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Dust movie review

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Ivan Sen's unique film, Dust is set on the cotton fields of far Northern New South Wales. As a treacherous Dust storm brews, so do the relationships between the white and Aboriginal cotton cutters. When the storm finally breaks it brings about powerful revelations concerning the land and those who move through it. Dust explores the individuals relationship with the land, suggesting that in order to survive one must understand and listen to their environment.

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Wrestling with the Dust and dawn hues we follow a car on its journey to the cotton fields. In it are two young Nyoongah men, Leroy (Clayton Munro) and Vance (Wayne Munro) and their mother Ruby, (Reta Binge) finding their way to work.

The brooding guitar riff (laced so poetically throughout Dust) and monosyllabic dialogue inject an intriguing uneasiness into the scene. Both men are angry at the world for rejecting the colour of their skin, yet it is Leroy whose hard dialogue and sore frown lines suggest he is boiling over with dislike of his current situation. When Mick, (Tristan Bancks) an antagonistic and racist white male and his sister Amy (Nathalie Roy) join the group of cotton cutters, racist jaunts and aggression ensue. Although Vance and Amy yearn for a conciliatory environment by drawing on humour and innocent flirtations to ease the tension on the fields, the increasing hostility between Leroy and Mick cannot be quenched.

As Dust develops, human relationships, not racism are the object of Sen's fascination. Sen directs an incredibly talented cast, whose un-self-conscious acting brings truth to the characters' plights, encouraging the audience to hope the characters locate resolutions. Even with the character Mick, so obviously racist, and whose lack of compassion and kindness extends to all things, the audience begins to understand some reasons for his behaviour. Rather than damning him, we want him to change. Mick's troubles lie within himself, his failed family unit and his dissatisfaction as a young male with a bleak future. It is a poignant moment in Dust when the police arrive, like buzzards to mutton, looking for a youth to arrest. Both Leroy and Mick flee, but it is an anonymous Aboriginal youth in the distance who is thrown into the van. This depiction of law is exceptionally relevant in the current Australian climate, where black deaths in custody and mandatory sentencing laws are unresolved issues.

On the surface Mick and Leroy would assert they have little in common, yet they battle similar fears; unemployment, identity crises and trouble with the law. Neither Leroy nor Mick can locate peace within themselves, and so look to blame other people and seek revenge on the world.

The intensity of Dust is achieved in part by the cinematography of Allan Collins. Combining extreme close ups of the characters with expansive shots of the big blue sky Dust has the qualities of an illustrious photograph exhibition. Whilst the environment is presented as omnipotent, Sen also reveals the inner colours of the individuals as they interact with the land.

Dust offers a way out of the young peoples' cycle of aggression by suggesting through hope and regeneration a better present can be achieved. As the Dust storm descends upon the fields all warring factions are forced to take shelter together. In this coming together the sagacious elder Ruby guides the younger generation into a new level of understanding about the land they are working on. What the storm has unveiled, and the knowledge Ruby has to share allows the characters to transcend their quarrels and begin establishing a positive present, where the horrors of the past are not repeated.

Send your comments or review Johanna Featherstone
Due for Australian release October 5, 2000
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Just the facts:

Title: Dust (2000)
Written by: Ivan Sen
Directed by: Ivan Sen
Produced by: Teresa-Jayne Hanlon
Edited by:
Director of Photography:
running time:
rating: M

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