10 Iconic Australian Films Made by First Nations Directors

The Sapphires

For NAIDOC Week 2023, we’re taking some time to look at the incredible contributions that First Nations directors have made to the film industry in Australia and beyond. There are so many films by First Nations directors that are not only worth seeing, but are readily available to stream and enjoy, and what’s better than that?

Earlier this year, Warwick Thornton’s latest film The New Boy, starring Cate Blanchett, premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, before holding its Australian premiere at the Sydney Film Festival. The 2023 Sydney Film Festival also debuted Allan Clarke’s documentary The Dark Emu Story, which re-examines the discourse and controversy around Bruce Pascoe’s 2014 book Dark Emu.

While we wait for these films to be released outside of film festivals, though, there are plenty of great films by First Nations directors that we can watch during NAIDOC Week 2023.

NAIDOC Week 2023

This year, NAIDOC Week runs from Sunday, July 2 and ends on Sunday, July 9. The 2023 theme is “For Our Elders”.

The theme is about acknowledging and paying tribute to the important role that Elders have played in First Nations communities and families, across every generation.

“They are cultural knowledge holders, trailblazers, nurturers, advocates, teachers, survivors, leaders, hard workers and our loved ones,” states the official website. “We pay our respects to the Elders we’ve lost and to those who continue fighting for us across all our Nations and we pay homage to them.”

To celebrate NAIDOC Week 2023, we’ve pulled together a list of 10 incredible Australian films from First Nations directors.

From romantic comedies like Top End Wedding, to the original Mystery Road film, which would go on to be developed into the ABC’s hit drama series of the same name, our favourite films by First Nations directors put the spotlight on some of our country’s most talented creatives.

Here are 10 incredible films from First Nations filmmakers.

Bran Nue Dae

Directed by: Rachel Perkins
Starring: Rocky McKenzie, Jessica Mauboy, Ernie Dingo
Synopsis: An Aboriginal student on the west coast of Australia in the late ’60s runs away from a Catholic boarding school with his cruel headmaster in hot pursuit, meeting eccentric characters along the journey back to his home town.
Where to watch: Watch Bran Nue Dae on Netflix


Directed by: Ivan Sen
Starring: Aaron Pedersen, Alex Russell, Jacki Weaver
Synopsis: Indigenous detective Jay Swan arrives in the town of Goldstone to search for a missing person, and his simple duty becomes complicated when he uncovers a web of crime and corruption.
Where to watch: Watch Goldstone on iView

Jasper Jones

Directed by: Rachel Perkins
Starring: Levi Miller, Kevin Long, Toni Collette
Synopsis: Jasper Jones is a coming of age story about Charlie Bucktin, a bookish boy of 14. On the night that Jasper Jones, the town’s mixed race outcast shows him the dead body of young Laura Wishart, Charlie’s life is changed forever. Entrusted with this secret and believing Jasper to be innocent, Charlie embarks on a dangerous journey to find the true killer.

Set over the scorching summer holidays of 1969, Charlie defeats the local racists, faces the breakup of his parents and falls head over heels in love as he discovers what it means to be truly courageous.
Where to watch: Watch Jasper Jones on Stan

Related: 8 Must-Listen Podcasts by First Nations Creators

Related: 12 Must-Read Books From First Nations Authors

Mystery Road

Directed by: Ivan Sen
Starring: Aaron Pedersen, Hugo Weaving, Ryan Kwanten
Synopsis: An Indigenous detective returns to the outback to investigate the murder of a young girl.
Where to watch: Watch Mystery Road on Stan


Directed by: Rachel Perkins
Starring: Deborah Mailman, Trisha Morton-Thomas, Rachael Maza
Synopsis: Three sisters reunite after some years apart, for their mother’s funeral. Cressy (Maza), the eldest of the three, is a diva – an opera singer who is reluctant to visit the past and definitely doesn’t want to share it with her sisters. Mae (Morton-Thomas), has stayed behind looking after mum, and believes that Cressy hasn’t shared enough. Nona (Mailman), the youngest and the party girl, just wants them to all be one happy family.
Where to watch: Watch Radiance on SBS On Demand

Samson and Delilah

Directed by: Warwick Thornton
Starring: Rowan McNamara, Marissa Gibson, Mitjili Napanangka Gibson
Synopsis: A boy and his girlfriend escape the government-controlled no-hope Aboriginal community they live in and go to the city, Alice Springs, looking for a better life.
Where to watch: Watch Samson and Delilah on SBS On Demand

The Sapphires

Directed by: Wayne Blair
Starring: Chris O’Dowd, Deborah Mailman, Jessica Mauboy
Synopsis: It’s 1968, and four young, talented Australian Aboriginal girls learn about love, friendship and war when their all-girl group The Sapphires entertain the US troops in Vietnam.
Where to watch: Watch The Sapphires on Netflix

Sweet Country

Directed by: Warwick Thornton
Starring: Hamilton Morris, Shanika Cole, Ewen Leslie
Synopsis: Australian western set on the Northern Territory frontier in the 1920s, where justice itself is put on trial when an aged Aboriginal farmhand shoots a white man in self-defence and goes on the run as a posse gathers to hunt him down.
Where to watch: Watch Sweet Country on SBS on Demand


Directed by: Ivan Sen
Starring: Daniel Connors, Christopher Edwards, Michael Connors
Synopsis: In a remote Aboriginal community, 10-year-old Daniel yearns to be a gangster, like the male role models in his life.
Where to watch: Watch Toomelah on Netflix

Top End Wedding

Directed by: Wayne Blair
Starring: Miranda Tapsell, Helena Johnson, Dan Collins
Synopsis: Lauren and Ned are engaged, they are in love, and they have just 10 days to find Lauren’s mother, who has gone AWOL somewhere in the remote far north of Australia, reunite her parents and pull off their dream wedding.
Where to watch: Watch Top End Wedding on Netflix

This article is part of Greenlight — The Latch’s commitment to the Australian film industry. For more content in this series, click here.

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