Ivan Sen’s Goldstone: “a drama charged thriller which moves to the beat of the sacred land”- Zalehah Turner reviews the film that opened the 63rd Sydney Film Festival

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Josh (Alex Russell) and Jay (Aaron Pedersen) in Goldstone (2016). photograph courtesy of the SFF.

Described as a Neo-Western crossed with Outback Noir by Indigenous director, Ivan Sen, Goldstone “is a drama charged thriller which moves to beat of the sacred land it is played out on.” A spin-off from Ivan Sen’s last feature film, Mystery Road (2013), Goldstone sees the return of Indigenous detective, Jay Swan (Aaron Pedersen) once again caught between two worlds but feeling as if he belongs in neither, on the hunt for a missing girl in the striking, yet, harsh and unforgiving land of outback Queensland.

Multi-talented, Ivan Sen not only wrote and directed Goldstone but composed its moving score, shot the stunning scenes of “the epically beautiful desert landscape” and edited the film in post-production. While the mining town of Goldstone didn’t actually exist, Ivan Sen found the landscape he wanted in Middleton, Queensland not far from Winton the location for Mystery Road. As Middletown with a population of three, had “a landscape but no town,” Ivan Sen built the town of Goldstone from demountable buildings and shipping containers which doubled as the crew’s accommodation.

Director and cinematographer, Ivan Sen gives significant weight to the stunning, desert landscape. He sets up the turning points in the film with breath taking, aerial shots, then pauses with long shots and even longer takes to let the action play out on “the all-important stage” that informs their decisions. Aaron Pedersen added that, in Goldstone, “desolation and isolation become important characters…the land is a character, the wind is a character, and even the sun is a character…the greater elements [that] bind us all together.”

For Ivan Sen, the mythic town of Goldstone, a frontier mining outpost, filmed in Middleton, is a place “where different cultural worlds collide, in an epically beautiful desert landscape.” Detective Jay Swan, who has one foot in each, has the power to connect those worlds. An Indigenous upholder of the laws that have replaced those of the First Nation’s, Jay Swan is in a unique but incredibly difficult position which “has profound socio-political repercussions.” For Ivan Sen, people like “Jay Swan are invaluable to our society” as they can walk between boundaries, connect worlds and facilitate “a greater understanding and empathy to all cultures.”

Ivan Sen sees a strong connection between both Aaron Pedersen and himself to the protagonist, Jay Swan in their blood, upbringing, personal lives, and the communities they came from. More importantly, he feels that just like Jay Swan, both of them step “outside of those communities to face the other world” in order to help encourage an understanding between the two.

However, buried deep within people who can walk between cultural boundaries is a sense of not belonging in either which carries a great, emotional toll. Jay Swan’s desire for justice despite the incredible resistance he encounters from all sides has a profound impact on his life both professionally and personally.

Jay (Aaron Pedersen) in Goldstone (2016)
Jay Swan (Aaron Pedersen) in Goldstone (2016). photograph courtesy of the SFF.

From the opening scene of Goldstone we see the heavy toll his work and home life has taken upon him. No longer clean shaven with closely cropped hair and a muscular frame as audiences saw him in Mystery Road, he is drinking heavily while driving along the desolate, desert road towards the town of Goldstone. A young, local cop, Josh (Alex Russell) pulls him over for drink driving, arrests Jay and locks him in a cell overnight. Their relationship remains fraught with personal conflict and tension. However, regardless of their differences, the missing person’s case that Jay has come to solve reveals a level of corruption and crime in Goldstone that both Josh and Jay must fight in order to uphold the law for the sake of the community and themselves.

Ivan Sen wanted there to be a stark contrast between the portrayal of Jay Swan in Goldstone and that of Mystery Road. He also wanted to “to dirty him up a bit” in order to convey a sense of time passing as well as, the impact of the past events on Jay’s life. However, it was Aaron Pederson’s suggestion that, given all that had happened to Jay, he should be drinking. Aaron Pederson felt that they “were able to achieve it without reinforcing negatives.” Both Jay and Josh have to overcome their own inner demons in order to deal with the problems created by greed and corruption in the local mine, Furnace Creek. However, Jay’s drinking appears overly self-indulgent in light of the incredible danger that the women and members of the community are in.

From the outset, Ivan Sen wanted to create a level of intimacy between the audience and Jay Swan in Goldstone. Drawing them closer to Jay, than they had been in Mystery Road, through a script that is both an action packed drama and emotional journey of self-discovery. Ivan Sen said that, he “wanted to make it more personal than last time. In Mystery Road [Jay] is trying to help solve the problems of a town but this time we kind of wanted those problems to manifest within him.”

Jimmy (David Gulpilil) in Goldstone (2016)
Jimmy (David Gulpilil) in Goldstone (2016). photograph courtesy of the SFF

At the heart of Jay’s personal journey in Goldstone is a need to reclaim his sense of belonging, something which a local, traditional elder, Jimmy (David Gulpilil) holds the key to. However, in order to begin his cultural and spiritual awakening, he must pull himself together to save Goldstone from its web of corruption, greed and crime.

Ivan Sen stressed that, through Goldstone, he wanted to make a film that was like its protagonist, Jay Swan; a film that could connect cultures that had been clashing since the first European contact, specifically those of Indigenous and Non-Indigenous people. Ivan Sen stressed that, “we are all connected but we separate ourselves with cultural and social boundaries” which are only “there because we construct them.” The trick with Goldstone, he claimed, was to make these themes not only “palatable and presentable to an audience” but also, thought provoking, moving and entertaining at the same time.

For Ivan Sen, film was the perfect format through which to tell the story of Indigenous Detective, Jay Swan as it has the power to cross cultural boundaries. Through a strong script with complex and engaging characters in a well-paced crime drama balanced by powerfully emotive journeys of self-discovery, shot in a stunning location, Ivan Sen manages to entertain while raising important issues such as, Land Rights, people trafficking and mining.

Nashen Moodley at the Opening Night of the Sydney Film Festival 2016. The State Theatre, Market St, Sydney. Wednesday 8th June, 2016 Photographer: Belinda Rolland © 2016. Courtesy of the SFF.

Ivan Sen’s fourth feature film, Goldstone premièred at the Opening Night Gala of the 63rd Sydney Film Festival on 8 June 2016 and competed in the Official Competition although, it did not win. It has since been selected by the Sydney Film Festival for the Travelling Film Festival which will tour eighteen cities in regional New South Wales, Queensland and the Northern Territory. The Travelling Film Festival is an initiative started in 1974 by former SFF Director, David Stratton to ensure that regional communities have access to a range of Australian and international films that they would not have had otherwise. While Mystery Road only had a limited release, Goldstone screens in cinemas around Australia from 7 July. Aaron Pedersen will also attend a Q & A after an advance screening of the film at Cinema Nova in Melbourne at 7pm on 28 June 2016.

-Zalehah Turner


Goldstone screens from 7 July at Event Cinemas, Palace Cinemas, the Dendy, Hayden Orpheum, and the Ritz and as part of the Travelling Film Festival. See the individual websites for details.

Palace Cinemas: http://www.palacecinemas.com.au/movies/goldstone/

Event Cinemas: https://www.eventcinemas.com.au/Movie/Goldstone

Dendy Cinemas: https://www.dendy.com.au/Movie/Goldstone

Hayden Orpheum: http://www.orpheum.com.au/wp-cinema/movie/OGOLDSTONE/GOLDSTONE/

Randwick Ritz: http://www.ritzcinema.com.au/Movie/Goldstone

Travelling Film Festival: http://tff.sff.org.au/session_sff.asp?sn=Goldstone&s=80

The TFF’s next stop is Wollongong from 19-21 August 2016. More details will be announced late June 2016

Zalehah Turner is a Sydney based poet currently completing her Bachelor of Arts in Communications majoring in writing and cultural studies at the University of Technology, Sydney. Zalehah is an Associate Editor of Rochford Street Review: https://rochfordstreetreview.com/2016/02/09/welcome-zalehah-turner-rochford-street-review-associate-editor/

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