Lucky Miles Review
Australia, 1990. A boat pulls up on a remote shore on the Western Australian coast, and unloads its cargo of refugees, a mixture of Iraqis and Cambodians. The refugees are told to walk over the hill where they will find a road, where a bus will call that will take them to Perth. But there is nothing over the hill except endless desert. The Iraqis and Cambodians split up. The latter are picked up fairly soon, but the remainder are at large, with an army unit searching for them...
Lucky Miles, based on an amalgam of true stories, takes on a greater resonance in the wake of the right-wing Howard government's turning away of refugee boats, beginning with the boarding of the Norwegian freighter Tampa in August 2001. However, director Michael James Rowland, his co-writer Helen Barnes and producer Jo Dyer (who appears in the film as a newsreader), had been working on the story of Lucky Miles since 1999, the script itself taking three years to write.
Political themes are there to be had, but Lucky Miles has a light touch, becoming a gentle comedy. From the half-hour point, we follow three refugees: Iraqi Yousif (Rodney Afif) and Cambodia Arun (Kenneth Moraleda), who are separated from their respective parties. They meet up with Ramelan (Srisacd Sacdpraseuth), one of the Indonesian fishermen who abandoned them, having accidentally sunk his uncle's boat. The ill-matched trio, forced together by circumstance, trek across the desert in search of the small town of Broome.
Michael James Rowland had previously made two short films, Flying Over Mother (included on this DVD) and BloodSports, but Lucky Miles is his first feature. As is often the case, a first-time director is backed up by experienced senior crew, in this case DP Geoff Burton and editor Henry Dangar. Their contributions are considerable – particularly Burton's, given the film's production on a low budget and mostly set in desert locations. (The film was shot in winter, so it was not as hot as it might have been, fortunately for the cast.) Take note of a seemingly irrelevant prologue set in Phnom Penh in 1972, which pays off at the very end of the film.
A word too for the subtitling. Although most of the film is in English, five other languages are spoken during the film. Instead of placing the subtitles at the bottom of the frame as usual, they are placed further up in the frame, often above the head of whoever is speaking. This does take a little getting used to, but it works.
Lucky Miles picked up two AFI nominations, for Best Film and Best Screenplay, losing the former to Romulus, My Father and the latter to The Home Song Stories. Apart from a showing at the Barbican in London's Australian Film Festival in March 2008, it has not had a British release.
Lucky Miles is released on DVD by Madman Entertainment, in a two-disc set encoded for Region 4 only. Some strange decisions have been taken in putting this package together, as we shall see.
The first one is the DVD transfer. It is in the correct ratio of 1.85:1 but it is non-anamorphic. Frankly, it's all but unheard of to release a film that isn't 1.33:1 (or arguably 1.66:1) without widescreen enhancement nowadays, but that's what's happened here. To be fair, it's a perfectly good non-anamorphic transfer, with strong colours and solid blacks, but that's the minimum you would expect from any new film. To add insult to injury, the main menus are anamorphic.
The soundtrack is Dolby Digital 5.1, with a 2.0 option as well. There are quite a lot of uses of directional sound, not to mention the world music score by Trilok Gurtu. The soundtrack has a mix of languages, as described above, with white subtitles translating the non-English dialogue. English hard-of-hearing subtitles, in yellow, are more conventionally placed near the bottom of the frame and are 16:9 friendly.
Rowland's commentary is a thorough run-through of the film and how it was made. It's not the most engaging of chats but is informative enough.
The other extras are on Disc Two. They begin with nine deleted or extended scenes, with a play-all option. These are presented in non-anamorphic 1.85:1, with a timecode running in the lower black bar. Differently to the feature, the subtitles for the non-English dialogue are in yellow and at the bottom of the picture. None of these scenes are of particular interest.
“The Making of Lucky Miles” (54:20) is a substantial making-of documentary, which pretty much covers all bases. Interviewees include Michael James Rowland and Jo Dyer, and several members of the cast and crew. It rather makes redundant another extra, “The Background to Lucky Miles” (12:15), which plays rather like a cut-down version of the longer feature and which features some of the same interview material.
Now, someone must have once had the idea of recording the audience reaction at a showing of a film and including it as a DVD extra. But it's one of those ideas best abandoned in the cold light of day. But on this DVD they've gone and done it (13:51). This showing was at the Sydney Film Festival where Lucky Miles went on to win the Audience Award, so I think they enjoyed it.
“Flying Over Mother”, made in 1997, was Rowlands's graduate piece from film school. The story of a cosmonaut, it runs 8:59, with the dialogue in Russian with English subtitles.
Also on the disc is another interview with Rowland (26:06), conducted by Margaret Pomeranz for ABC Television's At the Movies, including material which did not go out on air. It's a thorough piece, even if it does duplicate material from other extras.
The on-disc extras conclude with the theatrical trailer (1:53) and the usual “Madman Propaganda”. This begins with an anti-piracy ad (not the usual “You Wouldn't Steal a Car” one), and trailers for The Home Song Stories, Noise, Ten Canoes, Romulus, My Father and Kenny.
The extras are completed by two DVD-ROM items in PDF format. First is an 111-page item containing all the storyboards Rowland drew for the film, which will no doubt be very useful to filmmakers. Secondly is a study guide, which particularly emphasises the themes of refugees and asylum seekers.
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