If there is one political documentary filmmaker that has remained unambiguously ideologically consistent over their career in the (quasi)mainstream then it is John Pilger. He has fervently been representing and documenting the plight of the oppressed and dispossessed for nearly 4 decades, never sensationalising his subjects but instead listening to them and contextualising their issues and turmoil.
His latest documentary Utopia sees him return to his home country of Australia in order to highlight the persistent and shocking prejudice that is aimed at the Aboriginal communities. He last focussed on this subject in his film Welcome To Australia (available online it its entirety here) that highlighted the tragic inequality between the native people of the country and their exclusion from the pomp and fanfare of the upcoming Sydney Olympic games. This film returns to the issue, this time stressing the lack of access to healthcare and employment for the people, the appalling police brutality that they suffer and the psychological damage that is done due to the historical revisionism of the white majority population.
The film is presented in a simple and factual manner with Pilger using his authoritative style to give context and highlight injustice on a number of issues. He visits a group of people that live in ramshackle camps whilst revealing that the lifespan of the Aboriginal community is 45 and that they have not been counted in the official census. He talks to doctors who reveal horrific disorders such as cockroaches living in ear canals and intense malnourishment due to a single tap between many families and terrible sanitary facilities.
After talking to these people, he then juxtaposes their lives with a group of white families celebrating Australia Day, an anniversary of “the raising of the Union Jack at Sydney Cove by its commander Captain Arthur Phillip in 1788”. To Pilger, this is a celebration of the invading British beginning the extermination of the natives, yet to everyone he interviews (obviously there is no opposition to him) the day has nothing to do with the Aborigines and that if they ‘sobered up’ then they could integrate and enjoy the festivities too. Most opinions revolved around a theme that claimed that this was ‘the lifestyle that they want’
The most shocking scene is where Pilger takes a small group of Aborigines to an old Aborigine prison that has now been turned into a holiday hotel on an Island infamous for previous cruelty. There is no mention of the horrors that took place on the island, simply and encouragement to forget your worries and enjoy the view.
As mentioned above, the film is the latest in the a long line of excellent documentaries from Pilger that reveal the cruelty of western capitalism and if this intrigues you and you want to learn more, any entry from his back catalogue will equally inform and horrify you. A good place to start is probably here…