July 15, 2014


Utopia (John Pilger and Alan Lowery, 2013). John Pilger’s powerfully angry and bitter documentary about Australia’s appalling treatment of its first people has a strong personal dimension: at its heart, there is Pilger’s dismay at the persistence of white Australian racism. We flash back to earlier stories, with Pilger stumbling on the “secret Australia” in the 1960s as a young expat reporting for a British newspaper, and returning again in the 1980s and campaigning with Arthur and Leila Murray, whose son Eddie died in police custody in 1981. Nothing has really changed since then other than the (mostly) more guarded political delivery of the same white Australian sentiment – Pilger sees the controversial 2007 “interventions” in Northern Territory communities as almost indistinguishable from earlier policies that created the stolen generations, only now the attitude is dressed up in early 21st century bureaucratic-concern-language of rescuing children from (probably fictional) abuse. Anger boils over when Pilger goes to Canberra and interrogates politicians Mal Brough, Warren Snowdon and Kevin Rudd. Utopia’s most distressing sequences are filmed in remote camps where Australians still live in third world conditions, but Pilger hasn’t lost a sharp sense of humour: he contrasts luxury resorts in coastal New South Wales, at Uluru and, most incredible of all, the former penal colony of Rottnest Island with the lives of the people who lived there before.