Acclaimed Indigenous filmmaker Warwick Thornton has a penchant for Indigenous cinema. His latest work, Firebite, highlights Australia’s colonisation in a satirical fashion – and it features vampires.
The Guardian has previously described Thornton’s work as “Old Testament cinema with an almost biblical starkness in its cruelty and mysterious beauty.” The highly regarded Indigenous filmmaker is no stranger to throughout-provoking films. His 2009 film Samson and Delilah tells the story of two Indigenous teenagers faced with poverty and oppression.
Thornton’s latest work, television series, Firebite, centres itself on colonisation in Australia. This time, he’s using humour and vampires to communicate his message. Per ABC,
“It’s total rock and roll Australia, vampire-hunting madness, silly, stupid, idiotic, you know, with an undertone of incredibly important issues for Australia,”
the director explains.
Thornton acts as the executive producer, co-creator, one of the directors, co-writer and director of photography for the show. Co-creator Brendan Fletcher explains that the series is also about the two lead characters and their relationship. Tyson and Shanika, the vampire hunters, are played by Rob Collins and Shantae Barnes-Cowan. Per ABC,
“At the heart of it, it’s a family story. Tyson is a kind of father figure to Shanika, whose parents were killed by vampires.”
Fletcher explains to 7.30. “Their relationship is the heart of the film, the heart of the show,”
Callan Mulvey from Avengers: Endgame and the Australian series Underbelly plays the role of the vampire king. The series also stars Yael Stone from Orange is the New Black.
Capture the Land
Firebite tells the story of the smallpox disease via 11 vampires, sent by Britain to deal with Indigenous populations and capture the land.
Over two centuries later, the remaining vampire colony lives underground in a remote opal-mining town. Two Indigenous vampire hunters create a plan to kill them off and save their people.
Thornton explains that the idea came to him after making a discovery about the First Fleet. Per ABC, “It came out of anger in a strange way. I remember 10 years ago reading that they brought 11 phials of smallpox on the First Fleet.”
The arrival of smallpox to Australia in 1789 has long been a source of contention. The patchy historical record is hard to draw from. He goes on, “… Bit bizarre to me, and [I was] thinking, how can I do something with that?”
“It’s all art to me”
First Nations Australians’ affinity to the land is integral to Thornton’s work. The 51-year old Kaytej native doesn’t limit himself to the screen, either. The Indigenous director also utilises the medium of art to express his concepts. He tells Artist Profile,
“I am an Indigenous artist… I can’t just wash away being Indigenous and I wouldn’t want to. And it’s all art to me.”
Like his films, Thornton’s still photography tackles social issues without hesitation. Thornton’s respect for the land preoccupies his work, a theme he returns back to regularly.
“We often describe nature as lawless,” he tells Artist Profile.
“We always have to find a law – but we’re wrong. Nature has laws that we don’t understand, which is why we always feel a drive to colonise the land and impose our own laws, which often doesn’t work.”
Laced with Humour
The series has been put together in South Australia and features an All-Australian soundtrack. Per ABC,
“We shot this series in Coober Pedy where there are a quarter of a million abandoned mining shafts, which is the perfect place for vampires to set up, you know, a dungeon and a kind of underground colony.” Thornton explains.
“Then we can come back here to the Adelaide studios and we can book out the stages, we can do big construction, we can do post [production] here, we can do sound mixing, we can do all the visual effects we need. So, you know, for us it was, it was a no-brainer, really.
“South Australia is a bit of a one-stop-shop. So it’s been a pleasure,” he tells 7.30.
Firebite delivers a high impact punch, and Thornton appreciates that some people may be turned off by its message. The overall goal, however, is to deliver a high-octane action fantasy series imbued with humour.
“Take it or leave it, how you want to manage it.”
He tells 7.30, “It’s educational. It’s entertainment, you can watch a bunch of blackfellas kill vampires or you can read an undertone into it.”
Check out the official trailer for Firebite below:
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