Saturday, October 20, 2012

Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea

I have been following the work of Jessie Taylor, young Melbourne lawyer, since reading about how she came upon the situation of bringing a 14 year old Afghani foster son into her home and life.  Such an incredible and inspiring  story and single act in this horrid time of political turmoil by her!

As part of that journey that had her meet that young man, she had ventured over to Indonesia with the idea of filming the story behind what makes people boat people.  To examine the stories, and find out why people would take such a risk as to board an unseaworthy vessel and attempt to get to Australian land.  The hows, whys and experiences.

The result is the award winning Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea.  I attended a screening earlier this month through Melbourne University Refugee Action Collective at the University of Melbourne.  Jessie attended, and answered questions at the end, which added to the experience of seeing this documentary.

The film starts with Jessie getting to Indonesia, and visiting some people in detention.  Hearing and filming their stories.  And from here, many people contact her, to tell their stories.  So many heart-breaking and unbelievably scary and unfathomable things that have happened to these people, and their journeys to get to here. (Photo credit)

We also get a sense of the legal situation - many of these people and families who have made their way to Indonesia to flee such horrid things in their homeland have actually been granted refugee status by the UNHCR.  Many of them are awaiting an interview for this determination. All of them are being detained in the most awful of conditions, for years and years, with no end in sight, and certainly no communication from the UN about how much longer they will have to wait.

The frustration, the unknown, the burden of the risk they have already taken to get this far, is what pushed a few to seek alternative methods to get to Australia.  The promised land.  The "lucky country".  A country that has had a "stop the boats" policy beating the newspaper headlines for 12 years.

The descriptions of the boat journey from Indonesia to Australian waters is harrowing, and the footage of a boat wrestling to come to shore is so unsettling.

The UNHCR process, and the lack of Australian processes where there could be such an easy solution to help these people and indeed "stop the boats", gets a brutal and honest portrayal - only 35-50 people per year actually get from this hopeless situation and are granted the gift of resettlement - their basic human right. The alternative is clear - rather than waiting for some of these people to survive the journey across the sea, our government could just move to speed up the processing steps from the detention sites in Indonesia.

It's the individual stories that touch you.  Tear at your heart, and make you cry.  The families are the hardest stories to take in, but also the young man who has seen his siblings killed in front of him in his home country, sent this far by the urging of his parents, for a glimmer of hope of safety and life.  His voice and story stay with you.

The closing frames of this documentary are the most powerful.  You have to see this.

The film has not gained rights to be screened in Australia.  Because of it's funding, namely a portion from Amnesty International, networks who may ordinarily show such hard hitting, and real film, have shied away.  Jessie has been unable to get it listed in any of the film festivals here in Australia.  And yet several festivals worldwide have screened it, and awarded it Best Documentary at the 2012 European Independent Film Festival and an Accolade Award from the Honolulu Film Festival, to name a few.

To see this film, a crowdfunding effort has been started, with one more week of the campaign until the deadline for an attempt to have it screened all around the country closes.  There are several options to help it be screened in your area, but at the very least, buy a ticket to a possible screening in your area - and hopefully Jessie will get the funds through this process to allow you to see it, too.  And above all, this may reach some people who need to see it, to adjust their views of the refugee issue to a more humane and rights based outlook, and change the way this country votes on such an important humanitarian issue.

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