Pusan International Film Festival

SYDNEY -- A milestone moment in Australia's race-relations history forms the backdrop of "September," a sensitively crafted coming-of-age story about the friendship between two teenage boys from opposite sides of the racial divide. First-time feature director Peter Carstairs and co-writer Ant Horn unspool the threads of the story slowly and deliberately, using painterly compositions and spare but strangely eloquent dialogue to create a powerful lament for the loss of youthful innocence.

There's a tranquility in the rhythms of the film -- at odds with the tumult of the characters' emotions -- that rewards those who lose themselves in it. "September," which screened in Toronto, should see modest success on the art house circuit when it is released in Australia on Nov. 29.

Ed (Xavier Samuel) and Paddy (Clarence John Ryan) are 16-year-olds, growing up in 1968 in the wheat belt of outback Western Australia. They've been best mates for as long as they can remember, but as they mature into men, the simplicity of their friendship is sullied by the encroaching realities of a turbulent sociopolitical climate.

Ed goes to school, but Paddy, an Aboriginal boy, helps his father, Michael (Kelton Pell), do maintenance work on the property owned by Ed's taciturn dad, Rick (Kieran Darcy-Smith).

September heralds spring and a multitude of changes: Ed starts showing interest in the new girl at school, Amelia (young up-and-comer Mia Wasikowska), and a famous traveling boxing troupe is coming to town, prompting Paddy and Ed to erect a makeshift ring and begin regular afternoon sparring sessions.

Crucially, a new law is passed requiring Aboriginal pastoral workers to be paid the same as their white counterparts. The legislation, meant to promote equality, instead backfires, with many Aborigines kicked off the farms when they can no longer be put to work in exchange for a bit of food and lodging.

Tension builds between Michael and Rick, who also have known each other since childhood, and the prejudices of the outside world expose fault lines in the friendship of their sons.

The film is not overtly political, allowing the focus to remain tight on the characters with the centerpiece prop, a boxing ring in a wheat field, serving as an understated symbol of the fight against injustice.

"September" is the first feature film produced by Tropfest, the successful short film festival that actor-director John Polson established in Australia in 1993 and last year expanded to the Tribeca Film Festival.

Working with a limited budget (funding was provided by Movie Network Channels), Carstairs and cinematographer Jules O'Loughlin let a simple story unfurl beneath vast skies and boundless horizons, giving it plenty of space to breathe.

Hopscotch Films/Tropfest Feature Program
Director: Peter Carstairs
Screenwriters: Peter Carstairs, Ant Horn
Producer: John Polson
Executive producers: Mark Bamford, Tony Forrest and Gary Hamilton
Director of photography: Jules O'Loughlin
Production designer: Sam Hobbs
Music: Roger Mason
Co-producers: Lynda House and Serena Paull
Costume designer: Cappi Ireland
Editor: Martin Connor
Paddy: Clarence John Ryan
Ed: Xavier Samuel
Rick: Kieran Darcy-Smith
Michael: Kelton Pell
Leena: Lisa Flanagan
Eve: Alice McConnell
Amelia: Mia Wasikowska
Miss Gregory: Sibylla Budd

Running time -- 85 minutes
No MPAA rating