Shaming Australia: Cinematic Responses to the “Pacific Solution”
Stephanie Hemelryk Donald
Abstract: This article analyses Australian audiovisual treatments of contemporary refugee experiences of the Australian government’s “Pacific Solution”, which was introduced after the Tampa affair in 2001. I call into question the conventional premise of much documentary filmmaking, that the moving photographic image can reveal the reality of that experience (indexicality). That approach is exemplified, I argue, by Eva Orner’s award-winning film, Chasing Asylum (2014), which aspired to reveal the truth about conditions in the Regional Processing Centre on Nauru and thereby to shock Australian audiences into demanding a change in government policy. The problem with the film is that its reliance on the norms of documentary has the unintended consequence of silencing the detainees and reducing them to the status of vulnerable and victimised objects. The article concludes by comparing Chasing Asylum with an installation by Dennis Del Favero, Tampa 2001 (2015), which exemplifies a nonrepresentational, affect-based aesthetic that says less in order to achieve more in evoking complex refugee stories of dispossession or disappearance.