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Australia (MIFF 2008 , MIFF Premiere Film Fund)
Director: Amiel Courtin-Wilson
“Jack is one of the most important people in my life. He is f**king unstoppable and I love him deeply for it. This film is a gift to him.” – filmmaker Amiel Courtin-Wilson
Jack Charles is Bastardy: a 63-year-old homosexual Aboriginal elder, award-winning actor, professional cat burglar and former junkie. A child of the stolen generation, Charles drifted into Melbourne’s bohemian underground in the early 60s, where he found the theatre, a lover, heroin and a talent for cat burglary. Between long stints in jail he’s also maintained a successful acting career.
Amiel Courtin-Wilson’s (Chasing Buddha) impressionistic portrait captures Jack Charles warts and all, in his many contradictions: a man who evokes a rich sense of poetry and humour, and embodies a streetwise indomitability.
Amiel Courtin Wilson and Philippa Campey are guests of the festival.
D/S Amiel Courtin-Wilson P Philippa Campey WS Film Camp
This is an extract from an article on the ABC website by Simon Leo Brown (published 09 August 2017) after the late Uncle Jack Charles (who passed away in October 2022) spoke to ABC Radio Melbourne on the 10th anniversary of BASTARDY, the acclaimed feature documentary about his life that world premiered as part of the first-ever Premiere Fund slate at MIFF 2008
In one of the first scenes of 2008 documentary Bastardy, Jack Charles shoots up heroin, declaring it is what he “lives for”.
Speaking ahead of a 2017 re-screening at the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF), the acclaimed actor and member of the Stolen Generations said neither he nor director Amiel Courtin-Wilson knew then how the film would end. Courtin-Wilson followed Charles for six years “existing on the streets of Collingwood and Fitzroy, a struggling homeless, addicted, well-known cat burglar”.
“We never knew whether I’d survive,” Charles said matter-of-factly. “I do remember having to con $50 out of him so I could get a whack.”
Bastardy could have been the story of a human tragedy, but when Charles quit heroin it became a story “with a wonderful happy ending” that resulted in an “outpouring of love” for Charles, Courtin-Wilson said.
The man the people of Melbourne now know as Uncle Jack was humbled by the experience and he recalls that “People contacted me, on the street, tripping over themselves on the street to engage with me, speaking to me on public transport, writing me little notes saying that they saw Bastardy.”
“It was the documentary that actually saved my life, and I’ve often embarrassed the poor bugger Amiel by saying he was my saviour,” said Charles adding that the documentary became “a useful tool” for him to reinvigorate his acting career. “People in the industry … realised that I was performing nowadays, from the time of Bastardy, with no poo in my system.
Charles became Facebook friends with one of the police officers who used to pursue him for burglary and described himself as a “self-proclaimed Cleverman“. His play, Jack Charles Vs The Crown, documented his struggle to return to prisons as a mentor for Aboriginal inmates, a struggle which eventually succeeded through his work with the Archie Roach Foundation.
“It’s only come to light in the last year that I’ve been allowed to sneak in under the radar on the goodwill of the governors of prisons, management, staff and crims,” he said.”We want to make a play to have a permanent presence of paid elders to go into our institutions … to re-light the burning embers of many a blackfella’s Dreaming — drugged-up, grogged-up, locked-up, mucked-up dreamings.”
So now that he is free from heroin, what does Charles live for?
“I live to be the keeper of culture and law, and to return to prisons.”