DVD Review: Here I Am [M15]

Dir: Beck Cole
Cast: Shai Pittman, Marcia Langston, Bruce Carter, Quinaiha Scott, Pauline Wyman.

The Film:
It’s no secret that I am a fan of Australian films. If you had read my writings over at the Recommendation section of this website, you have seen myself write a couple of times how much I am big supporter of Australian films and that I would check out any one that comes my way. Especially when it comes to smaller budgeted, independently made ones that most people never get a chance to see. HERE I AM is one of those films.

The film tells the story of Karen (Shai Pittman), a young Aboriginal woman who has just been released from prison after two years for substance abuse and drug possession. As soon as she get outs she decides to get her life back into order so that she can reunite with her daughter Rosie (Quinaiha Scott), who for the last few years has been taken care of by Karen’s estranged mum Lois (Marcia Langston). Unfortunately, Lois doesn’t want anything to do with Karen and she doesn’t want her to come into both her and Rosie’s lives anymore. Proving that she has what it takes to go straight, Karen moves into a woman’s shelter, which is home to many other Aboriginal women who are also living in similar circumstances as her’s. As Karen tries to get her life in order by looking for job and getting reconnected with her daughter, she discovers that the long road to going straight can be pretty difficult.

Writer/director Beck Cole’s feature debut is a flawed but decently made and heartfelt film that was quite compelling for most part. Cole does a really good job of respectfully shedding a light on what some Aboriginal women face on a daily basis here in Australia. You can definitely tell that this was a true passion project for her, as she brings a lot of heart, honesty, rawness and authenticity to both the film and its characters, especially our main character of Karen. Even though Karen does have moments where she ventures back into her old habits, we still want her to find redemption for herself so that she can have a better life. The film nicely shot by Cole’s cinematographer/real-life husband Warwick Thornton (who is a writer/director as well, having made the terrific critically acclaimed, award winning film SAMSON AND DELILIAH), the soundtrack is really good and there are some really strong scenes of Karen interacting with both the women of the woman’s shelter and with her daughter Rosie.

However even though I was engaged by the film, I didn’t think it was as powerful or as moving as it could have been. The main reason for that also just happens to be the film’s most fatal flaw: the performances. Cole decided to cast non-professional actors in nearly of the film’s major roles, which was a grave mistake in my opinion as the acting from pretty much most of the cast came off either really amateurish or wooden. I can understand why Cole would do this, as it would bring a lot more authenticity to film. While casting non-actors in film roles has worked wonderfully many times before, unfortunately it just didn’t work here. She should have cast more experienced actors in the film, especially of the main characters of Karen and her mum Lois. Shai Pittman and Marcia Langston’s inexperience when it comes to acting really shines through in their scenes that it actually becomes rather awkward and distracting. Which is a shame because it really lessens the emotional impact of the film (however, to be fair, Pittman does get better in the 3rd act). However there are a couple of bright spots in the cast: I thought that both Pauline Wyman (who plays Skinny, a woman who Karen befriends at the shelter) and Bruce Carter (who plays Jeff, a man that Karen starts a relationship with) were quite good and I enjoyed every moment they were on-screen. But the acting isn’t the only flaw: I felt that that some aspects of the script were underdeveloped and I would have loved that film had explored them more. Also it’s unfortunate that the film basically spell out both its message in a rather blunt matter by a couple of characters (it would have been better if Cole had explored these themes in a more subtle way).

While HERE I AM may have been a mixed bag of a film but I still admire it despite its problems. I think if Cole fixed some of these flaws I think it would have been a much stronger and emotionally richer film rather than just being a decent one, hopefully Cole’s next film will be even better. Still for a debut feature it is a solid and watchable one nonetheless and if you are a fan of Australian films, I’d say it is worth a look.

The Australian DVD 
Audio/Video: The video is a 16:9 widescreen presentation. The picture was pretty good, I had no problems with it. Audio is presented with Dolby Digital 5.1. audio good and strong audio track.

Extras:
* Director Beck Cole’s Short Films – Plains Empty, Wirriya: Small Boy, Flat
* Atom Study Guide
* Trailer

The short films are interesting and worth watching for some good looks into the this fresh new director. The Atom Study Guide is an interesting addition and I liked it.

Overall Rating

Thanks to Ben from MadMan for his support.

– Bede Jermyn

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