preface \ reflection 09

Warwick Thornton

Film Director, Screenwriter, Cinematographer, Artist


Warwick Thornton

Born in Alice Springs in 1970, Warwick Thornton was first a DJ at Alice Springs radio station, CAAMA, before going on to become a cinematographer, director and writer of short and feature films.

Throughout his career, Thornton has continued to tell uniquely Australian stories that have largely evolved from his own life experiences. His widely acclaimed feature film; Samson and Delilah won the Caméra d’Or at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival, which introduced his movies and a unique perspective to an international audience.

In his relatively short career, Warwick Thornton has won a total of 25 awards and received a further 13 nominations worldwide.  He has written six screenplays, directed 10 films, and as a cinematographer he has been credited in more than 29 productions. He is also represented by Anna Schwartz Gallery for his photographic art.

Warwick continues to reside in his hometown of Alice Springs.

The most important understanding of my youth is through dirt, actual dirt...


You know, I grew up barefoot. I didn’t go to school a lot because I didn’t have shoes, and you weren’t allowed in school if you had no shoes. So I didn’t go much, and the repercussions of not going to school, as a writer, later, became very apparent. 

When you’re desperate to write a story, you know, desperate to tell that story but you can’t actually spell, you can’t write, it’s a challenge.

I wrote everything freehand and phonetically and no one could read it, basically. Later, I had to teach myself how to write and spell through Google. What a powerful tool that is. You have to Google every word. It’s a long process, but if you’re empowered to tell that story, it doesn’t matter, you know. It takes eight times as long to tell it, but you do it because you have to do it, you have to tell that story.

Now spending so much of my time in cities (Melbourne, Sydney, Berlin, New York), I kind of find myself reverting back to being barefoot. You forget that feeling of your toes in the red sand here. You forget that feeling because your feet are enclosed – you can’t even go to the shopping centre without shoes on. But out here you can literally throw them away and go around barefoot. You might get the occasional prickle or scar, but that’s life, in a sense.

It’s interesting to me that I now try to get back to having no shoes on – to feel the land under my feet, the heat, the cold, the ice on the dirt.  To really feel the elements, smell the rain on the dirt and want to just walk in it, stain your feet red with it.  Desert sand stains you like henna.  Especially when they are so fucking pale from six months post-production in Sydney.  It sometimes feels like you’re taking the shackles off from this other existence, from being blinkered by making money and this business of telling stories - this other life.  You forget. You forget to take your shoes off, to be a black fella, because you’re too busy creating this other existence.

In storytelling, there has to be a truth. Even if it's fictitious, it has to be truthful to what you feel and who you are.  That’s the irony of something like not having shoes when you’re a child, and then trying to get back there. It's sort of like the black fella who goes off on that non-indigenous journey and then realises he wants to get back to his roots, in a perfectly methodical kind of way.

You just end up wanting to get back to your roots.


You know, there are a lot of Aboriginal people who could speak a native language when they were children.  They were taught it, and then they lost it over their lives - either it was belted out of them or they chose not to speak it, in order to survive in a non-indigenous world.  And then they get old and they get senile, and what actually comes back to them is language, they start speaking their native tongue again.  It’s interesting that when the dementia folds in, they go back to their roots and forget all the western world in-between. 

I guess I’m having a mild version of that with bare feet.