It has been billed as the film the Australian Government do not want you to watch, and it isn’t hard to see why. In the face of unrelenting authoritative pressure, producer/director Eva Orner – a regular collaborator with US documentarian Alex Gibney – has shown herself to have a steadfast determination in ensuring people learn the terrible truth about her homeland’s savage attitude towards immigration, which makes this appalling exposé essential viewing for all.
On the world’s stage, Australia has long since held a reputation for being a cordial, compassionate society, and an attractive destination for expatriates from across the globe who invariably believe a better life waits for them. And though that is, broadly speaking, true for those of us in the West who are offered the opportunity to emigrate, the same cannot be said for those who land there in a bid to escape the magnitude of conflicts that have manifested in the Middle East.
Since 2013, the Australian government has remained committed in its refusal to rehouse asylum seekers who reach their shores. And instead have chosen to relocate them at one of two offshore “processing” centres located on Manus Island, just off the coast of Papua New Guinea, and the Republic of Nauru. There, they are left in limbo; many have been detained for more than a 1000 days, faced with the prospect of never being afforded the opportunity for resettlement in Australia and forced to endure violent, racially aggressive and psychologically oppressive living conditions at the hands of both the island natives, and the guards sent there to protect them.Though there are obvious parallels between the two films, Chasing Asylum contrasts quite considerably with Gianfranco Rosi’s more meditative consideration of the ongoing migrant situation, Fire At Sea. While that film was pensive in approach, this is highly pressurised; a startling and sobering scrutiny of the ruthless inhumanity Australia shows towards those who have risked it all to escape persecution, only to be confronted with a reality that’s as repressive.
Juxtaposing haunting undercover footage with chilling testimonies from whistleblowers who used to work within the camps, Orner takes us behind the barbed wire fences and shows us first hand the horrors that await the men, women and children placed there, traumatically documenting the desperation and disconnect that’s born out of such brutality; suffice to say, all of the Aussie politicians contacted over the course of the filmmaking process declined to be interviewed.
Its impact momentarily dwindles during the digressive interludes, which shift the focus away from the camp’s inmates, and onto the families who find themselves stranded in Cambodia, their path to Australia blocked by the government’s bid to stop the boats coming to their country in the first place. But never is this enough to truly detract from the lasting influence of what is a fiercely important piece of filmmaking.