Friday 22 June 2018
Island of the Hungry Ghosts - Edinburgh International Film Festival
Christmas Island is famous to naturalists for the red crabs that live there in huge numbers and make an annual migration across the island. It is also home to a detention centre for asylum seekers and illegal immigrants seeking a new life in Australia.
Island of the Hungry Ghosts follows Poh Lin Lee a trauma counsellor in a community hospital who works with the asylum seekers as she tries to help them come to terms with their situation. She tries to help people come to terms with escaping from war, surviving shipwreck and being forcibly seperated from their families. It's a difficult job and she is often in tears in frustration knowing that however much she works her clients are going to return to the detention centre for the rest of the week and almost always their mental state is constantly deteriorating because of the conditions there.
The situation for the asylum seekers is contrasted with Poh Lin's happy family life with her French husband and their children.
As a parallel strand to the film, we are shown the efforts made to look after the red crabs on their migrations. One of the rangers says 'we need to help them migrate to help them get where they're going and do what they want to do'. Roads are closed when they are being used by migrating crabs, logs are laid over ditches so that crabs can navigate their way over them. The contrast with the lack of respect shown to the asylum seekers by the detention centre is clear.
The first immigrants to Christmas Island were Chinese and to this day the Chinese community on the island holds ceremonies to help their dead cross over to the spirit realm, helping them to migrate from one state of being to another. Again the contrast with the lack of care given to the asylum seekers by officialdom is clear.
It's a beautifully made film with wonderful cinematography and takes a lyrical, metaphor-rich approach to documentary film making without ever losing track of the important story it is telling.
Island of the Hungry Ghosts is screening as part of the Edinburgh International Film Festival at 1810, Sunday 24 June at Odeon and at 2035 Tuesday 26 at Filmhouse. You can book tickets here.
You can read my other reviews from this year's film festival by following the links below:
Kayak to Klemtu - a young First Nations woman kayaks to her home town to protest against a pipeline
Supa Modo - a super-hero film with a difference
Becoming Animal - meditative documentary about the human relationship with nature
Science Fair - documentary about brilliant young scientists attending the International Science and Engineering Fair
Disclaimer: I have a press pass for the Edinburgh International Film Festival and attended a free press screening of this film.