On the picturesque coast of Manus Island, Papua New Guinea, beyond the sandy beach and palm trees, almost a thousand asylum seekers are kept behind wire fences by armed guards.
We’re used to hearing about Manus and allegations of the crimes committed inside. We’re less familiar with seeing them with our own eyes. Shot entirely on a mobile phone, new documentary Chauka, Please Tell Us the Time gives us a glimpse into the everyday injustice committed in the name of Australian border security. Rare, frustrating calls home. Cramped conditions. Abuse at the hands of guards. Lasting psychological damage. Self-harm. Poor medical supplies. Murder.
“Now when I see [the guards] I get goosebumps of fear and hate,” says one inmate. “That's how much I hate them ... their behaviour completely altered my sense of self.”
“I really would prefer to be dead,” says another.
Chauka is the result of a collaboration between two men at opposite ends of the world. Netherlands-based filmmaker Arash Kamali Sarvestani became interested in telling the story of Manus’ inmates two years ago. “They’re really scared for their futures,” he tells me. “The more I read, the angrier I got. This isn’t normal.”
In his research he came across the writing of Behrouz Boochani, a Kurdish journalist who was interned in Manus after fleeing the oppressive regime in Iran in 2013. Boochani has been reporting from inside the detention centre for several years, published in The Guardian and Sydney Morning Herald. With the assistance of Sarvestani and Australian human rights activists, he began documenting life in the camp with a contraband smartphone. He smuggled the footage off the island, which went to Sarvestani in Eindhoven.
“At first I thought I’d find someone on the island to be a cameraman, and make a five-minute movie,” says Sarvestani. “But Behrouz knows how to tell stories, and he knows what’s happening around him. We realised we could make something bigger. He wasn’t just a cameraman. We made the film together.”
It was a long, laborious process. Painfully slow internet meant sending a 30-second video file could take hours. It was dangerous, too. “The authorities didn’t know he was making a movie,” says Sar-vestani. “Maybe if they knew they would have stopped him.
“But if he could make it freely, maybe it wouldn’t have this style it has.”
The resulting film is a portrait of fear and hopelessness, with some truly chilling allegations of torture and abuse. Its portrayal of what’s happening under our noses that makes this an essential film for all Australians.
Chauka, Please Tell us the Time is screening at ACMI on June 16–18.
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