Is­land of the Hun­gry Ghosts

The Observer - The New Review - - Film -

(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

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