Emu Runner is a quietly introspective film that writer-director Imogen Thomas put together with the help of the indigenous community of Brewarrina. She’s been going to the town since an arts project sent her there 16 years ago. Her stay grew into a long-running collaboration which produced a short film featuring some of the town’s kids. She then conceived this one with the help of the indigenous director of a Brewarrina pre-school, Frayne Barker.
Unfolding entirely from Gem’s point-of-view, it invites us to watch her as she watches the emu, playing truant to observe it around the bush near the river and stealing food to leave for it to find as it makes its rounds. Its welfare is turning into a secret obsession that is rapidly consuming her days. To the adults around her, her behaviour becomes a “problem” they can’t do anything about because she won’t talk to them.
Like most of the cast, Waites is a local with little acting experience but she gives a performance infused with a concentrated sense of purpose. It’s clear from every move she makes that the emu has become Gem’s bulwark against the overwhelming nature of her grief.
Wayne Blair is just as good as her beleaguered father, Jay Jay, too busy trying to prove himself to be an effective sole parent to deal with his own grief. Gem baffles him, her sister, Valerie (Letisha Boney), has taken refuge in anger and his son, Ecka (Rodney McHughes), has a talent for self-destruction that will eventually land them all in trouble.
There are few surprises here. And there’s a slightly heavy-handed predictability in the way the denouement plays out. But by the time it’s done, you’ve gained a clear insight into the way racial prejudice can precipitate a rush to judgment by even the seemingly enlightened.