Cleverman follows a group of non-humans who are battling for survival in a world where humans feel increasingly inferior and want to silence, exploit and kill them.
At the heart of the story are two estranged brothers, Koen and Waruu West, who are forced together to fight against terrifying enemies - both human and otherworldly dreaming creatures. But can Koen, a man bestowed with a powerful gift and destined to become the Cleverman, learn to harness his power before everything around him crumbles?
By turns smart, sexy, bloody, thought-provoking and startlingly original, Cleverman combines compelling character-driven storytelling with powerful themes and thrilling action, to appeal to fans of all genres.
Many of the stories in Cleverman are drawn from Aboriginal story-telling, for which co-producer Ryan Griffen obtained permission from Aboriginal elders. Co-producer Rosemary Blight says, "The arc of the stories is fiction but the heart and genesis of the stories come from Aboriginal story-telling. There is a definite truth to the stories."
Cleverman marks the beginning of a new venture for Australia’s Indigenous production sector and is set to be a major drama highlight for ABC-TV in 2016.— Sally Riley, executive producer and head of ABC-TV’s Indigenous department
“Cleverman marks a new era for Australia’s production sector, inviting audiences to experience a bold new story-world where Aboriginal storytelling meets high concept genre drama,” said Sally Riley, Head of Indigenous, ABC TV. “With an 80% Indigenous cast, Cleverman sets the benchmark for diversity on Australian television and its contemporary themes set in the near future will resonate widely amongst diverse audiences”. 
Episode 1: First Contact
In the very near future, creatures from ancient mythology have suddenly emerged and must coexist with humans. Known as 'Hairypeople' for the matted hair covering their bodies, they have extraordinary strength, speed and longevity but are cast as social misfits and seek refuge in The Zone: a fragile community that finds strength in the brotherhood between Hairy and human.
When a series of violent, unexplained murders terrifies the city, blame for the bloodshed is pointed firmly in the direction of the Hairies. Raids mandated by the Containment Authority — a government-funded body established to capture runaway Hairypeople — threaten the already tenuous peace within The Zone. But other mythical creatures exist in this world, terrifying creatures that can rip a person's heart out.
There is one chosen being — the Cleverman — who has the power to bring these two worlds back together and can see exactly what evil truly lies behind the attacks.
Following the mysterious death of his uncle, Koen West (Hunter Page-Lochard) becomes the new Cleverman — a young man in denial of his culture and estranged from his family — who is far from the model hero that the Hairies and people of The Zone so desperately need.
Koen's half-brother, Waruu (Rob Collins), is his antithesis. A man of culture and spirituality, Waruu battles tirelessly against the oppressive Containment Authority and his own demons. Believing himself to be the protector of his people and the natural heir to the Cleverman powers, the realisation that his heedless younger brother has been chosen threatens to destroy him.
In a world ruled by fear, hate and greed, can civilisation — and the power of the Cleverman — restore balance against known and unknown threats that stand to terrorise every species on Earth?
Episode 2: Containment
A young boy playing soccer has his heart ripped out of his chest by something other worldly. This plays perfectly into Minister Matthews' hands, who uses this as the basis for a story about how volatile and violent Hairymen can be.
Koen, looking for answers, heads into The Zone to find Aunty Linda, the woman who raised him after his parents were both killed in a hit and run accident. As he hugs her in greeting, he gets a vision of her undergoing medical treatment for breast cancer. She, in turn, sees his one blue eye and realises he has been given the Cleverman powers — she knows how distressed this will make her son, Waruu.
Waruu, meanwhile, is in consultation with Harry, his unofficial second. Harry has surveillance photos of suspicious, unmarked semi-trailers heading into an old abandoned prison. Harry wants to raid the complex, but Waruu urges caution. And a political solution. He's going on TV — on a station owned by Jarrod Slade, no less — to debate with Minister Matthews.
Waruu starts strongly in the debate, skewering Matthews about the fact many Hairymen are disappearing without a trace, distressing families. But the interview is interrupted with a highly inflammatory report on the brutal death of Cameron Wells, the young soccer player, laying the blame squarely at the feet of Hairymen. Waruu has been outplayed, and is furious. Matthews, on the other hand, is delighted.
Djukara, the son of the Hairy family captured by the Containment Authority, is refusing to bow to the authority of the guards. His relief in discovering his father is captive in the same place is short-lived, when his father refuses to countenance any form of fighting back. Boondee's approach is to submit, knowing the Hairies will outlive their captors. But Djukara refuses to co-operate, leading to the guards torturing Boondee in front of him, and then shaving all of Djukara's hair off, as a warning to others about insubordination.
At first the Cleverman powers are a bit of a joke between Koen and his friends — if he cuts himself the wound heals in front of their eyes. But things turn serious when he is plagued by a voice in his head, calling him. The voice leads him and Blair to a mysterious laboratory, where they find a woman strapped to a table, full of tubes. They rescue her — and flee the lab — only for Koen to discover that this strange woman is something magical.
Episode 3: A Free Ranger
Waruu and Harry break in to the Containment Centre on their reconnaissance mission, filming the deplorable conditions the inmates are kept in.
But when Djukara appeals to Harry, as a fellow Hairy, to let them out, Harry can't refuse. Three prisoners pile out, a guard appears, and Djukara is shot. Waruu, rushes to Djukara's aid, and pulls the guard off him, trapping him in a headlock.
Waruu, Harry, and the prisoners escape to The Zone, and take Djukara to the medical clinic for assistance. He's tended by Slade's wife Charlotte, a doctor. She's thrown when she realises Djukara is an escapee — even more so when the news reports state that a guard was killed in the breakout. And that his heart was ripped out. Waruu is furious, and assures everyone that the boys did not kill the guard, let alone rip out his heart.
What Waruu does not know is that McIntyre, the head of the Containment Authority, has used his own knife to remove the guard's heart, to frame the Hairy escapees. Matthews, unaware of this, demands the Hairy story be broadcast for the world to see that the vicious Hairies have struck again.
Koen, Blair and Ash have dubbed the mystery woman from the lab 'Kora', and are trying to work out who and what she is. But she won't, or can't, talk, and behaves as if she from another world and time, intrigued by all she comes across. When Koen grabs Kora's arm in frustration at her silence, he is knocked clear across the room by a jolt of extraordinary power.
It turns out that Slade is the owner of the lab in which Kora was found. He's a man with an established interest in Indigenous culture; a man who was a friend and business associate of Uncle Jimmy's. He wants to know who the new Cleverman is — so that he can continue the work he started with Jimmy. Slade enters The Zone to find Waruu, who he assumes is now Cleverman. But Waruu isn't interested in Slade's overtures, and Slade discovers Waruu is not the one. Koen is, but he rejects Slade and his offers of wealth and power, too.
Nerida, Waruu's wife, has heard the reports of the breakout, and is beside herself with worry. But Waruu locks himself away from her, and obsessively watches the footage — which reveals he is the man who killed the guard. Not in self-defence, but by choice.
Episode 4: Sun and Moon
Eight people are killed in an aged care facility — all of them have their hearts ripped out. Again the government blames the Hairies. The media are calling it a massacre. Crowds of protestors gather at the checkpoint into The Zone, all too ready to condemn the 'subhumans'.
Tension is mounting between Waruu and the militant Hairyman Maliyan. Waruu believes strength lies in unity, but Maliyan wants the Hairies to stand for themselves.
McIntyre has Waruu captured, bound and gagged, and confronts him with the evidence of his involvement in the breakout from the Containment Centre. McIntyre offers a deal — hand over the three escapees, or Waruu will be charged with murder. Waruu turns the tables on McIntyre — reminding him he has footage of the guard's death, and the fact that he was not killed by having his heart ripped out. That was done post-mortem, by someone wanting to frame the Hairies. Does McIntyre really want that revealed to the world?
Koen is surprised when Waruu appears at the bar, demanding Koen attend to his Cleverman duties and kill the Namorrodor, the beast that is tearing people's hearts out and causing such grief for the Hairies. But Koen's not interested. He thinks those Dreaming stories are for kids. Waruu is appalled at his attitude, but Koen doesn't care.
Slade is spending time in his lab, observing his lead scientist's experiments on a human and is unmoved when the experiment goes terribly wrong. But Slade is the first to offer himself as a guinea pig when the substance they're testing is modified, and the effect is immediate and quite remarkable — he has greatly increased strength, agility and endurance. Excited by the success of his experiment, Slade is impatient to work with the Cleverman again, and McIntyre is dispatched to bring Koen and Kora to him, whatever it takes. But in the armed struggle a gun goes off, and it would appear both McIntyre and Ash have been killed.
Episode 5: A Man of Vision
Charlotte and Slade attend the Ilithyia clinic for IVF treatment for one last attempt. Charlotte introduces herself and her husband to the doctor, unaware that it's really Slade's lead scientist...
Sometime later, Slade and Charlotte entertain Waruu and Nerida for lunch at their sumptuous cliff top home. Slade offers Waruu money to provide housing for The Zone people. And in return, Slade wants Koen.
Koen and Blair, with Kora, return to the bar, confused there are no police in attendance. They discover a pile of ash in the shape of Ash's body, but there is no trace of McIntyre. Worried they are still in danger; Koen insists they head for The Zone.
Aunty Linda recognises Kora as an ancient spirit, and insists Koen send her back. But before he can do that, Waruu insists he kill the Namorrodor like he was supposed to. Koen reluctantly agrees to try and call the Namorrodor with Waruu's help. During the ceremony, old childhood grievances flare up, and Koen realises Waruu has lured him here with the hope that the Namorrodor will kill him, so the powers will pass to him. Koen leaves, abandoning Waruu.
Back in The Zone, Djukara recognises Koen and attacks him for causing his little sister's death. Despite being mortally shot, Koen can't die. Filled with guilt for Ash's death, grief that his brother wants him dead, and fear that he will never be able to fulfil the role of Cleverman, Koen despairs. Linda and Kora try to comfort him, but he's lost.
It's only when Linda forces him to perform a smoking ceremony that Koen begins to understand that he might be the right choice for Cleverman after all.
Matthews, when not distracted by the charms of Araluen at the brothel, demands McIntyre recapture the escapees. McIntyre lets slip he was the one who cut the guard's heart out and framed the Hairies, and Matthews begins to understand that there are other forces and agendas at play here. Reasserting his authority, Matthews demands The Zone be emptied of people. He wants the real estate.
Episode 6: Terra Nullius
Residents of The Zone are shocked when drones appear in the sky, announcing that all humans have 24 hours to leave. Anyone remaining after that time will be deemed a Hairy and treated accordingly. It's the only way the government can protect innocent citizens from these unprovoked, violent attacks. People begin to pack up and leave.
Encouraged by the success of the smoking, Koen agrees to send Kora back to her dimension.
While Koen is going from strength to strength, Waruu is now completely estranged from his wife and daughter. When Linda confronts him about the fact that he's prepared to sacrifice his own brother, Waruu turns on her. He believes it's her fault that he's not a worthy man.
Waruu heads to see Slade, but when he hears Matthews speaking about reclaiming The Zone, he despairs — what is the point of all this money Slade has given him, if Matthews is going to take the land? Slade gives Waruu a computer drive, assuring him that Matthews will have lost his job by the end of the day. Waruu realises that he is doing exactly what Slade wants him to do and has become his pawn. Waruu realises there is no way out, even if he wanted one.
Waruu entices Koen to come to see Slade with him. In the lab, Slade shows Waruu his wonder drug — it gives the recipient Hairy-like strength and longevity. Waruu takes the nulla nulla and abandons Koen to Slade, who is knocked out by powerful shockwaves whilst attempting to draw blood from the young Cleverman, now comfortably in his full powers.
Back in The Zone, Maliyan makes a defiant stand against the impending arrival of the Containment forces — he will spill the first blood. A human. Blair. But before he can, he's felled by a shot. It's Waruu, who then attempts to rally The Zoners together, extolling the virtues of his plans for land ownership and housing for all.
His messianic rant is met by a stunned silence. Everyone has seen him murder Maliyan. But before anyone can move, the Namorrodor appears out of nowhere and swoops down on Aunty Linda. Waruu grabs the nulla nulla and races to her rescue. But the Namorrodor easily swipes him aside.
Koen appears, having escaped from Slade — who stirs from his blackout — and picks up the nulla nulla from the ground where Waruu dropped it. He summons the full powers of the Cleverman, and conquers the Namorrodor.
Rescued from the beast, but still having to face the arrival of the troops, The Zoners prepare. Koen moves amongst them as their new leader. And in the deep heart of The Zone, alone and bitter, Waruu doses up on Slade's wonder drug.
- Adam Briggs - Maliyan
Alexis Lane - Kora
Andrew McFarlane - Geoff Matthews
Deborah Mailman - Aunty Linda, knowledge keeper
Frances O’Connor - Charlotte Cleary, media mogul's wife
Hunter Page-Lochard - Koen West, Aboriginal brother
Iain Glen - Jarrod Slade, media mogul
Isaac Drandic - Harry
Jack Charles - Uncle Jimmy
Jada Alberts - Nerida West
Leeanna Walsman - Belinda Frosche
Lynette Curran - Virgil
Marcus Graham - Steve McIntyre
Rarriwuy Hick - Latani
Rob Collins - Waruu West, Aboriginal brother
Robyn Nevin - Jane O'Grady
Ryan Corr - Blair Finch
Stef Dawson - Ash Kerry
Tamala Shelton - Alinta West
Tasma Walton - Araluen
Tony Briggs - Boondee
Trevor Jamieson - Uncle Max
Tysan Towney - Djukara
Val Weldon - Jirra
- Release dates
- 17 February 2016 - World Premiere, Berlin Film Festival, Germany
1 June 2016 - USA
2 June 2016 - Australia
- Video/DVD release date
- 24 August 2016
- MA 15+ - Mature accompanied
- Red Arrow International, Entertainment One Features
- Dave Whitehead
Creatures and effects are by Jacob Nash (Bangarra Dance Theatre) and world-renowned Weta Workshop (Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Hobbit trilogy, King Kong, Avatar).
Watch now or find a DVD/BlueRay copy
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Other films by Wayne Blair & Leah Purcell
- 2002Black Chicks Talking
- 2004The Djarn Djarns
- 2009Aunty Maggie & The Womba Wakgun
- 2012Redfern Now (Series 1)
- 2012The Sapphires
- 2013Redfern Now (Series 2)
- 2013The Gods of Wheat Street
- 2014Who We Are: Brave New Clan
- 2015Septembers of Shiraz
- 2017Cleverman Season 2
- 2019Top End Wedding
- 2020Mystery Road (TV series, Season 2)
- 2021Firestarter – The Story of Bangarra
- 2021The Drover’s Wife: The Legend of Molly Johnson
- 2021Total Control (Series 1)
- 2024Total Control (Series 1)
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