My Name is Gulpilil earns an ovation for Murray Bridge's resident film star

Actor David Gulpilil has attended a premiere of the film about his life in the town which has become his home during a battle with cancer.

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David Gulpilil accepts an ovation from the audience at the Cameo Cinema, Murray Bridge, with Bronwyn Heard beside him. Photo: Peri Strathearn.

An old man huddles into a blanket, softly spoken, breathing slightly, eyes straying towards his carer.

Yet a few minutes later, helped to his feet, there he is: David Gulpilil, the “greatest dancer in the world” in his own words, actor of international renown, accepting applause in a black three-piece suit.

The man, his life and achievements were celebrated at the Cameo Cinema on Tuesday night in Murray Bridge.

A full house of about 160 people gave him two standing ovations after a screening of My Name is Gulpilil, the movie which fulfils a promise to tell his story, his way.

The Rotary Club of Mobilong accepted an invitation from the actor to host the event in the city where he came to live with his carer, Mary Hood, in 2016.

“I drove down from the Northern Territory, came up here and see my friends, visit Mary – then I was broken down,” he said.

“I didn’t return back again.”

A raffle was held to raise funds for the oncology ward at the Royal Adelaide Hospital, where Gulpilil has been receiving treatment for lung cancer.

With support from his friends, he gave the audience a brief introduction to the film.

“This movie you're going to see about me, it’s a story about me,” he said.

What followed over 101 minutes was a contemplation of remembering and being remembered; of the cheeky, sprightly young man now inhabiting a worn-out body; and of a life lived in two worlds: in the western world and on country, back in Arnhem Land, where Gulpilil grew up and where he promised his spirit would someday return.

One of those two worlds had introduced him to the Queen and to world-famous celebrities, the film noted, but also to the tobacco and ganja that would come for his health later in life.

The film also reflected on his acting – or, in his eyes, his simply being.

“I don’t have to jump in and act,” he said at one point.

“I just stand there and the camera sees me.”

He had become famous by himself, through his culture, he said.

Numerous were the shots of man and country: in a field, on a dirt road, at recognisable locations around Murray Bridge.

“I was going to have a good time and a lot of work,” Gulpilil said of his move to the Murraylands.

“But not now.”

His battle featured prominently throughout the film, despite the fact that its star managed to outlive its working title: The Life and Death of David Gulpilil.

The audience rose to its feet as the credits rolled and the lights came up.

Patiently Gulpilil posed for photographs and offered a word to his fans in the foyer afterwards.

The Cameo Cinema’s owners said he was the most famous star ever to have visited, surpassing World Safari documentary maker Alby Mangels.

My Name is Gulpilil will screen again at the cinema next Tuesday night, then at matinee screenings on May 1 and 2.

Disclosure: The author attended the screening as a guest of the Rotary Club of Mobilong and Cameo Cinema.