“And this story, it’s about me. And no one else can do the life of me, it’s only me. I can do the life about me.” David Gulpilil Ridjimiraril Dalaithngu
In what is very likely his final film, the great Australian actor David Gulpilil faces his own mortality: he is dying of lung cancer.
Holding the camera figuratively in the palm of his hand, David performs directly for whoever might be out there in the future looking at him, to what is for him his final audience. He talks about what it is to stare down death, and what it was to live a life such as he did, a dizzying mix of traditional Aboriginal ways and modern Hollywood excess, and everything in between. It is pure, unmediated and unvarnished David Gulpilil, finally able to say in a film exactly what he wants to say.
He reminisces about his films, and his fame, and the effects of both on a tribal boy from Arnhem Land. He talks about acting, and how his dancing in his own culture is really the basis of what made him famous. And now he looks toward going home, to his own funeral, the specifications of which he’s very particular about. Visited by his sisters, including his twin Mary, they plan for his passing.
But life interferes with David’s march towards his personal end… in his words, “I should have been dead long time ago!” Despite the diagnoses and the prognostications of finality, birthdays pass and David resolutely refuses to die. In this, his final film although it may not be, the great Australian actor David Gulpilil shows what a survivor he is, and how he came to be the living legend we know him to be.
In 2017, actor David Gulpilil was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer, and given a prognosis of 6 months to live. But always one to defy the odds, four years later Gulpilil marked 50 years on cinema screens and walked the red carpet at the world premiere of My Name is Gulpilil. Gulpilil is an iconic figure of Australian cinema. His mesmerising, electrifying presence has leapt off the big screen and changed Australian screen representation forever.
The only actor to appear in both of the two highest grossing Australian films of all time, Crocodile Dundee (1986) and Australia (2008), Gulpilil is known throughout the world for his unforgettable performances – from his breakthrough in Walkabout (1971) to films including Storm Boy (1976), Mad Dog Morgan (1976), The Last Wave (1977), The Tracker (2002), Rabbit Proof Fence (2002), The Proposition (2005) and his Cannes Best Actor award winning role in Charlie’s Country (2013). Integral to the telling of so many legendary screen stories, Gulpilil, terminally ill, generously shares his own story with us in My Name is Gulpilil. The actor, dancer, singer and painter takes us boldly on the journey that is his most extraordinary, culture-clashing life. My Name is Gulpilil is directed by Molly Reynolds and produced by Rolf de Heer, Peter Djigirr, David Gulpilil and Molly Reynolds.
"I’m an actor, I’m a dancer, I’m a singer and also, a painter. This film is about me. This is my story of my story."David Gulpilil Ridjimiraril Dalaithngu
About the filmmakers
- Molly Reynolds, Director & Producer
The career in film of Tasmania-based Molly Reynolds got off to an inauspicious start…as a young editing assistant on a program about crocodiles, she was holding a frame of the film, ready to hand it to the editor. When the frame was called for, she found that she’d absent-mindedly eaten it (this is a true story). Since then she become increasingly successful at avoiding such catastrophes, and has built an impressive body of work as a screen practitioner across different media.
There are many highlights for Molly, but Twelve Canoes (2008), her combined website/documentary film project is one of them. The 12 Canoes website, subject to a recent technical update (much as a significant film might be restored) and now re-launched by the National Film and Sound Archive, was recognised and awarded around the world. The documentary drawn from it, Twelve Canoes, played major film festivals (Telluride, IDFA) and was also awarded its share of prizes. Other highlights include: creation of the innovative Virtual Reality work The Waiting Room (Samstag Museum of Art); producer/writer/director of Still Our Country, another combined website/feature documentary film project and made as a parallel project to the movie Charlie’s Country; the third of the Country Suite of projects, feature documentary Another Country, David Gulpilil’s take on the mayhem that results when an old culture is interrupted by a new culture; and more recently, the covid-inspired feature-length hybrid film, ShoPaapaa (Adelaide Film Festival 2020).
With My Name Is Gulpilil preparing to play the silver screen, Molly’s now auspicious career has taken another step forward, although after nearly four years of being immersed in the film and its subject, she does rather look forward to a rest…after which she’ll be looking for new screen challenges to conquer.
- Rolf de Heer, Producer
Tasmania-based (also?) Rolf de Heer has written or co-written thirteen original or adapted screenplays that have been made into feature films, and probably more than thirteen that haven’t. Or perhaps haven’t yet. He has directed (or in one case, co-directed) fourteen and a half feature films of various budgets and genres, mostly from screenplays he has written (or co-written) himself.
With varying degrees of success, de Heer has produced or co-produced fifteen fictional feature films and four feature documentaries, which makes him a more prolific producer than anything else.
Producing highlights include Dingo with Colin Friels and Miles Davis; Bad Boy Bubby, multi-prize winner at Venice and still an active cult film 27 years later; The Quiet Room and Dance Me To My Song, both selected for Competition at Cannes; The Tracker, another Venice Competition film and de Heer’s first collaboration with David Gulpilil; Ten Canoes, prize winner at Cannes; Twelve Canoes, a documentary that gets better as it gets older; The King Is Dead!, voted most popular film at an obscure French film festival, brought back the following year by public demand and again voted most popular film (it doesn’t happen very often); Charlie’s Country, winning David Gulpilil a Best Actor prize at Cannes; Still Our Country (a favourite – rarely seen on the big screen but shown at Hobart’s famed MONA, who know what is what); and now, My Name Is Gulpilil.
That’s a lot of highlights for one producer…luckily he generally had coproducers to share the highlights with.
- Peter Djigirr, Producer
Peter Djigirr is a Djinba man from the Arafura Swamp region near Ramingining in Arnhem Land, Northern Territory. He came to prominence as one of the real forces behind the creation of the film Ten Canoes (2006), driving community support for it, playing one of the ten Canoeists and ultimately ending up as the film’s co-director. His capacity to somehow see things cinematically (without ever having been to the movies) contributed enormously to the film’s final success and its prizewinning presence (along with Djigirr’s presence) at the Cannes Film Festival.
He next played a role in Darlene Johnston’s Crocodile Dreaming (2007) and worked diligently on the cultural aspects of Molly Reynolds’ Twelve Canoes and other “Canoes” projects It was not until 2013 that another substantial involvement with a film presented itself in the form of Rolf de Heer’s Charlie’s Country, which Djigirr co-produced and in which he played the second lead role of Black Pete. It was an expressioned and nuanced performance, and consolidated Djigirr’s reputation as an actor.
Running parallel to Charlie’s Country were the feature documentaries by Molly Reynolds, Still Our Country and Another Country, both of which Djigirr coproduced and on which he was lead cultural advisor.
Charlie’s Country once again took Djigirr to Cannes, and on this occasion he accepted, on behalf of the winner David Gulpilil, the Best Actor Prize in Un Certain Regard. Djigirr consequently gained enormous attention in the streets of Cannes, as most people thought he was David Gulpilil, something he at no point contradicted. Now Djigirr aims to be back in Cannes once more, maybe this time as the star of a film in his own right.
- David Gulpilil AM, Producer
David Gulpilil is a Mandhalphuy man from the Arafura Swamp region near Ramingining in Arnhem Land, Northern Territory.
Famed as an actor, a dancer, a singer, a painter and a producer, David has lived a life of extremes but he has never, ever, until now, produced a film. It’s not for lack of desire or shortage of ideas. For almost fifty years David has been full of ideas for films he wants to make but he has genuinely found it rather difficult to convince anyone to make them with him.
Even Ten Canoes, which started from Gulpilil-type thoughts that he had and which eventually did get made, eluded his deeper involvement beyond performance…it’s rather difficult to produce a film shot in Ramingining when you’re living in the long grass in Darwin. Charlie’s Country got closer…an equal collaboration on the script, but still no one trusted him to produce, even though his brother Peter Djigirr was allowed to. Perhaps it was because Gulpilil was just out of jail.
Finally, when hope had almost been extinguished, David resorted to the pleas of a dying man…”Please Brother (Rolf), please, one more film, just one. Please Sister (Molly), can we make this film together?” The answers were yes and yes, and with My Name Is Gulpilil, David Gulpilil has added the title of film producer to the long list of his achievements.
And what a film he’s produced.
“Riveting, and deeply humbling . . . A poetic self-portrait of a man who has spent his lift moving between two worlds.” The Big Issue
“A breathtakingly beautiful depiction of an extraordinary life.” Glam Adelaide
“Piercingly emotional . . . this is an unforgettable film.” The Guardian
“Unbearably moving and utterly engaging. There is no film quite like this in our cinema.” The Sydney Morning Herald