Alone Across Australia: Making Tracks

April 6, 2020
A visually stunning tale of isolation and adventure, John Curran’s adaptation of Robyn Davidson’s much loved book Tracks is an incredible journey indeed.

“There are moments in life that are like pivots around which your existence turns – small intuitive flashes, when you know that you have done something correct for a change, and when you think you are on the right track,” Robyn Davidson writes in her memoir, Tracks: A Woman’s Solo Trek Across 1700 Miles Of Australian Outback. “I watched a pale dawn streak the cliffs with Day-Glo, and realised that this was one of them. It was a moment of pure, uncomplicated confidence…and it lasted about ten seconds.”

Born and raised on a cattle station in the appropriately named town of Miles, Queensland, Robyn Davidson had a tough, hardscrabble childhood. Her mother committed suicide when Davidson was just eleven-years-old, and she was largely raised by her father’s unmarried sister, Gillian, before being shipped off to a boarding school in Brisbane. After that, she moved to Sydney, studied zoology, and flirted with seventies radicalism. In 1977, however, Robyn Davidson would undertake the journey that eventually made her famous.

Robyn Davidson on her extraordinary journey.

After two years of training, the young Davidson set off from Alice Springs with the intention of trekking across 1,700 miles of harsh terrain to the Western Australian coast, accompanied only by four camels, and her beloved pet dog, Diggity. Craving isolation and a connection to the environment, Davidson’s journey was defined by danger and almost foolhardy risk, but it was also an act of quiet defiance and self-determination. “I had made a decision which carried with it things that I could not articulate at the time,” Davidson says in Tracks. “I had made the choice instinctively, and only later had given it meaning. The trip had never been billed in my mind as an adventure in the sense of something to be proved. And it struck me then that the most difficult thing has been the decision to act. The rest had been merely tenacity – and the fears were paper tigers. One really could do anything one had decided to do, whether it were changing a job, moving to a new place, or divorcing a husband – one really could act to change and control one’s life. The procedure, the process, was its own reward.”

Engineered solely as a personal endeavour, Davidson had no intention of writing about the journey, but eventually agreed to pen an article for National Geographic Magazine, which was published in 1978, and attracted so much interest that Davidson decided to write a book about the experience. She travelled to London and lived with author, Doris Lessing, while writing what would become Tracks: A Woman’s Solo Trek Across 1700 Miles Of Australian Outback. Accompanying the book were a series of visuals captured by American photographer, Rick Smolan, who joined Robyn at key points along the way to document the journey for National Geographic. Tracks won the inaugural Thomas Cook Travel Book Award, and quickly became a touchstone tome for both feminists (invariably attracted by Davidson’s independence, and the fact that her journey was her own, neither guided nor influenced by men) and wanderlust-driven travellers drawn in by the book’s evocative descriptions of the Australian landscape, and Davidson’s singular response to it.

The original book of Tracks.

With the book striking such a chord, it was no surprise that filmmakers soon came calling on Robyn Davidson. There were a number of failed attempts to bring Tracks to the screen, but the most high profile efforts undoubtedly came courtesy of director, Ray Lawrence, who burst onto the Australian film scene with the surreal mind-bender, Bliss, in 1985 after establishing himself as a successful TV commercials director. With Lawrence developing the script, rumours around Tracks really gained traction when Hollywood superstar, Julia Roberts, expressed interest in the role. How the American actress would have fared in playing Davidson is anyone’s guess, as the project eventually fizzled despite getting to the final draft stage in the scripting process, and offering the possibility for a major Australian cinematic event. “I was working on a lot of other projects, but unfortunately none of them managed to get financed,” says Lawrence, who finally followed up Bliss in 2001 with the modern classic, Lantana. “There were quite a number over the years, and Robyn Davidson’s Tracks was one of them. It doesn’t make me happy to work on something for four years which doesn’t get up.”

Lawrence’s Lantana star, Kerry Armstrong, was later mentioned as a possible candidate to play Davidson, before the project crumbled once again. The rights to Tracks bounced around before ending up with major Hollywood player, Disney. There was, however, someone else watching the book. Sydney-based producer, Emile Sherman – who would later find success with a number of projects, including the Oscar winning Australian/UK co-production, The King’s Speech; the incendiary drama, Shame, starring Michael Fassbender; and Jane Campion and Garth Davis’ award-nabbing TV mini-series, Top Of The Lake – was a big fan of Tracks, and he knew that it would make a good movie. “A lot of Australians are familiar with the book, as people have tried to make a movie out of it for 35 years now,” Sherman told FilmInk in 2013, on the line from the offices of his production company, See-Saw Films. “I felt – as obviously a number of other people did – that there was a great film in there.”

Robyn Davidson on her life changing expedition.

Emile Sherman, however, was a little more proactive than most people when it came to Tracks. “I’d been bugging Steven Durbridge, who is from the agency in London that represents Robyn Davidson,” he laughed. “I knew that the project was still with Disney, and I was waiting for it to come out of Disney. Disney bought the rights, and after seven years of not making the film, the property normally reverts back to the author. I knew that at some point it was coming back, so I was waiting for that moment. When that happened, I went in and pitched my case, and tried to secure the rights. There was serious competition, but I was fortunate enough to get the book.”

While battling his way through those boardroom scraps to get his hands on Tracks, Sherman always had only one director in mind to take the reins of the project. “At the time I was getting the rights to it, I was talking to John Curran,” Sherman revealed. “He was a director that I thought of from day one. He’s a wonderful, international, Australian director who is great with female characters. He can do commercial quality movies, and he’s incredible visually as well as with actors. I’ve been trying to entice him back to Australia to make a movie, and this was the subject matter that got him back. I’d started developing another project with John, and through various pieces of synchronicity, it became clear that he was interested in Tracks. He knew the story, and we really started working on it from day one together. There wasn’t a day that I was doing Tracks that John wasn’t involved.”

Director John Curran.

Though born in the US, John Curran made his name in Australia, where he has worked consistently in the commercials business, as well as making a number of music videos. For his 1998 debut feature film, this American-born director delivered a quintessentially Australian story with the sexually explosive Praise, which was adapted from Andrew McGahan’s acclaimed novel, and tracked the fiery relationship of two young burnouts, played with bravura force by then-newcomers, Sacha Horler and Peter Fenton.

Curran proved himself equally at home with emotional dysfunction of the American variety with his 2004 follow up, We Don’t Live Here Anymore, an earthy, often confrontational adaptation of a pair of short stories by seventies author, Andre Dubus, starring Mark Ruffalo, Laura Dern, Peter Krause, and Naomi Watts. Curran then worked with Watts again on the 2006 period epic, The Painted Veil, which co-starred Edward Norton, and was filmed in China. The 2010 thriller, Stone – with Norton starring opposite Robert De Niro – followed, but Curran was burning to make another film down under. “Even now, I’m developing stuff to do in Australia,” Curran told FilmInk in 2006 while doing press for The Painted Veil. “That is my ultimate dream: to come back and make something with scope. My influences were those distinct, inspiring voices from that golden period of Australian film in the seventies. I’ve identified more as an Australian than an American at times. But what I won’t do is come back and just make an American film using Australia as a studio and warehouse. What the hell is the point in that?”

Producer Emile Sherman

Sure enough, Curran stuck to his word, returning to Australia not with a superhero movie or an adaptation of a classic American novel, but with an honest-to-god Australian story. “I came out here back in 1984, so I knew the book then,” the warm and friendly John Curran told FilmInk in 2013 in the cool, high-ceilinged offices of Tracks’ distributor. “When I shared houses here in Australia, the book was always lying around, but I’d never read it. I’d been trying to do something with Emile Sherman for years; I’ve known him for a long time, and I was really looking to do a film back here too. I got a call from him and National Geographic, and they were both interested in grabbing the rights. I was like, ‘That could be cool! Australia is a big character in this!’ If I was going to come back, I really wanted to make sure that I could do an exterior Australian film. I didn’t want to shoot something in a studio.”

Though Tracks clicked with Curran’s burning desire to make a film under roaring Australian skies, the very nature of the book presented an instant set of challenges. When he eventually got around to reading it, Curran realised that Tracks wasn’t exactly a movie waiting to happen. “How do you impose a film onto that narrative? The book is so interior, and it has this beautiful voice to it,” Curran said. “How do you capture that? How do you go deeper into it, because it doesn’t really present itself as a clean-cut, three-act film? Everyone imposed their own ideas on the project – ‘Let’s make it more of a love story! Let’s make it more of an adventure!’ I didn’t want to push it into something that it wasn’t. I wanted to go deeper in a different direction, and make it more interior; I wanted to go beyond the book. Robyn Davidson is not the most forthcoming when it comes to psycho-analysing her motives, so I did my own research about what was going on, and created some of the backstory.”

The real Rick Smolan and Robyn Davidson.

Emile Sherman confirms the difficulties in crafting the script for Tracks. “We realised as we developed it that it was a real challenge,” the producer told FilmInk. “We needed to really go deeply into the character, and almost read between the lines of the book. The narrator of the book is incredibly fascinating and compelling, but we needed to take it to the next level, and John was active in doing that.”

Another key player in the engineering of the script was Robyn Davidson herself, who has spent much of her life travelling with and studying nomadic peoples around the world, writing about her experiences in her book, Desert Places. Living in Sydney, Davidson first came into the offices of See-Saw Films to take a meeting about the project when the rights were still up for grabs. The renowned free spirit was impressed with the gentlemanly Emile Sherman and his enthusiastic, keenly intelligent American director friend, John Curran. “There was competition for the rights from other producers around the world, but we caught Robyn at a good moment,” the producer explained. “She had a lot of distance then from the story itself, and she wanted to see it in good hands; she certainly wasn’t being lured by Hollywood anymore because she knew that all that glitters isn’t necessarily gold. Finding people who she felt comfortable with – and who had the integrity to tell the story with the right spirit – was important to her. She was a consultant, in a sense, through the process, and an incredibly benevolent one in that she let us get on with it. She’d give us her thoughts whenever we asked. She was a great research tool for John as well. Robyn’s been very involved, but also incredibly trusting. It’s been a happy experience.”

John Curran on the set of his 2010 film Stone.

John Curran was equally enamoured of his subject. “Robyn is a writer, and she’s a creative person, and she respected that we were doing our own impression of her truth. Her truth is an impression of another truth. She understands that the problem with subjective writing is that it’s always going to be slanted, and it will never be completely objective. But she trusted us as a group. She said, ‘Go make your film, and I’m here as a resource.’ She wanted to give us that freedom once she trusted us, but she was always available. I would ask, ‘What kind of music were you listening to?’ and ‘What was this girl like?’ She’d contribute that sort of thing.”

The script for Tracks, meanwhile, was never seen as anything more than a rough guide by John Curran, who took a more organic approach to this film than he has with his previous works, most of which are either strongly plot-driven, or dialogue based. Tracks, on the other hand, is a film of great silences built on what happens between the words. “The script was really a jumping-off point,” Curran told FilmInk. “It’s a hybrid. I’m not sure if we ever arrived at a script. This project was always going to be, ‘We’re going to write one film, we’re going to shoot another film, and then we’re going to cut another film.’ It’s impressionistic in many ways in terms of the structure, and it’s so internal in some sequences that it was always just going to be this thing where we had to keep finding it. A couple of different writers worked on it, and arrived at something that was a good enough starting point.”

Robyn Davidson in action.

Who those writers were remains a mystery. The script for Tracks is credited to Marion Nelson, whose biography is limited to one line (“Marion Nelson is an Australian screenwriter”) in the film’s otherwise exorbitant and information-packed production notes. The only significant Marion Nelson that pops up on a Google search, meanwhile, is the one who runs a funeral home. Perhaps a pseudonym for the conglomerate of scribes who nutted out the script, it’s a fitting post-script for such an unusual writing process. “The film is very different to the script,” John Curran explains. “The script just takes on its own life. That was the exciting thing about doing it. Having that rock of a template, but letting it make itself in a lot of ways, was exactly the experience that I wanted to have. I made sure that I had people around me that were really good, and who could work that way.”

The screen story focuses on Robyn Davidson’s troubled upbringing in a series of flashbacks, while tracing the often difficult road that she trod while preparing for her epic journey. The trek itself is a series of stunning visual tableaux, punctuated with flashes of danger, and passages of introspection, bruising self-examination, and hostile judgements of those around her from Robyn. Forming the other side of the story is the chatty, exuberant photographer, Rick Smolan, who is a polar opposite to his prickly subject. Casting the two roles was pivotal to the success of the film, and though Sherman and Curran didn’t restrict themselves to looking at only Australian actresses for the role of Robyn Davidson, they ended up choosing Aussie actress, Mia Wasikowska, who at that time had been dazzling Hollywood with her lissome beauty and on-screen sensitivity in films like Alice In Wonderland, The Kids Are All Right, Jane Eyre, Lawless, and Stoker.

Mia Wasikowska as Robyn Davidson in Tracks.

After successful meetings with Sherman in Sydney (where he showed the actress all of Rick Smolan’s photographs, and took her through the story) and Curran in LA, Wasikowska signed on to star. “Mia had done a lot of camping when she was young, and she’s got an introverted spirit,” Sherman told FilmInk of the actress. “She found a kinship with Robyn’s journey. At the same time, Robyn Davidson had said, ‘Have you thought about Mia Wasikowska? I saw her in In Treatment, and she was wonderful.’ They even look similar in those early pictures. In the end, we realised that we needed Mia to do this. The biggest problem was juggling dates with her other commitments, and trying to carve out a time that she could come and do this. That was the trick.”

Added John Curran: “Luckily, Mia is at the perfect age, she’s perfect casting for this character, and she brings with her a certain level of interest. You’re looking for the best possible of all options; you want someone that’s got cache and a name, but they also have to be right. There’s no point putting someone in there because they have a big name, and then you’re like, ‘Well, that’s badly cast.’ The reason that this took so long to get made is that there never was exactly the right person that felt right. Mia was just hands down right for the character. She had an enigma about her that was similar to my feeling of Robyn. They’re the same type. There’s a quiet, intelligent reserve to both of them.”

Mia Wasikowska in Tracks.

“Just because” is how Mia Wasikowska estimates why Robyn Davidson took her famous cross-country outback trek back in 1977. “It was a journey for herself,” the Canberra-born actress told FilmInk at The Toronto Film Festival, while promoting her previous film, Stoker. “She’d had enough in the city. There’s an element of self-proving to it. And also, it’s quite unusual, definitely in the seventies, to just pick up and leave your life, and head off just for the sake of going on a journey.”

Wasikowska called Davidson “brave” for taking on such an odyssey, and for overcoming physical hardships. “One thing that I liked about it is that it’s increasingly hard to live purely in the moment,” the then 24-year-old Wasikowska told FilmInk. “Everything on phones and emails enables the future. I like the fact that she just put herself in an environment where she had no choice but to just bring it back to survival.”

Mia Wasikowska in Tracks.

Attached for two years to the film, Wasikowska fell in love with Davidson’s character as soon as she read her book. “I felt a very deep understanding of who she was, but in a way that I couldn’t necessarily articulate. Reading the book deepened this feeling, and I became terrified of being Robyn. But we had the most wonderful days in the middle of Australia spending time with the camels and drinking from the billy. It was nice to be part of a film at home, and not to have to go on an international flight to start filming. It was really important for me on a personal level, because my film world and home world had always been separate.”

For the role of New York-born photographer, Rick Smolan, the production was forced to go further afield, and ended up tapping current Hollywood major player Adam Driver – whose star was then starting to rise off the TV series, Girls, and film roles in Inside Llewyn Davis and Frances Ha – to play the man who sparks Tracks with its rare moments of humour and free-flowing dialogue. When FilmInk asked Emile Sherman if it helped with the financing process to actually need to have an American actor in the film, the producer responded like a man who truly knows his way around this concept. “Getting actors from overseas doesn’t help; getting name actors helps. It doesn’t matter if they’re American or Australian. At the time when we cast Adam, Girls hadn’t really become the hit that it is now, so he was pretty unknown, but he was the sort of guy that people started talking about. And certainly, what we were interested in – and this was John’s very strong instinct – was an actor with a totally different energy to Mia and the character of Robyn. We wanted someone who felt authentically like a New Yorker. Mia and Adam don’t have a huge amount of scenes together, but it’s the key relationship that she has, so we brought on a US-based casting director to help with that. The minute that we saw Girls – just a couple of scenes – we were like, ‘This guy has exactly that great kind of energy that’s going to work with Robyn. It’s going to be funny and alive, and he’s going to invigorate those scenes.’ We needed him to energise them, as a lot of the film is meditative. Adam has got a wonderful sense of humour, but there’s also a huge amount of integrity and emotion in his performance. He treads the line really well. Adam had a great time here too. He’d never been to Australia, and from everything that he said, he had a fantastic time. He was bouncing around, and because he’d served as a US Marine, he was used to tough conditions, and he seemed to relish the desert experience. I think that he and John and Mia really enjoyed putting those scenes together.”

Adam Driver as Rick Smolan in Tracks.

When FilmInk asked John Curran if he had people in his ear suggesting bigger names for the central roles, the director laughed. “That kind of talk is always in your ear, and what it really dictates is how much money you get. You know, if Brad Pitt had played the photographer, I probably could’ve gotten more money to make the film. And if I’d gotten people of less stature, I might’ve been able to do it, but I might’ve got half the budget.”

With that final budget set at a paltry-by-international-standards $12 million, Curran didn’t swerve from his original intentions for the film. Shot entirely in the outback, and totally on location, Curran’s instincts as a filmmaker prevented him from doing the obvious thing and assembling a small, guerilla-style crew to make things easy on himself. The director has “shot big” before (most notably on the 2006 wide-canvas, China-set drama, The Painted Veil), and he wasn’t about to downsize his approach for his return to Australia. “We could’ve done this a lot easier, but my own personal thing that I imposed on it was that I really wanted to shoot on film,” explained Curran. “Digital filmmaking isn’t at a place for me where you can accommodate the extreme light, and the dynamic range of brightness and shadow, that you get in the outback. Shooting on film is not an easy thing. It’s a little more cumbersome in some ways, and a little more expensive. But that’s the look that I wanted to go for. It didn’t necessarily demand more people, because if you shoot digitally, you’re still bringing data wranglers and lots of other people. But I shot with really old lenses that are heavy and cumbersome, and I wanted dolly moves and crane moves, so you’ve got lots of trucks, and you have to get all the stuff out there. We had a lot of people out there.”

Cinematographer Mandy Walker.

Boasting sublime visuals from master cinematographer, Mandy Walker (Australia, Lantana), the stunning look and textures of the film – you can practically feel the grit of the sand and the scorching rays of the sun – are a testament to Curran’s dedication to keeping everything as real as possible. “There were no studios,” the director explained. “Everything was shot in The Flinders Ranges and The Northern Territory. We used a couple of different stations, and we always shot using available light. The most difficult thing was that when you want to get out someplace, you want to make sure that it’s a multi-functional location, because if it takes you an hour to get out there, you need to know that you can use it. You want to be able to look this way, and then that way, and not see anything. You don’t want to have to drive another half a mile to find the right spot. So you have to go quite remote to have that variety where you’re not seeing buildings. And that really cuts into the hours per day that you can shoot. That was the hardest thing about this – the rate that we were going at. It was very much about brutally fast filmmaking.”

Despite the fast pace of the filmmaking process, one of the oldest adages in the entertainment industry – the one about not working with animals – didn’t prove an impediment on Tracks. Though Robyn Davidson’s four camels and pet dog take up nearly as much screen time as she does, they never cramped John Curran’s style. “We had a really wonderful camel wrangler,” Emile Sherman explained. “Andrew Harper was actually someone who Robyn recommended; she knew him and had done camel trips with him, and he’s an extraordinary man. His group of camels really saved us. Everyone had had dogs in their films, but never camels, so it was like, ‘How is this going to work? Bringing camels in? That’s just ridiculous!’ But it actually ended up being one of the most pleasurable parts of the shoot. It was one of the simplest parts, strangely – you never know where the trouble’s going to lie.”

Mia Wasikowska with the camels of Tracks.

Added John Curran: “Of all the people that I cast in this film – and they’re all great – if you had to single out one person that saved our ass, it would be Andrew. Because that’s all he does: camel treks. He was incredible at moving the camels around. Sometimes he’d have to walk them 20 miles overnight to get them to the next location. They’d sleep out in the desert, and then they’d be there all day, and then they’d sleep and then they’d walk ‘em in the night. He was phenomenal…just great with the camels. I’d say, ‘I need one camel that’s sort of aggressive and snarky, you know?’ And he said, ‘Oh, I know one!’ The thing would growl on cue! Andrew was just so good and efficient and quick that I don’t know how I’d have done it without him.”

After years spent away from Australia, John Curran – after yearning to get back here and work for many, many years – wasn’t disappointed by his professional homecoming. “Australian crews are the best. They shoot the way that I like to shoot. I like it to be a loose atmosphere, where anyone can contribute an idea. The people work hard here. They’re good at what they do, they’re passionate about what they do, and they’re efficient at what they do. But that said, they fuck around and they can joke too. They know that balance. I’ve worked with big crews everywhere, but there’s something about the vibe here in Australia. Maybe it’s because I learnt how to be a filmmaker here. There’s just something that’s really familiar and dynamic about the crews here that I really, really like.”

Adam Driver as Rick Smolan in Tracks.

It was certainly a much bigger budget Australian film that his previous one. “This was a much bigger budget than I’d had on Praise, but it was harder in a lot of ways,” the director admitted to FilmInk. “With Praise, we were filming everything in little rooms, and it was going to fit that budget. Tracks was a physical and financial stretch, in terms of everything that we were doing. The advantage to having more experience was that I knew how to cast the crew really well. I know a lot more people now, and I knew where not to make mistakes. I made sure that I got really great people in the important roles. That was more a draw for me than looking at the book and saying, ‘This is a slam-dunk commercially.’ I thought, ‘This is going to be a really great experience.’ This is what I’ve been looking for. I didn’t want to come back and do a green-screen film in a studio at Fox. That’s got nothing of what I’m looking to do. And I had people working on the film that really dug it because it was old-school in that way. You’re out in the desert, and you’re working there. I thought that it would be a lot of hardship and heat, and it wasn’t. It’s really peaceful and quiet and beautiful. You finish your day because the light’s going down, and you’re racing the sun, but then everyone goes home and everyone has a beer. Everyone was happy, you know? It was everything that I hoped it could be.”

But what did the film’s very human source think of the film itself? Robyn Davidson talked with FilmInk about the first time that she saw Tracks. “I saw it on a tiny little cutting room screen, with John Curran and the editor outside the room…two very anxious men wanting to know what I thought about it.” So how did it feel? “Very emotional and very weird,” Davidson replied at The Venice Film Festival. Her reaction was hardly surprising. Particularly with regards to seeing Mia Wasikowska playing her on screen. “It feels like me, and it’s not at all me. The great thing for me is that Mia is a wonderful, wonderful actor. And what she’s brought to it is a kind of intelligence.”

One piece of Tracks key art.

Aware that Curran had to take “artistic licence” in telling her story to make it work as a film, Davidson was nevertheless surprised with the end result. “The people who have struggled to make this film have brought integrity to it. It’s not antagonistic to the feeling of the book. So even though it’s not my story exactly, it’s something equivalent and something that I’m quite proud of – and I didn’t think that I would be.”

The film stoked difficult memories for Davidson, kicking off with two-year preparation in Alice Springs, as she faced waves of opposition from local males. “That was the most difficult part. I was dealing with all those rednecks, and trying to train my camels, and working at night to save money. That period toughened me up a lot.” Still, nothing would quite prepare her for the rigours of crossing the desert. “I went through one very difficult time, where I wasn’t sure if there was going to be water at the next well. I was walking through sand-hill country which was quite oppressive, day after day after day, with this message in my head – ‘Is there going to be water? Am I going to die?’ I started to go a bit crazy.”

Mia Wasikowska and John Flaus in Tracks.

With National Geographic part-funding her trip, it didn’t help that Davidson had the world’s media bombarding her when word on her epic trek got out. “I’d just come out of the desert, and I see all these planes above, and I think, ‘What the hell is going on here?’ It was the press! They’d come from all over the world! I had no idea what was going on, and it was very strange.” Still, all the attention proved as life-changing as the journey itself, particularly when a London publisher encouraged her to write a book – something that the self-described “introvert” hoped to turn to her advantage. “I thought to myself, ‘If I write this book, it will be something that the press and the world can focus on. They can have the book, and I will be left in peace.’”

The rest of the world soon got a chance to walk Robyn Davidson’s Tracks too. After premiering in competition at The Venice Film Festival (“I think it was the first time that an Australian film had been in competition in Venice for years and years,” Emile Sherman told FilmInk. “I don’t know when the last film was”), Tracks then continued its international journey with successful bows at The Toronto International Film Festival and The Telluride Film Festival, setting it up for worldwide distribution. “We’d done a number of sales before with our sales agent, Hanway Films, but getting the US sale was obviously key,” says Sherman. “The Weinstein Company coming on board and really backing the movie has been fantastic. It was a further snap of approval that the film has that international weight that we wanted it to have. It’s been sold everywhere, but the Australian release is definitely the first.”

Mia Wasikowska, John Curran, Robyn Davidson, Adam Driver and Rick Smolan at The Toronto Film Festival.

Tracks premiered in Australia as the opening film at the Adelaide Film Festival on October 10, 2013, and then enjoyed a wide release across the country, with media interest high. Though it failed to truly set the box office alight, the film was popular with critics (“Tracks is an exhilarating adventure that opens up an unknown world to most of us and does it so well that we feel we’re living it too,” wrote Peter Travers in Rolling Stone, while The Washington Post’s Stephanie Merry said that “for all its simplicity, Tracks is a poignant, deeply emotional story”), and stands today as an oft-referenced meditation on the nature of adventure and isolation, and as a strong piece of feminist storytelling.

The film has only served to further popularise the extraordinary journey of Robyn Davidson, who is still inundated with letters from women inspired by her trip. “What I always said to them was, ‘You don’t have to cross a desert. That’s not the point. You just look at your life and go for it.’ That’s the message of the book and the journey.”

And the film too…

With additional reporting by James Mottram. Tracks is available on DVD, Blu-ray and digital now. If you liked this story, check out our features about the making of Praise, Welcome To Woop Woop, Ned Kelly, Charlie’s Country, Hurricane Smith, and Balibo.

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