”I’m not black, I’m not white, I’m a yellow fella and I’m gonna stay that way”.
Festival De Cannes Official Selection, Un Certain Regard
25 minute documentary
Director Ivan Sen
In 1978, Tom Lewis appeared in the Australian feature film, The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith. The life of the character he played was hauntingly close to his own, a young, restless man of mixed heritage, struggling for a foothold on the edge of two cultures. Tom’s mother is a traditional Indigenous woman of southern Arnhem Land, his father a Welsh stockman who he never really knew.
Yellow Fella is a journey across the land and into Tom’s past, as he attempts to find the resting place of his father and to finally confront the truth of his most inner feelings of love and identity.
DVD available from the Ronin Films.
Further clips and teachers notes are available from Australian Screen. If you intend to use this film in the classroom please purchase an educational copy from the CAAMA shop.
The initial idea for Yellow Fella involved a love story between Tom’s mother and father. After the development shoot, we soon found the truth was a lot different. It became obvious the real story was about Tom as he struggled to come to terms with the truth of his parent’s relationship, which forced him to reflect on his life as a man of mixed heritage.
I really wanted to plan a strong plot-like structure to force Tom to go through the motions of revelation in front of the camera as we travelled. Tom mentioned that he didn’t know where his father was buried and I instantly saw this search as a fantastic objective for him, and a strong opportunity for a climax to the story.
On the last day of the shoot, we drove to Tenant Creek to find the resting place of Tom’s father. Up to that point, the material contained more story than emotion. But as the sun set over the Tenant Creek cemetery, the emotion within Tom could no longer be contained. I knew something pretty special had happened through the viewfinder. And the next morning it continued, as we said goodbye and parted.
I identified a lot with what Tom went through on this journey. I have a similar background to Tom, but for him, it is very extreme. He has a fifty-fifty mix of two incredibly different gene pools. And with that can come a lot of pain, but also an incredible view of the world through privileged eyes – like Angelina’s totem, the Falcon, whose feathers faithfully hung from the rear vision mirror throughout the journey.
On Cannes Film Festival selection:
Yeah, it was a big surprise. I knew the Cannes scout had a look at the tape and liked the film, but we all knew that Cannes didn’t usually accept short documentaries, so I basically forgot about it until the producer called me. I thought wow, that’s great.
I suppose the film does have a dramatic feel to it though, in terms of its structure. I’ve been working on three different feature drama scripts for the last couple of years, and I was interested in applying a strong dramatic structure to the story, and allow Tom to interact within it. He’s such an amazing person and performer. He has a great ability to say the right thing at the right time and do the right thing just when you want it.
2005 Sydney Film Festival
2005 Official Selection, Un Certain Regard, Festival De Cannes
2005 Brighton International Film Festival, Michigan
2005 WordStorm Festival Darwin
2005 Sydney Indigenous Arts Festival
2005 NAIDOC Festival NMA Canberra
2005 New Zealand Film Festivals Auckland and Wellington
2005 Melbourne International Film Festival
2005 Garma Festival, Gulkula NT
2005 Brisbane International Film Festival
2005 Big Screen AFC touring festival
2005 Fred Hollows Foundation International Conference, Katherine
2005 CineManila Film Festival, The Philippines
2005 ImagineNative Film Festival (Toronto)
2005 Amiens International Film Festival, France
2005 International Film Festival of Kerala, India
2005 Documentaire sur le Grand Ecran, Paris
Featuring Tom E Lewis and Angelina George
Director - Ivan Sen
Writers - Tom E Lewis and Fleur Parry
Producer - Citt Williams
Editor - Alison McSkimming Croft
Cinematographer - Ivan Sen
Sound recordist - Kuji Jenkins
Composer - Alister Spence
Stills Photographer - Kuji Jenkins
Post production - Visualeyes, Sydney and CAAMA Productions
Post sound - Audioloc, Sydney
Developed and Produced in association with the Indigenous Unit of the Australian Film Commission, Film Finance Corporation and SBSi