Film Title: Utopia
Director: John Pilger
Starring: Patricia Morton-Thomas, John Pilger, Jon Altman
Running Time: 90 min
Thank heavens for John Pilger. For five decades the Australian journalist has been working hard at revealing the secret – and sometimes all too public – outrages that result from the corporatisation of western democracy. If he gets up some people’s noses, then that’s as it should be.
Though Pilger has long campaigned for the rights of indigenous Australian people, Utopia looks to be the first of his documentaries on the subject to make it into cinemas.
The film is not without its flaws. Pilger’s aggressive interviewing technique – more Paxo than Paxo – sometimes gets in the way of the conversation. At least one politician is unfairly barracked as she attempts to explain the origins of her own admitted failings.
Utopia also lacks structure: Pilger makes his (entirely sound) point early on and then repeats it for another hour. But this remains a powerful examination of various under-publicised catastrophes.
The sly title refers to a town in the Northern Territories that serves as an under-resourced home to large numbers of the Alyawarra and Anmatjirra people. Pilger visits and extracts dire news about the Australian state’s lack of interest in its first inhabitants. He leans into politicians. He gets wise advise from academics and senior Aboriginal figures. Patricia Morton-Thomas, one such elder, argues that the country remains an apartheid state.
The most depressing section, however, finds Pilger raising the issue with largely white attendees as an Australia Day celebration. At least one passing citizen regards any discussion of the Aboriginal plight as unpatriotic.
That sequence does, however, allow in a good accidental joke. “We’re all Australians,” an interviewee remarks, before turning to a passerby and asking her to confirm the fact. “No! I’m Irish,” she bellows.
This is a moment of levity in a documentary that – though a tad chaotic – burns with the right sort of anger.