A beautifully crafted tragi-comedy set in the timeless freshwater swamps of Arnhem Land in Australia. The multi-layered story of a man guiding his younger brother in a choice of love meanders between a narrator, a not-so-long-ago hunting party and an ancient myth. Unlike many films telling the tale of other cultures from an external and inaccurate perspective, de Heer approached the project embracing the ideas and involvement of the Aboriginal cast and local people from the North Territory. David Gulpilil, probably the most famous Aboriginal actor (Walkabout and many others), collaborated with the director on the original idea, and de Heer invited local man Peter Djigirr to be his co-director.
The title of the film comes from a 1930s black and white photograph of a hunting party paddling through the swamps in ten canoes. This photograph, along with others taken by anthropologist David Thomson, is treasured by Aboriginal people as together they capture the details of lost traditions. The directors have tried to keep faith with the photograph and the result is a wonderful evocation of time and culture, engaging and authentic with its entirely Aboriginal cast. But its not at all just an ethnographic record, the film draws you in with its humour, humanity, and action, its quirky techniques for separating time periods and its gorgeous photography.
Part of what is charming and refreshing about Ten Canoes is that it does not make the Aborigine peoples alien or exotic, or a subordinate part of a story about white peoples transgression. Peter Bradshaw The Guardian
Like John Ford before him, de Heer makes movies that are simultaneously richly entertaining and extremely complex. He’s as good a cinematic storyteller as youre likely to encounter. Jim Hemphill Reel.com
Ten Canoes is a celebration of the art of storytelling, and of the power of stories to transcend all barriers of space, time, and language. Scott Foundas, Village Voice