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Australia, 2012, 103 Minute Running Time
Genre/Subjects: Drama, Historical/Period, Music, Social Issues
Program: Special PresentationLanguage: English
DIRECTOR: Wayne Blair
Producer: Rosemary Blight, Kylie Du FresneEditor: Dany CooperScreenwriter: Tony Briggs, Keith ThompsonCinematographer: Warwick ThorntonPrincipal Cast: Chris O'Dowd, Deborah Mailman, Jessica Mauboy, Shari Sebbens, Miranda Tapsell
Randi Lee Rare Pearl Award Winner
A pre-credits prologue sets the scene in 1960s Australia, where indigenous people—still called Aborigines—suffer abuse, persecution, and racial prejudice. Enter two sisters on their way to a small-town singing contest that they should win ably, but don’t. Social upheaval is sweeping the planet, and the young women, inspired by the U.S. civil rights movement, believe things can change for them. Aboriginal actor-writer Tony Briggs adapted his 2004 stage play in the film, which loosely follows his own family history. (His mother, Laurel Robinson, was the lead singer of an all-Aboriginal female soul quartet that toured Vietnam, often dodging bullets as they entertained American troops.)
The house piano player in the dusty outback pub where the contest is held gets canned when he dares cheer for the country-western act the sisters present. Pressured by feisty third sister Julie (Aussie R&B singer Jessica Mauboy), boozy pianist Dave (Irish comedian Chris O’Dowd, of Bridesmaids fame) agrees to manage them if they’ll switch to the only music he deems worth listening to—soul. When their light-skinned and assimilated city cousin Kay joins them (despite some family animosity), with Dave’s relentless coaching, they become viable contestants for a gig touring Vietnam. The military brass judging the contestants are quietly blown away and The Sapphires are on their way. They deliver exuberant renditions of classic Motown tunes, shimmying through various emotional challenges.
First-time filmmaker Wayne Blair, an actor and theater director, focuses on sing-it-sisters jubilation in this upbeat musical comedy/drama. Award-winning photography director Warwick Thornton’s crystalline lighting and hypersaturated colors heighten the mood. The Sapphires received a 10-minute standing ovation at its out-of-competition midnight screening in Cannes.
- JULIET SHERWOOD
In cooperation with OzDenver, The Spring International Language Center
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