah is a community as much about spirit of the Gamilaroi people as it is about problems of poverty, substance abuse and broken families. Daniel’s family and neighbours, including his alcoholic father and elderly grandmother, try desperately to keep him off the streets. They also take Aunt Cindy under their wing who has recently returned to her family home after being removed by the state years earlier. Despite Toomelah’s fair share of problems, people band together to help each other and to keep their cultural traditions alive.

Toomelah is about kinship, coming of age and the determination of Aboriginal communities to preserve their language and traditions despite ongoing poverty and dispossession. It offers an intimate glimpse into everyday life in a contemporary indigenous area and deals with many issues that are significant to Aboriginal communities today.

Toomelah screens at Cinema Nova from Thursday 24 November
For session times and ticket information visit www.cinemanova.com.au

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