The Last Daughter. PG, 87 minutes.
Here's a little Australian documentary hitting the screens the same week as the DC Universe's $220 million The Flash that packs twice the punch of the big-budget action flick with nothing but a strong sense of story.
It revisits old-fashioned filmmaking values of no CGI, no puffery. Nathaniel Schmidt and Brenda Matthews co-direct a linear, talking-heads documentary very personal to filmmaker Matthews.
The film is, in a way, a victim impact statement, and the crime was committed against Matthews and her family in 1973.
While the New South Wales Protection Board lost its power to remove Indigenous children from their families, and then was abolished in 1969, two-year-old Brenda and her brothers and sisters were removed from the custody of her Aboriginal parents in Gilgandra NSW well into the 1970s.
Early in this documentary we meet Mac and Connie Ockers, the well-meaning white family Brenda was fostered with during this time. They were ignorant of the reasons this bubbly and loving girl had been removed from her family but grateful to have a new sister for their young children.
Connie explains the then-young married couple felt there were kids who needed a home and weren't as fortunate as themselves, filled out the foster-care paperwork but had had a second baby before the phone rang with a request to take a young Aboriginal girl into their care.
With the documentary interviews overlaid with photographs and home movie footage, we see a smiling and happy young Brenda playing with her new brother and sister.
As Mac Ockers explains, a man "from welfare" came after around five years of care to explain "things have changed" and the couple would not be able to adopt Brenda as planned, but needed to drive the girl to Newcastle for a family visit.
A teary Mac recalls walking Brenda into her birth mother's house and seeing a number of other children around a kitchen table - he was not informed Brenda had brothers and sisters - and handing the girl to her wounded-looking mother.
"I thought, 'What have we done?'" the man recounts before becoming choked up with emotions.
"We thought we were the heroes, but we ended up being the villains of the piece, really."
Decades later, Brenda is a married mother living on the Gold Coast in Budjalung Country with her husband, and with only vague memories of this time, remembering that she had a white sister, but not knowing anything about that family.
In the telling of her childhood story as part of her family's tour business, Brenda began the complex task of remembering the trauma of this early part of her life.
One of the strengths of this documentary is that Brenda is both subject and filmmaker. She gets to shape the narrative as it is unpacked before us and it is a delicate but interesting process for the viewer.
Brenda explains her disconnection from both her white past and her Aboriginal family. We join her on parts of this process, including getting her mum Nana Brenda comfortable enough to share her own story on camera, then tracking down the Ockers. Towards the film's conclusion, there's an extremely emotional experience as Brenda brings the two families together for the first time in decades and under very different circumstances.
Schmidt and Matthews focus their camera on these three sets of characters and their personal narratives, and there is much left unexhumed from the government, church and welfare bodies' side of this story.
I feel the film is probably more powerful for this negative space it navigates around, and reinforces the words Brenda's mother and foster parents share about not being informed about the reasons behind this state action.
In some cases there was deliberate misinformation given to both parties.
Whatever apparent lies the authorities used to separate this family, what is obvious is that - on both sides - there is deep love and there are deep wounds this act continues to inflict.
The semantics of the definition of "Stolen Generations" provide another emotional moment in the documentary, as Brenda's personal investigations into her own history seem to place her and her siblings outside some authorised definition, despite all evidence to the contrary.
That's a loaded moment in the film and one best understood by watching rather than this white fella attempting to explain it in a film review, and the filmmakers have built an exceptional set of tools on their website thelastdaughter.com.au to help understand.
Australian of the Year Taryn Brumfitt is the film's executive producer, leading another solid example of the power of real-life stories.