Warwick Thornton serves soul food by the sea in The Beach on NITV and SBS

Shot in remote Western Australia, The Beach is part wilderness travelogue, part cooking show, as film-maker Warwick Thornton, pictured below with one of his chooks, tries a life of solitude. The documentary's six instalments screen on NITV and SBS in one three-hour sitting on Friday May 29.

Shot in remote Western Australia, The Beach is part wilderness travelogue, part cooking show, as film-maker Warwick Thornton, pictured below with one of his chooks, tries a life of solitude. The documentary's six instalments screen on NITV and SBS in one three-hour sitting on Friday May 29.

By JAMES JOYCE

It's Survivor meets Masterchef meets Big Brother meets The Voice.

Except that it's television for the soul - the perfect antidote to those so-called reality shows with their desperate hype and noise, confected competition and conflict.

It's called The Beach, and it's a viewing experience suited for these isolated days of our lives. It features one man, three chooks and a guitar in a shack beside the sea at the edge of the world.

Long before Australia began social distancing, film-maker Warwick Thornton gave solitude a crack for two months in a one-room shack on a majestic beach in Jilirr, on the Dampier Peninsula in remote north-western Western Australia.

The acclaimed writer and director of Samson & Delilah and Sweet Country, Thornton had his son, Dylan River, chronicle his every move - and the surrounding landscape - on camera.

The result is unobtrusive observational slice-of-life TV that is at times stunningly cinematic.

"The Beach is one of the most important projects of my life," Thornton has said of the unusual documentary experiment.

"It's about my life. It is my life."

The six part special - showing on SBS in one three-hour sitting - is part wilderness travelogue, part cooking show. But it's more inspiring than that - it's a deliberately slow and quiet contemplation that goes deep - emotionally and psychologically - with poignant stillness and striking visual sequences that reward the patient viewer with moments of delight and awe.

As a five-year-old, he played at this father's feet on the set of Samson & Delilah in Alice Springs. Here, Dylan River's own camera plays in detailed close-up and epic widescreen, from high in the sky and down in the water to the dark corners of Thorton's cluttered shack; that pesky fly annoying him as he cooks; that army of soldier crabs scuttling across the shore.

Thorton brought his favourite cooking utensils and ingredients to the shack.

Thorton brought his favourite cooking utensils and ingredients to the shack.

The focus of The Beach isn't so much the wild majesty of this beautiful corner of the planet (where Thornton and his collaborator on The Sapphires, Wayne Blair, shot parts of their ABC drama, Mystery Road).

Rather, the focus is Thornton himself, his submission to the solitude and the resulting journey of personal reflection and discovery.

There are meditative sequences and long silences as he potters around his artfully dilapidated hut between the ocean and the mangroves, or roars along the beach in his FJ45 Toyota "Bull Catcher".

Warwick, his guitar and a feathered companion.

Warwick, his guitar and a feathered companion.

In the time-honoured ways of his indigenous ancestors, he forages for food, such as fish and crabs, and patiently prepares intricate, sometimes spectacular, dishes over open flames using his favourite cooking utensils.

Occasionally, he talks to his three unruly chickens - unexpected therapy sessions about life, his family, his mental struggles and more.

Thornton is not always pleasant company. But the chooks seem to mostly take his surly confessions and sweary soliloquies in their stride.

"The best thing about chickens is that they do a lot of listening, and they don't do a lot of talking," Thornton has since noted.

Screening as part of Reconciliation Week 2020, The Beach premieres simultaneously across NITV, SBS and SBS On Demand. NITV will repeat each of the six episodes, at 7.30pm each day, from Monday, June 1. And look out for Thornton's feature-length documentary, We Don't Need a Map, on NITV on Sunday from 8.10pm.

The Beach

7.30pm Friday, NITV/SBS

This story Soul food and solitude by the sea first appeared on The Canberra Times.