Freedom Stories begins an exclusive theatrical run at Melbourne’s Cinema Nova on July 23, part of a multi-platform project which chronicles the determination and resilience of former boat people who have rebuilt their lives.
Directed by Steve Thomas and produced by Lisa Horler, the feature-length doc had its world premiere at the Sydney Film Festival.
The next stages of the roll-out will be distribution via DVD and online streaming followed by an interactive website.
“As well as delivering material in a non-linear, self-exploratory way, we hope this will allow other former asylum seekers and filmmakers to upload their stories, as text, photos or video,” Thomas says. A series of complementary short films will be released online.
Supported through Film Victoria’s Documentary Development program, the Cinema Nova season will kick off with two evenings of Q&A screenings with filmmakers, participants and special guests.
Four years in gestation, the project received development funding from Screen Australia and Film Victoria in 2011 but production and post-production were delayed by funding challenges.
Freedom Stories focusses on former asylum seekers who arrived by boat around 2001, the year of the controversy over the MV Tampa, the Pacific solution, the children overboard affair and the SIEV X disaster.
They were placed in indefinite mandatory detention in remote places such as Woomera or Nauru and then given temporary protection visas, which extended their uncertainty. It's taken years for them to build secure lives, become Australian citizens and start contributing to their adopted country.
In an item posted on Film Victoria’s website, Thomas says ,”I see Freedom Stories standing as a more considered approach to a subject long beset by hysteria. Our intent was to listen to former asylum seekers themselves for a change, rather than the cacophony around them.
“I knew that given the space, their humanity would shine through. I didn’t want to make a political film, I just wanted to say ‘whoa, hang on a minute, these are human beings we are talking about.' These are ordinary people we are locking up indefinitely in toxic environments in remote places, folk with whom we have more commonalities than differences.
“Freedom Stories is our attempt to introduce Australians to people they haven’t met who they might harbour certain opinions. Once you meet someone face to face it’s hard to maintain prejudice.”
Horler says, “I wanted Freedom Stories to include the stories of participants who had experienced detention as children as the impact of mandatory detention on children is something I find abhorrent. We hear about ‘children in detention’ regularly via mainstream media and social media, but as children are involved, we hardly ever hear children on camera.
"I hope that the personal stories from young people in our documentary can somehow help audiences understand the effects of detaining children. The reality is that many children have been detained but their personal stories are rarely acknowledged in a public way.”