Whilst the launch of Davidson’s memoir was monumental in 1980, the film Tracks is equally set to become iconic amongst Australian films.
At an advanced screening at the Nova Cinema, recently in Melbourne, Robyn Davidson herself, along with former National Geographic photographer Rick Smolan, as well as Track’s camel wrangler Andrew Harper, gave the privileged audience their personal insights into the process of advising and assisting the cast and crew to create the filmic masterpiece we witnessed.
The cinematic journey of the film, not only covers Robyn’s amazing personal journey, it equally skilfully mirrors the photographic work of Rick Smolan in regularly documenting “the camel lady’s” journey and the complex twists and turns of the relationship that evolved between them.
Here lies the biggest discrepancy between Davidson’s own memoir, where their relationship remains secondary to the camels, the landscape and the emotional demands of her undertaking. Their relationship is central to the film. It eclipses the individual relationship Davidson forged with each of her camels and very nearly, her dog Diggerty, as well as the omnipresence of the environment.
However, this reflects the points of difference of the two mediums. Davidson’s extraordinary narrative pervades both page and now screen, in a manner that celebrates the human spirit, concepts of solitude, perceptions of danger and the female hero.
The film conveys Robyn’s sensitivity and awareness of Aboriginal culture and beliefs with the same clarity as her memoir, with nothing lost in the translation between mediums.
Omnipresent is the ever-changing Australian desert landscape and the demands it places on Robyn and her camels.
It was fascinating to see how closely the key cast members resembled and spoke like the real life protagonists, but certainly not at the expense of credible acting.
Mia Wasikovska’s performance as Robyn is both convincing and poignant, covering enormous emotional and physical scope that the screen play and Australian desert settings demanded of her. Coupled with the demands upon her as an actor, was the need to develop a rapport with the camels as well as skills as a cameleer in the process of undertaking the role.
Cameleer Andrew Harper, outlined how Wasikovska had no prior experience in working with camels and immediately struck a rapport with the animals that was paramount to her extraordinary realisation of the role. She was to be found spending time with her camel co-stars both on and off set. They quickly developed both trust and respect for her, as a cameleer in her own right.
Davidson celebrated Wasikovska’s on screen charisma and skill in portraying her young, adventurous self. She was thrilled to be so well represented on screen and had previously hesitated at handing over the rights to her memoir, to earlier film offers, concerned that its uniquely Australian context and characters may be lost.
She also believed the cast and crew in many ways had a more physically emotionally difficult journey than her own, given that her 9 month camel trek was undertaken during the coolest months of the year, whereas a summer shoot meant regularly working in temperatures of over 40 degrees in some of the toughest locations in Australia.
Former National Geographic photographer Rick Smolan, outlined how his own life too had fundamentally changed as a result of covering Davidson’s journey. He had totally underestimated the power of photography to transform lives in covert, invasive and unanticipated negative ways, to the extent he resigned from National Geographic on completion of his assignment and moved from working as a still photographer to cinematography, which he believes is way less invasive than still photography, dealing with fictional characters, rather than vulnerable individuals. These days, the only still photographs he takes, are of his family.
A further strength of the film, is that it conveys the naivety of both Robyn and Rick, in the process of a story that overwhelmed both their lives as Robyn’s epic journey gained national and international notoriety at the expense of her personal aspirations and desire for anonymity.
Smolan is portrayed ably by Adam Driver in a role that sees his screen presence ignite as much as Mia Wasikovska’s. His character moves from one with whom the audience is deliberately alienated from via Robyn’s clear desire to avoid media attention, despite needing National Geographic’s funding to enable her undertaking, as well as contravening Aboriginal cultural protocols. Over the course of the action Driver’s portrayal sympathetically expands as he portrays his character’s personal journey, emotional involvement and desire to protect Robyn from the glare of publicity.
Quintessential to the film are also the fabulous snapshots of a range of Australian characters in the broadest sense of the word, from binary opposite cameleer mentors, to Eric, the Aboriginal elder that leads her through sacred country, so to avoid transgressing cultural morays, as well as minimising the distance she needed to cover. Then to, was the classic couple in the outback who welcomed her into their homes as if an expected, prodigal family daughter.
Casting, cinematography and the overall production come together to create a masterpiece of Australian film, that will no doubt awaken a new generation to Davidson’s inspiring journey and narrative, as well as creating a masterful new Australian film.
The credits, reveal Smolan’s original shots taken during Davidson’s 1977 journey, and from which the film draws cinematographic inspiration as much as Davidson’s memoirs.
It is a film that truly lend itself to “the big screen” and a film that has already been celebrated as a monumental achievement at film festivals in Venice, Toronto and similar events worldwide. The audience members at the advanced screening at the Nova were equally impressed and moved at just how skilfully Davidson’s Tracks was transported from page to screen!
Tracks, commences screening at The Regent Cinema, Ballarat and the Nova Cinema, Carlton this Thursday, 6th March, in line with its national release.
Don’t miss it!