10 Iconic Australian Films Made by First Nations Directors

The Sapphires

NAIDOC Week celebrates and recognised the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. It’s an opportunity for all Australians to learn about First Nations cultures and histories. The Latch team is sharing stories to help educate, honour and guide in our continued to push for change, so be sure to find all our pieces here. Val Morgan Digital acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and their connections to land, sea and community. We pay respect to their Elders past and present and extend that respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

To celebrate NAIDOC Week 2022, 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.

This year, NAIDOC Week runs from Sunday, July 3 and ends on Sunday, July 10. The 2022 theme is “Get Up! Stand Up! Show Up!”

The theme is all about encouraging people “to champion institutional, structural, collaborative, and cooperative change while celebrating those who have already driven and led change in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities over generations”.

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 7 Plus

Related: How the New Government Will Affect the Rights and Lives of Indigenous People

Related: NAIDOC’s 2022 School Resource Can Teach More Than Just Kids

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 Netflix


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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