Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000 to 2009.

An historical drama that moved with relentless pacing, director Phillip Noyce’s 2002 biopic proved a tremendous accomplishment — a film that educated viewers about a little-known cultural injustice while simultaneously pinning us to our seats with tense suspense.

Rabbit-Proof Fence represented Noyce’s long-overdue return to form, having toiled in mostly unremarkable action after 1989’s breakthrough Dead Calm. Though more grounded in enlightenment and emotion than Calm, Fence proved no less thrilling.

In 1931 Western Australia, “protection” laws gave the predominantly white government jurisdiction over all Aborigines. This included half-castes — children born of Aboriginal mothers and white fathers. Too hubristic to leave them alone but too afraid to fully integrate them into society, the government mandated these children be sent to remote outposts for training in domestic servitude.

Fence is the true story of Molly, Daisy and Gracie — three such children sent 1,200 miles away from their home, but who escaped and perilously trekked by foot back to their village. (The fence of the title is how the girls determine their bearings.)

Cinematographer Christopher Doyle expertly lenses vistas both beautiful and brutal. Peter Gabriel delivers a score that’s alternately hopeful and somberly throbbing with percussion and chants. And Everlyn Sampi, Tianna Sansbury and Laura Monaghan ably play smart, persuasive girls.

Tears at the end of Fence would’ve become happy in the hands of studios for which Noyce worked in the past. On his own, he made us cry not at how human determination triumphs, but how its mere existence can keep us going through seemingly insurmountable odds.