Freedom is the screen directorial debut of well-known Australian star of stage and television, Peter Cousens; people will remember this Tamworth boy from a string of miniseries like Return to Eden and Under Capricorn on the small screen and for lead roles in stage musicals like Les Miserables and Miss Saigon.
The film begins in an old fashioned way with a long list of credits while you listen to a sombre choral rendition of the American spiritual Swing Low Sweet Chariot that has come to be irrevocably associated with Black America and slavery.
Then after some on-screen facts and figures of the slave trade: it is Virginia 1856 where slaves Samuel (Cuba Gooding Junior), his elderly mother Adira (Phyllis Basch), the beautiful Vanessa (Sharon Leal), her young son Jim (Aaron Bantum) and the giant Big Hand (Phillip Boykin) escape from the plantation of feared overlord Jefferson Monroe (David Rasche).
They hope to link up with the 'Underground Railroad, a secret route organised by a clandestine group led by Quakers who are dedicated to helping slaves escape the south and find new lives in Canada.
But threaded through this is a second story which begins in Rochester, England 1748 where young naval lieutenant John Newton (Bernard Forcher) is given command of the Pegasus and the job of transporting a cargo of slaves from Gambia to Carolina, a valuable cargo that must be kept alive and fit at all cost.
On board is a young black boy who, faced with the brutality of the situation, is determined to starve himself but is saved by a black preacher Ozias (Jubilant Sykes) and given a bible with jeweled bookmark that becomes the prized possession and inspiration for his daughter Adira.
When the bible or mark is contemplated by the escaping slaves the scene flashes back to the story of the young English slaver captain who had a major epiphany on his voyage, was later ordained as an Anglican cleric and became a lifelong opponent of the slave trade but who is most famous and best remembered for writing the hymn Amazing Grace.
Both stories are complex with many characters and the oscillations between them present some problems for the viewer: there's the sense that too much has been crammed into too short a space and a degree of concentration is required to sort things out.
However there is also much to like in this beautifully shot (Dean Cundey) film that contains many fine performances and tells a wonderfully uplifting story that has major implications for our world today - many, many millions are currently in situations that are clearly defined as slavery i more than at any other time in human history.
Freedom is a highly resonant, powerful and well-intentioned film that will affect many - some left in tears the day I saw it; but there are also some fine comic, dramatic and musical sequences that will appeal to others. No one will leave untouched. See it.
The Man from Coxs River is a revelation and one of the best documentaries you will see about Australia and its sometimes troublesome heritage.
The film is located mostly in the Burragorang Valley, once a grazing valley west and south of Sydney but inundated after the completion of the Warragamba Dam in 1960 and now known as Lake Burragorang, part of the giant resource that provides Sydney water.
The surface story is a project to get rid of the last remaining brumbies in the area that are feared to pollute the water supply with cryptosporidium but behind that is the fascinating story of how civilization and its proximity have slowly strangled the lives and heritage of a pioneering family that has in latter years accepted that things must change and now cooperate with decent people in the National Park network to try to do the best by both nature and man.
The man from Coxs River is Luke Carlon, an expert bushman and horseman who grew up in the area as part of a proud tradition; he knows the area, loves the area and tells its story and the story of his family with insight and pride; he wishes beyond everything that things hadn't had to change, but they have.
The Ranger from National Parks is Chris Banffy; in some ways he's a Johnny come lately and his knowledge is theoretical but his love for his job and the nature he treasures is deep as he tries to balance what happens on the ground with the decisions and political pressures from his masters in the organization.
This film is not another shot in a war between landholders and conservationists, between bushmen and city slickers it is a story of respect and cooperation between decent people of integrity; the love that Luke has for this place and every aspect of it is undeniable and powerfully caught in the lengths he goes to save the life of a sick old brumby mare that common sense tells everyone else should be saved with a bullet.
But this is not just a film of Luke and Chris, you'll meet many people, family, stockmen from a range of places and including the unlikely Takao from Japan; you'll see action that will make you jump, sweeping mountain landscapes and majestic bush land you can almost touch through the lenses of a number of cinematographers.
Russell Kilbey's direction and editing is a major ingredient in the success of a film that suggests that National Parks should put people like Luke and his family on payroll as permanent on the ground custodians of places like the Nattai National Park. If you see one film this year, this is it.