Sunday, June 01, 2014

John Pilger's Utopia Hits Home

John Pilger's extraordinary, jaw-dropping, heart-breaking but totally eye-opening documentary Utopia screened across Australia on SBS tonight. Utopia is one of the most important films ever made in Australia, about Australia, about its secret past, and its secret present.

Although mostly ignored by mainstream media, and unable to even get a distribution deal, initially, Utopia was still seen by more than 100,000 people in parks, churches, school halls and community halls across Australia, in dozens of communities.

The reaction on Twitter to Utopia airing on SBS was intense.

For a few minutes, a documentary about Aboriginals topped the Twitter trending topics for Australia. Shortly after, it locked in between AFL and NRL trending topics. If you know the volume of celebrity and sports and boy pop band related tweets that usually result in a subject trending, you will understand just how massive the public reaction to Utopia on SBS was. And it was on SBS, not on a commercial channel.

Tens of thousands of tweets were posted, quoting from the documentary, airing feels of shock, dismay, anger but almost overall a sense of betrayal. Not just betrayal by Aboriginals on social media still waiting for justice, but from people all over the country who had never been told most of the information in Utopia, by teachers, by the media, by history books. How did we not know all this? How can so much be hidden?

Films can change societies, and for now at least, it feels like Utopia will help Aboriginals in their fight for justice, and full recognition. It certainly got people talking. And that's a start, isn't it? At least people know more than they did a few years ago.

Here are photos from the first screening of John Pilger's Utopia, at 'The Block' in Redfern. More than 4000 people turned out to watch the documentary, and Aboriginals traveled from across Australia to be there, and to speak, passionately, about the stories of Aboriginal heroes and their battles for justice featured in the film. I'm haunted to this day by the cries of pain and anguish from some of the Aboriginal men and women in the crowd, when they saw images of dead friends, or relatives, or stolen children from their ancestral lands. I doubt I will ever go to another film screening where emotions were so raw, and the joy at truth finally being told was so overwhelming.

You can buy a DVD of Utopia here. It's archival footage, alone, is worth keeping a permanent copy of, but the story in total is something you should share with people who don't know, including your children, or your grandchildren. It is the truth of Australia.