Some tales are hidden and wait for the right filmmaker to come along and weave their stories into something that creates such an impression on the audience that they’ll forever carry a part of that story with them. Gabrielle Brady’s ISLAND OF THE HUNGRY GHOSTS, Mathew Sleeth’s GUILTY and Catherine Scott’s BACKTRACK BOYS are stories that will stay in the minds of audiences long after the films end.
Christmas Island is full of hungry ghosts; ghosts of people who have died and not received a proper burial and ghosts who are living, caught between the injustices of the Australian immigration system and the brutality of the place that they flee.
Brady’s ISLAND OF THE HUNGRY GHOSTS is as hauntingly beautiful as it is distressing, with Michael Latham’s cinematography expertly capturing both the volatility and vulnerability of the island. Christmas Island is both a safe haven to the island’s famous red crabs who are cared for in their migration from jungle to sea, but also a jail and a place of suffering for those seeking asylum in Australia. The film follows Poh Lin Lee, a trauma counsellor who provides detainees with the opportunity to talk about their traumatic past. Yet these opportunities are never enough to alleviate the untold hurt and suffering of those seeking asylum who are detained indefinitely in the high-security Australian run detention centre. The island holds its secrets well and Lee’s struggle to navigate the increasingly political environment leaves her with few choices, impacting heavily on those she cares about.
Loneliness and isolation is a theme that connects Brady’s ISLAND OF THE HUNGRY GHOSTS with Sleeth’s documentary GUILTY. The last time a prisoner faced corporal punishment in Australia was the 1967 hanging of Ronald Ryan. Whilst Australia abolished the death penalty, numerous countries around the world still practice it and Indonesia, Australia’s closest Asian neighbour, is one such country.
GUILTY is a story of personal redemption and a nation’s heartache. Expertly capturing the final 72 hours of Myuran Sukumaran‘s life on death row in the infamous Kerobokan prison, the film offers a heartfelt glimpse into the transformative power of art in an contemptible situation. GUILTY showcases the dual fragility and strength of the human condition. Interspersed with archival footage from Sukumaran’s sentencing and newspaper reportage, and reflecting cinematographic influences from artistic expression the film is a moving tribute to Sukumaran’s legacy as well as an indictment on corporal punishment.
Forgiveness and redemption often go hand-in-hand and in Catherine Scott’s BACKTRACK BOYS the power of self-belief and the offer of non-judgemental assistance to vulnerable boys is a potent mix.
When Bernie Shakeshaft was younger he spent time in Tenant Creek where he was taught to track wild dogs, not by pushing them away but by listening to them and instead having them approach him. The lessons learned have kept Shakeshaft in good stead with the Backtrack Boys volunteer group he created, made up of caring adults, at-risk young boys and a group of dedicated working dogs looking for their own safe place in the world. Set near Armidale in regional New South Wales, the film exposes the harshness of the juvenile criminal justice system and the daily struggle to keep young boys from being caught up in it. Using their own words, BACKTRACK BOYS’ intimate exploration of the value of at-risk boys believing in themselves tugs at the heartstrings and provides a glimpse into the vulnerability of all involved in wanting these children to succeed.
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