James Oakley worked as a lawyer with Legal Aid prior to his current role as the Children and Young Families Ministry Co-ordinator with the Anglican Church in Tasmania. I am grateful to James for reviewing both the documentary film and its Curriculum/Study Guide. James’ review:
There is a magical moment midway through the film Mary Meets Mohammad. Mohammad had already told much of the story of his time in immigration detention, but because cameras were not allowed in Pontville Detention Centre, we never saw his face. Midway through the film, Mohammad tells us how one of the guards says to him:
‘You’re going to freedom. You have your bridging visa. You’ve got half an hour – go and pack your bag.’
As Mohammad relays his awe and amazement at his release, his face fades into focus for the first time.
Mary Meets Mohammad is a film that gives human faces to the asylum seeker controversy in Australia. Mohammad and his Hazara friends in Pontville Tasmania lend their faces and names to the thousands of others who have fled persecution in their homelands – those thousands of men, women and children who are known to officialdom by their boat number and to the Australian public as statistics. Through Mohammad’s eyes, the viewer experiences something of the human cost of Australia’s asylum seeker policies – a cost paid in mental health, isolation, demonization and despair.
But Mohammad’s is not the only human face in the documentary. The viewer also meets Mary – a Christian pensioner whose attitudes and fears are echoed in countless homes, clubs, social groups and workplaces throughout Australia. Mary gives a human face to the many ‘ordinary Australians’ who feel threatened and disempowered by the perception of an influx of asylum seekers. The magic in Mary’s story is more gradual and more subtle, as her contact with Mohammad slowly releases her bonds of fear and unfamiliarity. Mary’s face shows her heart as it softens and warms towards asylum seekers generally and Mohammad in particular.
Not all people respond as Mary does, and we meet a number of ‘ordinary Australians’ whose views on Australia’s asylum policy are still governed by anxiety and misinformation. The strength of the film here is its capacity to evoke sympathy for these people, who lend their faces to those whose fears we might otherwise dismiss as mere bigotry.
Last year Australian Teachers of Media (ATOM) released a Curriculum/Study Guide to help schools use Mary Meets Mohammad in their teaching. The guide provides helpful ways to use the film in studies of history, geography, society, government and politics, civic values, and English. The curriculum guide provides much helpful information about the legal, geopolitical and historical background to the asylum seeker issue, and gives numerous links to useful sources and authorities on the issue. The curriculum deals with this in a factually sound and politically neutral manner, encouraging teachers and students to evaluate for themselves the facts of the issue and their responses to it. I would think that churches that wanted to grapple with this complex issue would be assisted greatly by both the film and the accompanying curriculum.
I, Bishop John, attended the Premiere of the Film. See my Review: Mary Meets Mohammad.