Red centre of attention [Australian mining movie] – by Michael Bodey (The Australian – July 30, 2011)

THE common expression of civic pride captured in bronze, stone or metal and given pride of place in a town’s centre is the likeness of an explorer, a leader or an athlete of distinction.

In Dampier, on Australia’s northwest shoulder, locals erected a statue in honour of a folk hero who helped galvanise the town as the area emerged as a mining hub in the 1970s. It just happened that leader was a dog: a wandering and faithful kelpie dubbed Red Dog.

Tales of Red Dog’s travels as far south as Perth and far north as Broome, his loyal companionship of many locals and his fearsome farts were such legend the dog became a defining figure for the burgeoning mining region, a figure representing the toughness and gypsy nature of the area’s growing band of employees.

So much so, Australian authors Nancy Gillespie and Beverly Duckett wrote books about the Pilbara wanderer before the English author of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, Louis de Bernieres, wrote his own semi-fictionalised and ultimately bestselling book about the kelpie’s adventures.

If anyone were to doubt the dog’s influence on the region, American actor Josh Lucas drove home the point while filming the adaptation of the book last year: “Think about it: this dog is bringing together a group of people from all over the world to Dampier in Western Australia in bizarrely the same way he did 30 years earlier. It’s a strange thing this damned Red Dog did.”

Red Dog is the latest Australian movie to take advantage of one of the few frontiers remaining for Australian filmmakers, the harsh northwest corner of WA. The deep ochres and teals of the region are cinematic gold but its remoteness represents a substantial cinematic cost.

Yet films including the indigenous musical Bran Nue Dae, which was filmed up the road in Broome, and Baz Luhrmann’s Australia, which camped inland at Kununurra, highlighted different aspects of the vast red region to brilliant effect. Red Dog shows another. The reason for the region’s prosperity — mining — is a rumbling core element of a film that gained crucial access to the facilities and mines that have become the financial heartbeat of the nation.

As trains kilometres long pull iron ore worth tens of thousands of dollars and dump them on wharves loading up to $50 million of the raw material on to ships heading north, a sweet love story and the travails of a lovable dog unspool in Red Dog.

Normally a film shoot is the dominant force on a region, swooping in with caravans, lights, frenetic energy and pulling focus. But the $8m production starring Lucas, Rachael Taylor, Luke Ford and Noah Taylor is dwarfed by its surrounds. The size of industry in this part of the country is daunting; in some respects, only the dimensions of a cinema screen can do visual justice to the scale of Australia’s mining industry.

The film needed that industry. Producer Nelson Woss attempted to manufacture a bigger budget adaptation of de Bernieres’s book but the only way that could happen was if the film moved to the US. That wasn’t going to happen. Despite the everydog nature of this cinematic story — an animal being the loveable focus of a community — Red Dog’s story is distinctly about the Karratha-Dampier region.

“What’s great is it’s a true story and was born out of this place so it comes from a very authentic place,” director Kriv Stenders says. “The film is about the birth of the community. The dog was the symbol, the unifying thing that did that. The fact they erected a statue of Red Dog and not William Dampier here is what intrigued de Bernieres.”

The area’s big businesses appreciated that, too, after some hounding by Woss. The producer knew the film needed to be a collaboration between the filmmakers and the region’s corporations — not only for practical considerations, including access to locations, but for the support of the locals, all of whom are employed by or rely on those corporations.

Woss embedded himself with the companies, ultimately extracting co-operation from Rio Tinto iron ore chief Sam Walsh and Woodside chief executive Don Voelte, as well as Caterpillar equipment supplier Westrac and the region’s main airline, Skywest.

“We told them that was a really important story that needs to be told and it just so happens to have taken place in your back yard,” Woss says. “There was nothing here 40 years ago and these companies built these towns. Their workers interacted with Red Dog.”

For the rest of this article, please go to the Austraian website: