DEAD HEART – ON LOCATION
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
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
"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
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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DEAD HEART (1996)
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