Amal Basry watched The Titanic at a cinema in Baghdad the night before she fled Iraq. Some 18 months later the boat she was put on in October 2001 by people smugglers in Indonesia, the SIEV X, sank in the ocean before reaching Australia; 353 people drowned. Amal was one of 45 survivors and one of only 7 allowed into Australia; she survived by clinging to the floating body of a dead woman for 22 hours. Now Amal (Amal means 'hope' in English) fights to ensure that the disaster is not forgotten, to reunite her family and to 'find what it was I lost in the ocean'.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
The act of smuggling refugees to safety is in itself admirable and commendable. The unscrupulous and amoral way of doing so with little care for the safe passage of their clients is as damnable as the acts of the oppressive regimes from which the refugees are escaping. Those who do this work for the best reasons cannot be lumped in with those who do it out of opportunistic greed. As a refugee who enjoyed the assistance of, if not people smugglers but helpers, in November 1956 from Hungary to Austria, I empathise with the story of Amal, whose hopes became chips traded for cash by the latter kind. They deserve nothing but contempt and so does Australian officialdom for its callous role in this tragedy.
Hope humanises the illegal migrant on the SIEV X, and creates the kind of connection with us that the Government tried hard to hinder, because if we meet these refugees face to face as individual human beings with families and hopes and in Amal's case breast cancer, our individual and collective response is likely to be very different to generalised scaremongering propaganda from Government.
The film tells a powerful story, but it is too long and thus loses its strong focus. The tone changes as Steve Thomas becomes a participant in the film, not just the documentarian, somewhat undermining that power. He reflects on this aspect near the end of the film. But despite that, it is an important film, one that belongs in the category that may change the world by changing a few individuals at a time. The film depicts Amal's journey from victim to an inspirational figure.
There is one especially telling moment, when Amal holds up the Sydney Morning Herald with Saddam Hussein's photo on the front page. On page two, back to back, is a photo of Amal, illustrating her story. No chief sub on a newspaper could make that juxtaposition by accident. But it's not the newspaper's manipulation but the irony of it that registers with us.
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NARRATION: Steve Thomas
PRODUCER: Sue Brooks, Steve Thomas
DIRECTOR: Steve Thomas
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Peter Zakharov
EDITOR: Uri Mizrahi
PRODUCTION DESIGN: n/a
OTHER: Paintings by Kate Durham
RUNNING TIME: 103 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Gil Scrine Films
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: June 19, 2008