Still from the film Mystery Road. Actor Aaron Pederson.

Loner: Aaron Pedersen in Mystery Road.

Starring Aaron Pedersen, Hugo Weaving and Tasma Walton, the outback thriller Mystery Road shines a light into the dark heart of Australia.

Director Ivan Sen explains what drew him to the story.

What was the genesis of this film?

Ivan Sen, film maker, has a new movie out soon Mystery Land.
31st of july 2013.
Photo: Jacky Ghossein

Struggle for identity: Ivan Sen. Photo: Jacky Ghossein

I've always been interested in the fringes of cultures, and especially drawn to the historical role of the turncoat. In Australia, he was the indigenous black tracker or the native policeman, and in America was known as the Native American scout. He was a man employed to track, disperse, and even slaughter his fellow people. Even though they were often engaged in areas of opposing tribal groups, the internal pressures of such an occupation must have been hard to comprehend, at times possibly being the ultimate identity crisis.

This struggle of cultural identity is something I personally dealt with while growing up in a small country town, and I have continued to explore it through Mystery Road.

Is Aaron Pedersen's character, Jay Swan, that turncoat?

Jay Swan is not just a modern-day turncoat, but an empowered detective. However, the power still remains with the establishment, through his colleagues and superiors. Unlike many of the past native police, Jay is not a stranger to the town in Mystery Road, although he sometimes feels that way. [Jay] makes Mystery Road more than just a mystery thriller. He provides a fresh and thought-provoking perspective that is a struggle at every turn, and on many levels. He has moved out of the local public housing estate and found himself a big house on the other side of town, but it has come at a cost. He has lost touch with his ex-wife, his teenage daughter and the community, which he is trying to make a better place. But perhaps only Jay believes it can be a better place. He is a loner, an archetypal cowboy, and a victim of his own wishful thinking.

Pedersen was a part of this project right from the start, wasn't he?

I involved Aaron Pedersen from the scripting stage, and that was the early beginning of our journey together.

In early pre-production, the two of us travelled together on a location scout to Moree and then to outback Queensland. Aaron got a chance to see where his character came from, and to feel the dirt under his feet. It was a very important part of our preparation, and something an actor rarely gets to do. We agreed we were both in this thing together, and we couldn't do it without each other. We both believed strongly in the story and felt as if our ancestors were watching over us as we made this film. So there was a very strong bond between the film and us and that bond would get us through any of the more difficult parts of the shoot later on.

The film has a different feeling from a lot of other dramas.

From the writing stage, I wanted Mystery Road to have a timeless, classical feeling. A feel that was reminiscent of Hollywood films of the '60s and '70s, which were more dialogue- based and relied little on music and trickery. I wanted this film to have a quiet, almost trance-like atmosphere, where the music became the words spoken by the characters. In conversations with Aaron, we constantly used the word precision. We were conscious that we weren't experimenting with this project. We wanted to be very precise in every aspect of making this film. I have made several experimental films in the last few years. This time it was about finding intricate beauty in every frame, every camera move being for the right reason, every word to be clear and convincing.

I wanted to put the audience in the driver's seat, and allow them to enjoy every second of the ride.

Mystery Road is a murder mystery, but it is a film with undercurrents, which can swirl around the feet of the audience and enhance the generic experience.

Mystery Road, ABC1, Sunday, January 26, 8.30pm.