Entertainment Movies ‘Oh my God, is it really me?’: Young indigenous star’s big Venice Film Festival honour
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‘Oh my God, is it really me?’: Young indigenous star’s big Venice Film Festival honour

baykali ganambarr award
Baykali Ganambarr accepts his best new talent award from Naomi Watts. Photo: Getty
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An indigenous dancer from Arnhem Land has won the coveted best new talent award at the Venice Film Festival.

Baykali Ganambarr, who has no formal acting training, portrays a tracker in The Nightingale, a revenge thriller set in convict-era Tasmania.

Earlier this week, he joined the likes of Hollywood stars Jennifer Lawrence and Mila Kunis in accepting the Marcello Mastroianni Award for Best New Talent.

“Be ngarran,” he said in Yolngu Matha as he accepted the award from Naomi Watts. “Oh my God, is it really me?”

Ganambarr, 24, thanked directors, producers and family for an award he’d never expected to win.

“All my love and respect — too deadly,” he said to a room full of film industry luminaries.

The Nightingale, to be released in Australia on October 13, is the highly anticipated follow-up from The Babadook director Jennifer Kent. In a big night for the film’s connections, it also won the Venice festival’s special jury award.

Ganambarr, who hails from Galiwin’ku on Elcho Island, started dancing at a young age.

“I started dancing culturally when I was around five, six years old, and then getting into hip-hop, break dance, watching all the television, YouTube, and the stuff on Facebook,” he told the ABC.

“For me, myself, I kind of wanted to mix it up.”

He created a YouTube channel where he uploaded clips of himself dancing at community discos, on football fields and around the home, with precise, staccato movements that drew from popular styles.

He joined Djuki Mala, the popular Indigenous dance troupe of which rapper Baker Boy was also a part, and danced with it for six-and-a-half years.

He moved to Darwin for high school, and became involved with Corrugated Iron Youth Arts, where he recently returned to train young people as an alumnus.

Jane Tonkin, the organisation’s executive producer, recalled putting Ganambarr before a camera for the first time and seeing him take to it like a duck to water.

“They really just got him to talk to the camera, but then they got him to move,” she told ABC Radio Darwin’s Liz Trevaskis.

“Of course, he’s a dancer, so as soon as he started moving and not standing still, he was just electric.”

baykali ganambarr award
Ganambarr and director Jennifer Kent. Photo: Getty

Ganambarr still hadn’t had formal acting training when Kent began scouting talent for her second feature film in north-east Arnhem Land.

“When I read the script, I had to get the role because it was so important — it was an important story to tell the world,” Ganambarr said.

“I’d be so proud to be representing my brothers and sisters in Tasmania, the Palawa mob, and to speak that language on screen for the first time.”

Ganambarr said family was close at mind when he accepted the award, particularly his mother, who died of cancer when he was a teenager.

“For me to achieve this award is such an amazing thing because … when I was 15 years old, I made a promise to myself that I would make her proud and achieve many goals in my life,” he said.

“This is one of them.”

The actor will shortly return to his island community of about 2000 people after two-and-a-half months away, largely spent dancing and “doing the red carpet and stuff”.

“I can’t wait to go back home, just to go fishing and do what I gotta do myself,” he said.

“The one thing I’ve gotta say is thank you to all my fans, my supporters, my family, my friends, that supported me throughout my journey — thank you so much for being there for me and guiding me through my journey.”

-with agencies