Justifiably, the holocaust deserves its place in history as one of mankind’s darkest acts. That a similar treatment of Australia’s indigenous Aboriginal population is not held in the same regard by many, either through ignorance or denial, is something documentary film-maker John Pilger sets out to change with this powerful and revealing portrait of his native country’s history.
Taking in a range of various injustices, from the well-documented Stolen Generation travesties through to lesser known acts, such as a Network Broadcaster’s attempts to wrongly demonise a town’s Aboriginal population as paedophiles, Pilger takes no prisoners in his attempt to document some of the country’s changing – and indeed not changing – attitudes towards what it deems its Aboriginal ‘problem’.
Get beyond the rather Open University feel then and you’ll find that behind Pilger’s monotonous narration lies a story littered with atrocities and abhorrent behaviour right up to the highest echelons of government. That he doesn’t quite dress it up in the manner that perhaps other documentary makers – think Michael Moore without the gimmicks – might do shouldn’t detract from the powerful message behind the portrayal.
Managing to interview some fairly high profile talking heads (recent PM Kevin Rudd among them), Pilger clearly has the clout and the access to lend the documentary some weight. He may lack the charm at times to tease the truth from those in his sights, instead choosing to rile them up, but his passion and dedication to his cause is never in question, despite the consequent entertainment factor his somewhat aggressive questioning delivers.
Amidst the various tales of poverty and appalling injustice meted out on the people via stories, recollections and some genuinely shocking CCTV, some of the most disturbing moments bring us bang up to date. Prepare to be astounded as Pilger interviews Australia Day revellers descended from those he feels have ‘invaded’ the country, revealing a shocking ignorance of the scale of the country’s injustices and a casual lack of interest in caring anyway.
So while it’s unlikely Pilger, and indeed Utopia, will be taken up by the Aussie tourist board to accurately portray the country, his scathing indictment of its dark heart deserves recognition for actually doing just that.
UTOPIA + John Pilger Q&A – Picturehouse Cinemas UK