Mary Meets Mohammad

I’ve just seen a remarkable movie.

It’s not remarkable in the way that movies are usually remarkable – mind-blowing graphics; intricate plot-lines; mega-star performances; astonishing budgets – none of that.

The thing that sets this movie apart is the enormity of its humanity.

A bond across cultures

A bond across cultures

In her d├ębut feature-length documentary – Mary Meets Mohammad – film-maker and global traveller Heather Kirkpatrick has patiently crafted a gem that is at once credible, engaging, gut-wrenching, shaming and hopeful, all in the same 90-minute package. She establishes herself as a story-teller in the best tradition of cinema, but at the same time embraces the new opportunities offered through independent media journalism.

Kirkpatrick took a huge gamble when she first started documenting local community reaction to the news that Tasmania’s first immigration detention centre was to be constructed at Pontville on the outskirts of Hobart. It was an insightful decision; she was not to know how it would all play out. She also took a huge gamble on financing the movie; more on that later.

Mary's Knitting Club

Mary’s Knitting Club

It would have been so easy for a movie about refugees to descend into a preachy rant, but the film-maker has avoided that by telling the story through the eyes of Mary, a 70-year-old staunch Christian – initially an outspoken critic of Muslim asylum-seekers – as her world opens up to a new understanding and connection with the Hazara men caged up behind the security fences of the detention centre.

What unfolded in the movie left me with renewed anger at Australia’s shameful system of indefinite detention, and the mental health issues it leaves in its wake.

But more importantly, it left me with hope, because above all else, the movie is a beacon of optimism. It shows us that if we can strip away all the stereotypes, slogans, half-truths and straight-out slander surrounding asylum seekers, and instead make personal connections between refugees and Australian citizens, then the fear and distrust that drives so much private anxiety and public policy can actually melt away, and prejudice can give way to compassion, friendship and mutual respect. And all of that across boundaries of culture, religion and tradition.

It’s a movie that deserves the widest possible audience, and we can all be a part of making that happen by supporting Kirkpatrick’s funding appeal for tax deductible donations.

It’s particularly important that the movie gets out to schools and community groups and Heather welcomes inquiries about how to go about organising a screening at your club, school or workplace. A Study Guide – mapped to the Australian curriculum – is available for free download.

The Sydney and Melbourne premiers are scheduled for early November and a full screening schedule is available online.

As I found out, it pays to book. On my first attempt I was turned away from a sold-out Adelaide screening. That’s a sign of hope too.

The 2012 Australian Government Parliamentary Inquiry into immigration detention recommended that a 90-day limit on detention should replace the current devastating indefinite detention regime that does so much unnecessary harm. This movie could play a key role in ensuring we don’t rest till the change is made.

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