Boy meets world – Satellite Boy review

Satellite Boy – Starring Cameron Wallaby, David Gulpilil, and Joseph Pedley. Directed by Catriona McKenzie. Rated PG. By Simon Miraudo.

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There is many a Spielbergian moment in Catriona McKenzie’s Satellite Boy, intentional or otherwise. Two kids ride carefree on bicycles. A young boy laments the distance between he and his estranged mother, bonding with his eccentric granddad instead. There’s even a Goonies-like quest to save a local cinema. That it takes place in the picturesque plains of the Australian North-West instead of the Californian suburbs is what ultimately sets it apart.

Don’t expect Close Encounters of any kind, however, despite what the space-tinged title may suggest. Satellite Boy is ultimately about interactions across great distances, and they’re all Earthbound. Newcomer Cameron Wallaby plays Pete, an 11-year-old who lives with his granddad Jagamarra (the legendary David Gulpilil) at an abandoned cinema in the heart – and heat – of the Kimberley. His pop may be a respected elder in the community, but Pete is tired of hearing his stories and having to learn all those lessons about surviving on the land.

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He eagerly waits for his mum to return from the, ahem, big city Perth, where she’ll bring back her Hospitality degree and open a local restaurant. While the kid dreams about the unlikely, the inevitable sneaks up on him. Mining contractors have purchased his home, and will soon be knocking it down to make way for their latest operation. With the help of his troublemaking buddy Kalmain (Joseph Pedley), he rides all the way to the company’s office hoping to change their mind. However, the bikes are quickly lost, and they’re forced to survive in the outback armed only with their wits, and a couple of bags of chips. Maybe Jagamarra’s lessons were worth listening to after all.

Satellite Boy tells a familiar tale, and I’m not simply referring to the ‘mission’ undertaken by the boys. By discussing the plight of Indigenous Australians through the prism of a traditional family film, it separates itself from darker, less optimistic – though indeed powerful – fare like Samson and Delilah. As a result, McKenzie’s movie, gorgeously shot and appropriately short, is a charmer, albeit a minor one.

3/5

Check out Simon Miraudo’s other reviews here.

Satellite Boy plays the Perth International Arts Festival from December 10 to December 23, 2012.

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