A film by Werner Herzog, this is a docudrama on the culture clash in Australia.  I watched it first with the audio commentary from Herzog and a critic.  The setting is an opal mining operation somewhere in the middle of the country.  The white intruders are played mostly by Australian actors; the aborigines are the real thing.  A small group of them are attempting to stop the drilling and blasting on their sacred lands – where the green ants dream.  A young engineer in charge of the site is moved to sympathy for their claims.  Herzog sees parallels between the plight of the Aborigines and the indigenous peoples of the Kalahari and the Amazon where he has also filmed.  He mentions that he met Bruce Chatwin while filming in Australia in 1984 and the two hit it off.  This was just after the filming of Fitzcaraldo (1982).  The faces of the Aborigines have a most ancient look.

Two of the elders are brought to Melbourne to negotiate a deal in opulent corporate offices with obsequious corporate officials.  They ask for a green cargo plane that resembles a giant ant.  A runway is prepared and the plane is delivered to sit forlorn in the Outback.  In the court scene, the Aboriginal elders dress in suits and ties and testify from the dock.  The arguments revolve around the admitting of “hearsay” (from the Dreamtime) in the proceedings.  The Aborigines lose the case but Herzog says there were gains made after this.

One man who testifies is presented as the last of his clan and the only one who speaks his language.  Another of the Aborigines is an airplane mechanic with military training and he flies the plane, along with one of the elders, into the beyond.  It is low on fuel and is never heard from again.  It is a symbolic return to the dreaming of the green ants.  This film was not a success for Herzog but despite some reservations he is proud of the work.  It was probably too flat and lacking in fictional drama for the Western audience and the ending was too downbeat.  Though Maltin does not see the point, it is a very worthy effort.

From Ebert:  I remember him (Herzog) at Cannes, after the premiere of “Where the Green Ants Dream” (1984). At the press conference, a journalist from Australia asked him the source for his information about Aboriginal beliefs. “There is no source,” he said. “They made up their beliefs, and I made up mine.”

Roger Ebert was a champion of Werner Herzog.  See his review.

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