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River of No Return - An Autobiographical Doco

Review: River of No Return An Autobiographical Documentary

Scoop Review: Auckland International Film Festival

By Natasha Burling

River of No Return is a fascinating look at the life of an aspiring aboriginal actress who dares to dream beyond the vast countryside that surrounds her in the Northern Territory of Australia.

Frances Daingangan tells her own story narrating this documentary. Frances’ goals, to be an actress like her screen idol Marilyn Monroe, are ridiculed by friends and family who have a more realistic take on life.

But when a director comes to town to cast for the movie Ten Canoes, the Yolngu woman’s premonitions of being picked to star in the movie come to pass.

Frances then embarks on her journey up the river of life, going against the flow of those surrounding her. Her journey takes her to the red carpet of the Cannes film festival and to Paris where she dreams Monroe is with her. She comes back a changed woman and resolves to apply for acting school.

The lonely figure of Frances walking on a dirt road in her native North East Arnhemland is a recurring image in the film, symbolising Frances’ solitary path towards her ambitions.

She longs to fulfil her aims to be an actress yet feels the pull to stay with her family to maintain centuries-old traditions and beliefs.

Straddling the world of the white man and that of her ancestors; she doesn’t quite fit in to either.

The interweaving of the traditional and modern is evident in Frances’ isolated Northern Territory town. The boys dress as drag queens and emulate Priscilla characters but feel just as at home performing aboriginal dances. Ironically they’ve even made it on to You Tube.

The score is haunting yet unobtrusive and the cinematography goes beyond documentary formulae to convey the message and differing moods of the movie effectively.

Frances’ naivety and hope are at once disarming and inspiring. This documentary is set to give her more exposure so who knows? Maybe her dreams will come true.

Sunday 20 July, 1.15pm Sky City Cinemas Queen St
Monday 21 July, 2.30pm Academy Cinema
River of No Return - Australia
Director/ Screenplay: Darlene Johnson
Photography: Simon Smith
Editors: Denise Haslem, Bill Russo
Music: Tom Heuzenroeder
Narrator: Frances Daingangan
In English and Yolngu, with English subtitles
53 minutes/ DigiBeta
Genre: Documentary



Natasha Burling is an AUT journalism student doing the Graduate Diploma in Journalism. She has lived in Colombia, France and Scotland.

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