top of page

Iconic SA film you've never been told about

Derik Lynch in Marulungka Tjalatjunu: Dipped in Black. Man in a gold dress in the desert at Sunset

This is a left-field column about a left-field topic. It's about a film everyone in South Australia should see as it's one of the extraordinary films our state has produced. It has already

achieved a level of international recognition unique for an Australian movie, yet oddly has not received the attention it deserves at home.

It's a busy Friday night on Hindley St. It's a streetscape we all recognise. Cars doing laps, bars and pubs all packed, drunken revellers jostling past the tattoo parlours, kebab shops and strip joints in search of their next thrill.

The camera follows a person called Derik. He's an Australian man. He enters a club and starts dancing with another guy. They kiss. An enraged bystander sees them and erupts, shoving Derik, who flees. He is next seen alone sheltering alone in a dingy alleyway, smashing his fists against the walls in anger.

"When I go to a different country, I don't feel at home," Derik says.

Derik is home but not at home.

I said Derik was Australian. To be specific, he is Anangu man from the APY lands. That makes him about as Australian as you can get. It also explains why he feels like an alien in Adelaide, his sense of geographic and cultural displacement compounded by his sexuality, his upbringing, his mental state. The film is called Marulungka Tjalatjunu: Dipped in Black.

It's the largely autobiographical tale of Derik Lynch, who plays himself in this movie he co-created and co­directed with Adelaide photographer and filmmaker Matthew Thorne. The title come from the Yankunytjatjara language, one of the main Western Desert languages. Uniquely, the entire film is spoken in Yankunytjarjara with English subtitles.

It is not a feature film but a 22-minute work, which in part explains why it is remains unknown here in SA due to having no major cinema release. It might be short but it raises multiple questions about our country, how we relate to each other, what we know about each other, but most importantly about how Aboriginal people fit in.

One of the first things I thought watching the film was to reflect on the vexed relationship the city of Adelaide has with its Aboriginal inhabitants.

Our Indigenous population is often seen purely through the prism of homelessness and crime, with no recognition that every one of these people is a human being with their own backstory, no curiosity as to what that tory is. Derik is the guy we have al l walked past on Hindley St. We know nothing of who he is or how he got here.

His story starts with that of a little boy whose mother didn't want him and left, whose father took his own life, and who was raised by his grandmother with only female friends and role models.

He played with dolls and developed an obsession with Tina Tu rner. I am loathed to be the person who gives away a film's ending, but Tina Turner's gold metallic Nutbush dress plays a key role in the climax to the film, as Derik performs an impromptu dance concert after he returns home up north.

The scene he performs in the sand with the high-beam headlights of four­wheel-drives lighting his desert stage, stray dogs walking past a he sashays and shimmies, deserves to become an iconic moment in Australian cinema.

My entry point to knowing about this film is a weird local one, coming about through my love of the Sturt Football Club, with past players of Paddy and Duncan Graham and Corey Gray producing the film through their production company Switch productions. (As an aside, I love the fact that Adelaide's most bourgeois footy club is up to its neck in creating one of the wildest films Australia has produced.)

Through Paddy I had the pleasure last week of meeting both Derik and Matthew. I told them I'd already watched the film twice on my laptop, but the previous night watched it with my teenage kids and synched the laptop to the TV for a more cinematic experience. The first thing my 20-year-old daughter's boyfriend said when we watching the film was: "Hey, isn't that The Woolshed?"

"I love it to hear about that local recognition," Matthew said to me last week. "I love that we have been able to tel l a local story that ·peak to our community."

Derik marches to the beat of his own drum. He's a free spirit and a free thinker who cannot be pigeonholed. He is scathing about the Howard government's intervention and says the busting up of Indigenous communities in the late 2000s contributed to their current malaise.

At the same time he thinks the Voice is rubbish and risks becoming a platform for people who like the sound of their own voice.

He's also spoken out against

allegations that some of the art produced by the APY Arts Collective has been touched up by white folks, which may help explain why some member of Adelaide's arts establishment haven't been rushing to laud his excellent film.

That might be the case here but it's not overseas. In March, Dipped in Black was selected from 4000 films worldwide to become the only Australian film to be screened at the Berlin Berlinale, one of the top five festivals in the world. It won the Silver Bear Jury Prize for best short film and the Teddy award for best short film with LGBTQI themes, making it the first short film from anywhere in the world to win both these awards.

Jury member Sky Hopinka had this to say: "The film exposes and weaves together those tender and difficult threads of living in multiple worlds ­worlds which are your own, full of loss and love, of trauma and survival -and worlds wh ich are thrust upon you, often violent, often unrelenting, and often unforgiving. This is a film of healing and of elegance, and the places that exist between sunrise and sunset, and dusk and dawn."

Derik Lynch was also the first Aboriginal person to win either of those awards. With his droll sense of humour, he claims to be unfazed by it all. "Everyone else was nervous when we got to Berlin but I knew we were going to win," he said. "I wasn't flying all that way to come away empty­handed."


bottom of page