From growing up in Alice Springs to making it big on the small screen, Dylan River can see shades of his own life in the young version of a much-loved Indigenous detective he has brought to life.

Mystery Road Origin follows the life of young detective Jay Swan, who Australia has come to know well. 

Director Dylan River has been making films for the past ten years, while also assisting his father Warwick Thornton on various projects.  

At first River had no interest in film, opting for other aspirations such as a professional motorbike racer or chef. 

But it wasn’t until he reflected on his father’s works, when Thornton was making Samson and Delilah, that River saw how important it was to tell indigenous stories.

“When I realised it’s not just entertainment, this is an important job, that’s when I really contemplated doing it” River said. 

When River got the opportunity to direct the new series, Mystery Road Origin, he felt humbled and blessed to tell the story of a young indigenous detective conflicted between two worlds.

Mark Coles Smith as Jay Swan, Hayley McElhinney as Max & Director Dylan River, Mystery Road Origin – Photograph by David Dare Parker

With racism and discrimination being a consistent theme throughout the series, River had drawn from his personal life experiences.

Living in Alice Springs, he understood what it was like to have a “shady” police force in a rural town.

“I witness this first hand, people getting vilified” he said.

“The show is set in the 90’s (when racism) was even more casual, my dad talks about it in the 70’s.

“Racism was better (back then) because people were more outspoken to say it, but now people just do it behind closed doors.”

The crew spent 10 weeks filming in Kalgoorlie-Boulder, a town that is quite fitting for the story’s setting.

However filming was no walk in the park; River and his crew faced many challenges.

Spending six hours a day trying to get the perfect take proved to be a hassle as time was limited.

“The biggest thing I wished we had was time, some days we wouldn’t be able to get two takes of a certain shot or scene,” River said.

And it was not just time that had the crew in a crunch, COVID also played a huge role with the series’ progression.

The WA borders denying people entry from other states who he was looking forward to working with.

“Not being able to get those people was quite difficult,” River said.

The COVID problem also made it hard to find actors, however they eventually found the right people to portray each character.

River has put a lot of time and preparation into Mystery Road Origin.

Having worked on it for more than a year, he hopes the hard work shows in the finished product.

With the director of past series being Indigenous themselves, River said he felt supported as part of a community.

“Everyone was just excited, really happy that I was doing it and really excited to see what we did,” he said.

“The blackfulla film community is quite small and it’s growing every year, which is really exciting but I think for the most part everyone knows everyone.”