Island of the Hungry Ghosts
(98 mins, 12A) Directed by Gabrielle Brady; featuring Poh Lin Lee
Migration has always been a fact of life on Christmas Island. An Australian territory off the coast of Indonesia, it is famous for the yearly scuttle of red land crabs to the sea to mate. The early human settlers, migrants from China, have shaped the culture of the island. Folklore wafts through Gabrielle Brady’s lyrical documentary, like the smoke of the burnt offerings made to the “hungry ghosts” of ancestors. But of late there has been a fresh influx of unquiet souls. The Australian government has constructed a huge, high-security detention centre where people seeking asylum are held for open-ended periods that can run into years. Viewed from the wooded hills above, it looks like a meat processing plant. And, from what we learn listening in on sessions with trauma counsellor Poh Lin Lee, the inmates are treated little better than livestock.
With its vivid sense of place, and unblinking insight into the plight of refugees, the film has some kinship with Gianfranco Rosi’s Fire at Sea. But there’s also an intangible threat in the way Brady’s camera snakes through undergrowth thick with secrets. At times, it put me in mind