High Ground

After fighting in the First World War as a sniper, Travis, now a policeman in the vast empty spaces of Northern Australia, loses control of an operation that results in the massacre of an Indigenous tribe. When his superiors insist on burying the truth, Travis leaves in disgust, only to be forced back twelve years later to hunt down Baywara, an Aboriginal warrior whose attacks on new settlers are causing havoc. When Travis, now a bounty hunter, recruits as his tracker the young mission-raised Gutjuk, the only known survivor of the carnage, memories threaten to resurface and turn the white man from hunter into the hunted. Set in the 1930s, High Ground is inspired by true events. A frontier western about colonial violence and misunderstandings that deeply resonates in today’s Australia – and indeed all over the world – the film explores the nature of loyalty and the ability to distinguish freely between right and wrong, in opposition to the dogmas of the age in which you live.
by Stephen Maxwell Johnson
with Simon Baker, Jacob Junior Nayinggul, Jack Thompson, Callan Mulvey, Witiyana Marika, Esmerelda Marimowa, Aaron Pedersen, Caren Pistorius, Ryan Corr, Sean Mununggur
Australia 2019 English, Yolngu Matha 104’ Colour


  • Simon Baker (Travis)
  • Jacob Junior Nayinggul (Gutjuk)
  • Jack Thompson (Moran)
  • Callan Mulvey (Ambrose)
  • Witiyana Marika (Dharrpa)
  • Esmerelda Marimowa (Gulwirri)
  • Aaron Pedersen (Walter)
  • Caren Pistorius (Claire)
  • Ryan Corr (Braddock)
  • Sean Mununggur (Baywarra)


Director Stephen Maxwell Johnson
Screenplay Chris Anastassiades
Cinematography Andrew Commis
Editing Jill Bilcock
Sound Design Chris Goodes
Sound Nick Emond
Production Design Ross Wallace
Costumes Erin Roche
Make-Up Marie Kealy
Assistant Directors Mark Boskell
Casting Anousha Zarkesh
Production Manager Darren McFarlane
Producers Witiyana Marika, Greer Simpkin, David Jowsey, Maggie Miles, Stephen Maxwell Johnson

Produced by

Bunya Productions

Savage Films

Maxo Studios

Stephen Maxwell Johnson

A director, producer and cinematographer, he grew up in the Bahamas, Africa and in Australia’s Northern Territory. He began his film career as a trainee cameraman before attending drama school in London. He has made numerous documentaries, animated films, commercials and music videos, winning a directing award from the Australian Film Institute for the children’s series Out There. His debut feature film, Yolngu Boy, premiered at the Telluride Film Festival. He has been working on High Ground for 20 years.


1998 Genie from Downunder; TV-Series 1999 Crash Zone; TV-Series 2000 Tribal Voice; Documentary 2001 Yolngu Boy 2002 Legacy of the Silver Shadow; TV-Series 2003 Out There; TV-Series 2011 Dead Gorgeous; TV-Series 2013 Hello Music Land; Animation film 2019 High Ground

Bio- & filmography as of Berlinale 2020