Thanks to FilmHub North (again) I’ve taken advantage of a 6-week trial of the mighty BFI Player to broaden my watching a little, and last night Mon and I sat down with Island Of The Hungry Ghosts — an incredibly powerful and profound feature documentary that ties together three stories set on Christmas Island.
The first thread belongs to Pho Lin, a torture and trauma counsellor trying to provide therapy to the asylum seekers and refugees held indefinitely in an Australian detention centre. Here she soaks up their stories of persecution and the inhuman torment of their non-determined status, as well as battling the Kafkaesque systems of Australia’s migration system. The second strand concerns the island’s billions of red crabs and their annual migration through the jungles, and the conservation team helping them cross the roads to reach the sea. The final story belongs to the anonymous Chinese migrants who died in the early years of the island’s discovery, and the modern-day immigrants who pray for their ghosts.
Those threads may sound disparate, but in truth they are all about the transition of the soul and the threshold between two places, and one of the films’s great triumphs is how the different strands are cut to show the audience the depths and complexities of the issue.
The cinematography is stunning, the edit sensational, and the atmosphere a running balance of compassion and dread — cruelty and kindness. It’s a profound statement of being.