High Ground is the latest in a trend of Australian releases that are using the power of film to confront Australia’s past. This necessary reckoning is covered both in documentaries and powerful fiction such as Warwick Thompson’s piercing Sweet Country.
Director Stephen Johnson has noble intentions, however, his High Ground is charred around the edges. Minimal character building renders all white men sketches of generic characters, while most Aboriginal characters lack any unique personality.
Additionally, even young protagonist Gutjuk/Tommy is relatable due to his family situation. Raised by a white man who rescues him after the massacre of his tribe, years later his uncle is accused of murder and Gutjuk decides to search for him with the help of his foster father.
The only coloured boy on the mission where he was raised, one saved by a white man, this is one of many details that confuses while directly opposing the reality of the time, where laws granted the government permission to forcibly take coloured children from their families without reason.
The combination of careful character building, meaningful drama and accuracy are key elements to a successful historical film. Unfortunately, High Ground fails on all counts..
Films such as these will continue to play an educational role, but High Ground ignores most of the hostility that Aboriginal people faced, resulting in a confused film with little to say.
Many thanks again to Tracey Mair as well as everyone who made the Adelaide Film Festival possible in 2020 during such confused times.