Speech by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Parliamentray screening of “Samson and Delilah”

Location: Parliament House, Canberra

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I acknowledge the traditional owners on whose land we are gathered this evening and pay my respects to their elders past and present.

It is a great privilege for me, and Peter and Warren as well, to host this special parliamentary screening of Warwick Thornton’s now internationally acclaimed film Samson and Delilah.

When my office was first approached to host this screening several months ago, Samson and Delilah was yet to begin its stellar rise.

And while we would never presume to anticipate Cannes, the adviser in my office who first watched the film was immediately aware of the power of its brutal honesty.

As the two young Aboriginal people who experience poverty, violence, boredom, drugs and sexual assault – are almost crushed, but survive

Now a wider audience has seen this too.

Five stars and in the top ten at the box office within two weeks of release.

And the winner of the Camera d’Or at Cannes.

It’s not often that first-time feature filmmakers receive such accolades.

Or two young newcomers – Rowan McNamara and Marissa Gibson – with no experience or training in acting tread the red carpet.

Director Warwick Thornton admits they are all more than a little surprised – at the impact and reach of the film.

As he says, “I started out to make a really important film to my mob – a teenage love story and something really close to my heart.”

Despite winning over international critics, the critics he values most are his own mob – remembering the “big sigh of relief” when it passed muster at its first screening in Central Australia.

And he explains its wider success this way, “as soon as you knock down that black wall between Aboriginals and white Australia, a film like this becomes an Australian film and an Australian story. Not an Aboriginal story but a story about Australians.”

For all of us here to see Samson and Delilah for the first time tonight, it may not be easy to watch.

As one reviewer described it:

“Warwick Thornton artfully conveys the dead-end stillness of this isolated, blackfella community … in the early scenes we are exposed to the competing forces which will shape Samson and Delilah’s destiny.

“The first is the vicious cycle of poverty, exploitation and drug use which hangs like a shadow over them.

“The second is the affection which brings them together – their only barrier against isolation and loneliness.”

From what I’ve heard, the film’s gritty honesty is challenging the views of people of all ideological and political persuasions.

That’s a good thing.

We need powerful stories like these to be brought into the public gaze.

The media, of course, plays a critical role in these stories getting told.

Telling them honestly but also celebrating the ability of the human spirit to inspire and motivate.

To make sure that these stories are told and to support excellence in their telling, the Australian Government will sponsor the Aboriginal Reconciliation category in the 2009 United Nations Media Peace Awards.

Nominations for these awards open in July and will be announced in October this year.

Samson and Delilah is a powerful story.

A journey which tells of the resilience of the human spirit.

And the capacity to care for eachother even when the odds are stacked against you.

It’s a story that has travelled beyond the boundaries of the central desert to reach out to the rest of Australia and the world.

I look forward to sharing Samson and Delilah with you.