Phillip Noyce

Rabbit-Proof Fence

Interviewed by Stephen Applebaum

Had you been planning to make a film in Australia before you received the screenplay for "Rabbit-Proof Fence"?

I'd been trying to find one but never with success, because I'd increasingly become unconnected with Australia. You know, you go to Hollywood and work internationally, and just the little jokes no longer make you laugh. I was alienated from my own culture.

You've talked about feeling a sense of mission with this film. Why?

When I read it, it started pressing these buttons. I remembered the 500 people that lived on a reserve outside my little town, behind a big fence. Australia's called the "Lucky Country", because we always thought there's so much to go round. Well, if that's the case, why were these people locked up behind this fence, and why did every country town have one? It was just normal. But later you'd think, This normality is not normal. There's something up.

Some people have said you let Kenneth Branagh's character, AO Neville, off the hook by portraying him as misguided rather than as someone knowingly abetting genocide. Why weren't you more critical?

I just was very conscious of the need to allow the white Australian audience to understand how this could have happened. And all the documentation did not point to a man that had an evil bone in his body. He may have killed with kindness, but he really thought he was doing the right thing. This was a time when, on the frontiers, there were still mass killings. So in that context, providing life, he was a bit of a saviour.

How do you hope people respond to "Rabbit-Proof Fence"?

I hope people see it and send enormous amounts of recognition to indigenous people in Australia. Recognition for what has happened to them, and recognition for the vitality of their spirit and strength and resilience. As for the future, I hope we'll make a sequel. Doris Pilkington has now written another book, "Under the Windamarra Tree", which continues the story.