By Jack Dignan
Originally Published on Salty Popcorn
2009’s Australian of the Year Warwick Thornton got a lot of backlash for comparing the Southern Cross to the swastika a few years back. “We don’t want to turn the Southern Cross into a swastika,” he said. His comments, however, aren’t too far from the truth. The Southern Cross, in recent years, has been turned from a symbol of nationalistic pride into something more along the lines of racist pride. It’s becoming a symbol of violence, especially after the ethnically charged Cronulla Riots of 2005. Now, Thornton returns the directors seat for a documentary inspired by his famous swastika comments, WE DON’T NEED A MAP.
Thornton takes us on a very personal, very Australian investigation into the star sign we have printed onto our country’s flag. You can’t copyright a star, but you can copyright the star’s symbol, and it’s a symbol often associated with Australia. Thornton breaks down and explores the significance of the Southern Cross, divulging into its importance not just to the general public of Australia, but for Indigenous Australians as well. He travels the country, paying a visit to a number of members from his own tribe, amongst others. The Southern Cross is so much more than just a star sign, and this movie tells us why.
There’s a rich and fascinating history to be found, spread throughout different cultures and beliefs. The Southern Cross has been used and misused in a number of ways. It’s a topic that never seemed to be touched upon when I was in school, outside of the fact that it’s only seen in the Southern Hemisphere and has a predominant place on our flag. You’re never taught the cultural significance, or the controversy that surrounds it, and WE DON’T NEED A MAP, which Thornton hopes to have played in schools all throughout Australia, tries to set that right.
Thornton himself is a powering on-screen presence. He’s armed with a fierce, intelligent sense of humour; delivered in a way only he knows how to do. His latest documentary is an absolute riot. It’s full of quick cuts, rock music, montages and various stop motions. He makes a socially and ethnically charged documentary about a very touchy subject so much fun to watch. One animated sequence sees a miniature homemade boat sailing in on sand, met by a stick man Aboriginal holding a sign that says “fuck off, we’re full.” It’s dry, crude and so unexpected. He could’ve made a self-serious film, but instead chooses to mix it with high quality entertainment.
Thornton’s humour never detracts from the importance of its subject matter, but instead adds to it. He creates investment through his style, music choices and natural ability to make you laugh, all while raising eye-opening points and opinions from a large number of Australians. Thornton puts himself in the centre of the frame. You see him ask you the questions and interact with the interviewees. It benefits the movie by creating a connection between him and the viewers, if not at the cost of making it feel extremely low budget. There’s a greater understanding of his point of view, and the way it’s shared with his fellow Australians. Sure, interviews with rock starts, intercut with irrelevant music videos, don’t always feel necessary, but it’s interesting to see the types of people Thornton decides to put into his film.
It’s a style that works, but more appropriately belongs on a TV movie, which is what this documentary has a possibility of becoming. There have been murmurs of a small cinema release, but WE DON’T NEED A MAP will find most of its viewership at home. The film will most likely be coming to TVs all across Australia, and when that happens, the style will be more fitting. It’s made in a way that’s reminiscent of early morning animal documentaries. They worked for what they were trying to do, and the same can be said here, but it doesn’t make the cinema experience a necessity. Often, it comes across as not being worth paying to see in theaters. This’ll make the at-home viewing even more rewarding.
Alas, the main purpose of a documentary is to document something, and that’s what this film does best. It’s not some technical masterpiece, but it’s thematically important. Thornton delves into some heavy subject matter, and he’s a master at vocalizing his opinion, even if it could occasionally get him into trouble. Stand out sequences include interviews with Indigenous elders, as well as with a tattoo artist and tattoo remover. You see the point of view of multiple sides, and what it means for different people. The tattoo section is particularly interesting as it delves into the impact this symbol has on Australian culture, both in a pre and post Cronulla riot world.
One of the downsides to a lot of the subject matter relates back to how deep and thorough the filmmakers go. Everyone’s trying to give as much information as they possibly can, and it’s very informative, but you can’t just walk into this film without any previous knowledge of the subject. You’ll fall behind. Rarely is any screen time dedicated to explaining the backstory of certain events, the Cronulla riots included. It’s presumed you’re already up to speed with the past fifteen or so years of Australian history, and if not, good luck navigating the movie. I knew the general gist of most of the backstory, but even still, there were times where I fell behind.
For all its flaws, WE DON’T NEED A MAP is a film that, as an Australian, you certainly need to watch. There’s a cultural importance that’s injected into every scene that will resonate with Australians of all backgrounds and ethnicities. It’s a film not just about the twisted representation of symbols, flags, maps and culture in general, but also what it means to be an Australian citizen. We hold a lot of nationalistic pride as a country, and this film tears that pride to the ground and provides you with an entirely new way of looking at it.
3 1/2 Stars
Like the article? Make sure to spread the word on social media.
You May Also Like: