Empire (Australia), August 2001,
By Oscar Hillerstrom
*Thanks to Fiona Punal

Film: Rabbit Proof Fence
Director: Phillip Noyce
Starring: Kenneth Branagh & David Gulpilil
Location: South Australia

"At your service sir."
It's not the crisp clean notes of a well feathered English accent that startle the most in the middle of South Australia's Onkaparinga Valley. It's the fact that Kenneth Branagh has agreed to star in a small Australian film whose entire budget doesn't quite match his usual fee. His director and producer, Phillip Noyce is doing much the same thing. Internationally renowned cinematographer Chris Doyle, known for his work with Wong Kar-Wai, is also on board.

A true story, Rabbit Proof Fence is set in 1931,and follows the epic 2000 km journey of three aboriginal girls (aged 14, 11 and eight) as they escape from government "housing" to their homes. The film is shaping up as the seminal discussion of "the stolen generation", and the mood on the set reflects it. It's as though the cast and crew are quietly confident of making a great Australian film.Says a sunburnt Chris Doyle,"It's amazing. Everyone knows that films make themselves in the first five days, and we've survived the first five days, so we're fine. This film obviously has certain implications, revelations and cultural baggage but at the end of the day it's just a film. It still has to be a film about people."

Director and producer Phillip Noyce has taken a break from Hollywood miasma to work in Australia for the first time since Dead Calm , way back in 1989. Stymied in constant script renegotiation with Harrison Ford on the fourth Jack Ryan film, The Sum Of All Fears, Noyce turned to a script that had come to him in the most unusual way.

"I got a phone call in the middle of the night. I was in LA, it was 3.30 in the morning and I got a phone call from this strange woman who said she had the perfect script for me to direct. I told her I got 20 of those sort of calls every week, but usually during business hours." That strange woman was Christine Olsen, a producer with a passion for her story, a scriptwriter in the middle of a dream come true. after four-and-a-half years of writing, she's co- producing with Noyce, quietly ecstatic, nudging into conversation with him as he effortlessly juggles directorial choices and production timetables. "I got this phone call from Phillip who was in a taxi in New York in May, and he said 'Get the ending fixed up and we'll shoot it this year.' So I got the ending fixed up."

Branagh's role is small but pivotal, playing A.O. Neville, the Chief Protector of Aborigines in Western Australia during the 30's, a character who literally killed with kindness. Branagh feels a heavy responsibility and a duty to the role. "The Aboriginal question is so huge, really. I'm only beginning to understand the full implications in its historical context.Playing such a repressed English bureaucrat, it's important to get the right balance in the character without becoming a caricature."

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