Sydney Film Festival Review: ‘Chauka, Please Tell Us The Time’

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This review is part of a wrap from Sydney Film Festival 2017. Read more here.

It’s impossible to sit through Chauka, Please Tell Us The Time without feeling an overwhelming sense of shame. Shot in secret on a mobile phone by Kurdish journalist Behrouz Boochani — who has spent the past three years of his life locked up on Manus Island — this simple but intensely confronting documentary offers an unprecedented look at the appalling conditions in Australia’s refugee detention centre, and the day-to-day lives of the men our government has imprisoned there.

In clandestine interviews with his fellow detainees, Boochani lays bare the litany of abuses that are alleged to have taken place on Manus. The assaults. The deaths. The unconscionable negligence of guards and other staff on Australian taxpayer payroll. None of this information is especially new, but hearing it from the mouths of the victims adds a new dimension to the horror. One man describes the murder of his friend, Reza Barati: “I can’t forget it, ever. I have nightmares about that every night.”

We’re also given a first-hand look at the soul-crushing boredom that comes with life behind the fence. It may seem like a relatively minor complaint, but after years on the island, with no clear picture of when things might change, the endless repetition becomes another form of torture. Many men Boochani speaks to describe depression and thoughts of suicide — although again, it’s nothing Australian voters haven’t heard, and wilfully ignored, before.

In truth, that might be the most distressing thing about Chauka, Please Tell Us The Time – the sense that no footage, no testimony, no international condemnation will be enough to make Australians (or enough Australians) care. It’s easy to describe films like as powerful because of the strong emotions they illicit – critics did the same with Eva Orner’s Chasing Asylum just last year. But how much power can you ascribe to a piece of art, however brave it may be, when people will do everything they can to overlook what it has to say?

Tom Clift is Junkee’s weekend and morning editor. He also writes for Concrete Playground, is the co-founder of Movie Mezzanine, and tweets sporadically at @tom_clift.