Australia is one of the most diverse, culturally complex, and expansive countries in the world. But the sad reality is that many people still picture Australia as an exotic, far-off land rampant with kangaroos, koalas, and toilets that flush backwards. Who can blame our limited knowledge when the only Australian influences we’ve grown up with are Crocodile Dundee, Outback Steakhouse, and Men at Work? Well, now we know these tropes are just a tiny slice of the culture, thanks to a wide range of Australian creators. From family dramedies to whip-smart comedians and Aussie filmmakers exploring other cultures, we’re spotlighting 10 titles on Topic that show you all sides of Australia.
Like a gothic fairy tale too dark for even the Brothers Grimm, “Lambs of God” follows three nuns living in an isolated, forgotten convent with nothing but a flock of sheep. When a young priest comes to inspect the abbey for the Catholic Church, he suffers an injury and becomes their prisoner. The series is a masterclass in slow-building unease and tension, with a payoff that is well worth the wait. The jagged, windswept coastal setting is the perfect backdrop for the eerie story, and makes for some stunning cinematography. But what really makes the show something special are the searing performances by Essie Davis, Jessica Barden, and a deliciously unhinged Ann Dowd.
Australian comedian Hannah Gadsby puts her university degree to good use in two docu-series examining the more problematic areas of art history. In “Hannah Gadsby’s Nakedy Nudes,” she explores the history of “the nude” in Western art, challenging persistent themes, like the glorification of masculine strength, and applauding the reclamation of the male gaze by female artists. “I want to tell you a story about how, against all odds, bums, boobs, and tiny penii were transformed into civilized, serious, worthy subjects — definitely not porn — through the magic of art.”
In “Hannah Gadsby’s Oz,” she travels across the continent and meets with various contemporary artists to debunk how the art canon has defined the Australian national identity, namely how it’s defined by rugged white men in hats. Starting with art made by white settlers and working her way through to boundary-pushing contemporary art, Gadsby will “show you what I see, what I don’t see, and what I want to see” in an effort to redefine the Australian identity a bit more accurately.
This is both a family dramedy and a love letter to Adelaide, Australia — the type of city that people are eager to leave but never leaves them. “F*!#ing Adelaide” is centered around a family who must reunite in Adelaide when the matriarch decides to sell their childhood house. Told from all six family members’ perspectives, we quickly learn that each one is more dysfunctional than the next. There’s Eli, a failing cabaret singer who can’t make rent, Kitty, a cupcake enthusiast with a penchant for anonymous sex, and Maude, the matriarch who tries to hold the family together with tragic results. Maybe some families are just cursed, maybe it’s just f*!#ing Adelaide.
What better way to get to know Australia than by car? “Goober” is about Harry, an Uber driver with autism who tries his best to interact with his passengers and win over his crush at the drive-through window, but, well, people are complicated. Though Harry struggles to connect with others, it’s his unwavering effort and optimism that makes us think he’ll be just fine — plus, his dad’s sage advice. And even if most of us prefer to ride in silence, “Goober” might make you appreciate your Uber drivers a bit more from now on.
Move over, Wes Anderson and Michel Gondry. There’s a new master of whimsy in town, and it’s newcomer Rosemary Myers. Her directorial debut, “Girl Asleep” is a highly imaginative coming-of-age story that delves inside the mind of a teenage girl on her 15th birthday. Myers brings to life all the typical adolescent insecurities — bullies, unattainable crushes, fitting in — with playful flair, using vintage-y pastel color palettes, choreographed dance sequences, and magical forest creatures, proving that she’s one of the freshest new creators coming out of Australia.
This haunting short film uses mysterious percussion sounds and insect trilling in lieu of dialogue, in conjunction with a long, slow single shot to create tension and dread while depicting a typically frivolous event: the high school formal. Viewers will get the distinct sense that something’s not right, and their suspicions are validated, and then some, with one of the most spine-chilling endings ever imagined. It may only be eight minutes long, but, man, it will stay with you all day.
Did you know that Australia is home to one of China’s most controversial artists? Well, sort of. Political cartoonist and activist Badiucao lives in exile in Australia after becoming a target of the Chinese government. “China’s Artful Dissident” follows the artist as he meets with fellow dissidents across the globe and prepares for an upcoming exhibition in Hong Kong. Along the way, viewers are able to glimpse some of his most subversive works, including a cartoon of human rights lawyer Wang Yu with a gun pointed at the back of her head and a wheat paste series of China president Xi Jinping satirizing his forever term.
Showcasing the brimming talent of award-winning filmmaker Elise McCredie, “Sunshine Kings” follows Jacob (played by Wally Elnour), a young basketball player from South Sudan with aspirations to join the NBA. When he and his friends are accused of stealing a Porsche and injuring a teenage girl in a wealthy neighborhood, his dreams could be dashed. The series also stars Anthony LaPaglia (who is coincidentally from Adelaide) as Jacob’s basketball coach and Melanie Lynskey as a sympathetic lawyer trying to figure out exactly what happened that night. But it’s Elnour and the other South Sudanese Australian actors who really stand out. Fun fact: none of them were professional actors before joining the series. Now that’s raw talent.
If you find “Sunshine Kings” inspiring and want to get to know the real-life South Sudanese basketball players of Australia, “This Is Yarra” is the eye-opening documentary about two junior players, Riyadh Aden and Dut Dut from the Yarra Wild Beasts, as they prepare for the South Sudanese Australian National Basketball Association Tournament. In Australia’s current sociopolitical climate, dominated by sensationalism and headlines about “African gangs,” “This Is Yarra” provides a different take on a community that’s just trying to move up in the world.