Like Brendan Fletcher’s Mad Bastards (2011), writer/director Beck Cole’s debut feature Here I Am centres on inter-generational conflict within an indigenous community. However, where Fletcher’s film explored issues of male displacement and violence in the outback, Cole’s narrative is located in a distinctly urban setting and focuses on the experience of female characters.

Here I Am opens with a young woman, Karen (Shai Pittman), being released from prison. After a lonely first night spent drifting through the city – that culminates with her offering her body to a stranger in return for accommodation – Karen eventually finds refuge at a women’s shelter. Determined to regain control of her life, Karen attempts to reconcile with her estranged mother and daughter, and come to terms with her traumatic past.

Despite the potentially dour subject matter, Cole balances the sadness of Karen’s situation with moments of warmth and humour, primarily through the presence of the other residents at the shelter. At first stand-offish, Karen is slowly incorporated into the group and finds in them a sense of community and camaraderie born from their shared painful experiences.

And it’s those performances that largely shape Here I Am as an honest film about grief, regrets and second chances. Shai Pittman carries a distinctive sorrowfulness in the lead role while Pauline Whyman (Skinny) and Bruce Carter (Jeff) grant their respective characters a remarkable vivacity and sincerity. Even if the dialogue is occasionally overstated, Cole effectively utilises moments of silence and music to draw out the human drama at the core of the film.

Likewise, Warwick Thornton’s (Samson & Delilah) cinematography, which alternates between imagery of movement and stillness, helps evoke the frustration of Karen’s character: as much as she desires to move forward with her life, the past continues to haunt her and hold her back. It’s perhaps no coincidence then that a sequence towards the end of the film – expressed through a kind of waking dream – utilises this motif of momentum to suggest that perhaps, at last, Karen has achieved a form of freedom and can look to the future with optimism.

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