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Bryan Brown is producer as well as star of Dead Heart, a tough and controversial story about the conflict between black and white justice in Australia’s hot centre. Andrew L. Urban visits the set.

We are at Jay Creek, an isolated desert location off the road west of Alice Springs, in the middle of the vast, empty centre of Australia, the film crew camped by the water hole. Bryan Brown appears in a stained singlet and shorts, easily mistaken for one of the grips. He is in fact the star and the producer of Dead Heart, the debut feature for writer director Nick Parsons.

It is a story set in a small Aboriginal community where one of the young men defiles a sacred site by making love to a white woman. Tribal law demands he be executed, but to the white man's law, that is murder.

The waterhole is still in the late morning sunshine; but by late afternoon, a dust storm sweeps through the location, in a demonstration of Australian outback nature's fickle, dangerous nature. Here, just a short drive from Alice Spirngs, a man can still die from heat, drought or even from supposedley nothing at all....

Brown was taken with Parsons' script, and is proud to be producing a film that will take audiences into the Aboriginal world with more than pictures: several scenes will feature dialogue in Arrante and Pintubi, two of several hundred Aboriginal dialects.

"I want people to feel that the movie has something very interesting and original about it. That they haven't been there before. I don't want to scare people, I don't want to go, ‘don't tell people we've got subtitles’. I want them to know they're fucking there and there's a reason for that, because we're taken into a world that they don't know."

He cites aspects of the film such as Aboriginal 'payback' traditions, power games, manipulation, racial sexuality and "other stuff that's confrontational. I actually think the film will cause controversy."

It is precisely the sort of work Brown wants to be able to do, something that matters to him.

He is adamant that Dead Heart should not be described as a film about Aborigines. "It's really important that people like you get the right message across: this is a fascinating story about people, black and white people who live in the centre of Australia. It happens to touch on tribal Aborigines in a way that's never been done before. It's really a tough drama, about where the white and black people meet - and where they don't. This is gripping stuff. It isn't preaching," he adds with emphasis, "it's a great yarn.

"But we do have to get it right," and he admits film making is notoriously tricky to get right.

As for questions about its mass appeal, Brown responds rhetorically, "I mean, did The Piano have mainstream appeal?"

In order to better handle the dual roles of leading man and producer, Brown invited Helen Watts, a long time friend and professional colleague, to join him as a second producer, who would take care of the day to day workload.

"If we have to discuss something," says Watts, "he'll take off his actor's hat and deal with it. He's very straight, and says what he means; no hidden agendas. He's a very moral person. I knew all this as a friend, but it's reinforced at work. And he's very amusing; we laugh a lot."

Reported August 1996

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Writer/Director: Nick Parsons
Producers: Bryan Brown, Helen Watts
DoP: James Bartle
Cast: Bryan Brown, Ernie Dingo, Angie Milliken, Aaron Pedersen, Gnarnayarrahe Waitare, Lewis Fitz-Gerald, Anne Tenney, John Jarratt, Lafe Charlton, Djunawong Stanley Mirindo, Peter Francis

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