For acclaimed director Warwick Thornton, the desire to make The Darkside, a kind of oral anthology of Indigenous Australian ghost stories, came from reasons both personal and cultural.
“I’ve always been interested in ghost stories,” he explains. “I love movies about ghosts and all that sort of stuff. I hate that sort of torture porn with women being chopped up in bikinis and all that but I really like intelligent kind of ghost stories and felt empowered by that.”
But the Indigenous filmmaker also has a keen awareness of the important role that the supernatural plays in his heritage, and that also informed his artistic choices. “Being Aboriginal and from Alice Springs, it’s been part of my life – my ancestors, the country I live in. We believe that the spirits are around us all the time and, when you walk through the bush, the trees are watching you and the rocks and all that stuff. So it’s something I really enjoy thinking about, it’s something I enjoy watching – when it’s done well- so I wanted to create something really simple, really beautiful that showed our spirituality and our connection to history, connection to ancestry that Indigenous people have.”
To that end, he put out an open call for stories he might use through a number of avenues, including the ABC and regional newspapers. “We wanted firsthand ghost stories so we could get rid of all the urban myths which are out there, of which there are a lot of. We wanted real personal stories. At first they just trickled through and then there was a bit of a flood. Some are absolutely amazing, some were really boring, so we just did a gentle culling process, looking for those stories that might have that connection to family that we wanted.”
What he found was that the stories that came in were not necessarily scary in the normal sense, but spoke to a certain faith in the uncanny that provided some measure of comfort. “Totally, absolutely.” he affirms. “When we did the call out, when we were first looking for the stories, I said ‘the scarier the better,’ but what I was really wanted was that connection that family has, because that’s universal, in a sense – it’s not an Indigenous speciality. We all have ghost stories, we all have had a friend die or a family member and, the night after they’ve died or the night after they’re buried, you’re kind of looking for signs – that’s kind of universal to all cultures. I felt that was a connection that everybody has and it could be really beautiful to look at.
“It’s just that simple question, ‘Is there anything after?’ – you know what I mean? When your ticker stops, is there anything more? Maybe you do get to come back and say g’day to your mates at the pub – but you can’t drink!” he laughs.