Fresh out of prison, Karen (Shai Pittman), a beautiful, young Aboriginal woman, finds herself stuck on the streets. She finds sanctuary at a shelter for Aboriginal women where she begins the painful journey of reconnecting with her estranged mother and her young daughter.
HERE I AM is a story of struggle. Karen has been in prison and now she has to pull together some kind of life on the outside. We discover that in her past, Karen was known to sleep around, do drugs and worse still she was a neglectful mother. We see she is keen to have a fresh start. She tries to reconnect with her demanding mother Lois who has custody of Karen’s child.
Karen is a tough position. She needs to show the world, her mother and most importantly herself, that she can change her life. Her goal is to be able to raise her daughter. But Karen finds her old life tempting. She starts her journey being suspicious of Big Red the woman who runs Temple House, the halfway house she is assigned to. She doesn’t exactly feel a bond with the other women there, either. But slowly Karen gets to see that she has a lot in common with the other occupants.
Her mother is supposed to have had a similarly murky past, but has cleaned up her act and now feels she can sit in judgement on her daughter. Their scenes together show the anger and disappointment the two women have in each other. Neither can rely on each other and this is a continual source of pain for them both.
Director Beck Cole often chooses a strong female protagonist in her films. Karen has a tendency to fly off the handle when she perceives an injustice or wrongdoing. She will pick battles she can’t possibly win. When she meets a stranger called Jeff in a deli, she shows resourcefulness in dealing with his lack of money to buy groceries.
The mostly female cast of the movie includes a large contingent of non-professionals chosen for their understanding of the characters they are portraying. Shai Pittmann who plays Karen, had a supporting role in the TV series ALL SAINTS. Marcia Langton who plays Lois is also Foundation Chair of Australian Indigenous Studies at the University of Melbourne. Notable performances come from Pauline Whyman who plays Skinny. She’s one of the lighter characters from Temple House. And the part of Jeff is solidly portrayed by Bruce Carter.
Director Cole began her career as a journalist with Imparja Television in Central Australia. Since graduating from the Australian Film, Television and Radio School in 2002, Cole has directed the majority of her documentaries and short films in Alice Springs, often working with the Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association (CAAMA). She also worked on the landmark Indigenous documentary series FIRST AUSTRALIANS. HERE I AM is her first feature film.
HERE I AM is in Australian cinemas now. It runs for 91 minutes. I rated it 2.5/5
The AccessReel audio interview with director Beck Cole is here (runs 11 minutes)