The film Australians aren’t meant to see
Telling a story that hasn't been told from behind impenetrable fences in Australia's immigration detention centre on Papua New Guinea's Manus Island is no easy task.
But after dark one night in 2017, a journalist and two Christian missionaries set about doing just that.
They were smuggled inside the makeshift home to hundreds of refugees and asylum seekers on a mission to give a voice to the voiceless.
The end result is a remarkable short film by first-time Australian filmmaker Angus McDonald that screens today as part of the St Kilda Film Festival.
McDonald told news.com.au that Manus was only possible after video journalist Olivia Rousset and two religious activists snuck into the facility and spent a night recording testimony from those stuck in an unending cycle of hope and limbo.
"The authorities in PNG didn't want anyone sniffing around," McDonald told news.com.au. "To go and film at that time was very difficult."
He said the trio told authorities they were in PNG for a Christian festival, but instead hooked up with some locals who were supportive of the plight of refugees. They snuck inside and starting recording.
Footage filmed under the cover of darkness includes heartbreaking interviews with men who have been locked up awaiting news that might never come - news that they are free.
One of the men has been there for six years without his wife and children. He has missed all of their birthdays and countless precious moments in the search for a better life.
"It's all horrible," McDonald said. "These guys are being tortured. But if I put myself in their position - having kids of my own - the stories that are the most heartbreaking for me are the ones where guys haven't seen their kids in so long.
"There's one guy who has three kids. They were super young when he left. He hasn't seen them for six years. Plus, his wife is with them."
The film includes interviews with outspoken Iranian-Kurdish journalist Behrouz Boochani and the people he has been locked up with.
"We have been recognised as refugees under international law," Boochani said. "We deserve to get freedom."
A refugees tells the filmmakers "nobody knew about us".
"Noone knew what's happening here. Now people have the chance to just see."
Another says everyone on Manus is a "brother".
"We respect each other. It doesn't matter if you're black or white. We don't care. We don't care about religion. We care about the humanity."
The film is being released as self harm incidents on the island increase.
The United Nations this week urged Australia to intervene after at least eight men reportedly tried to harm themselves since Monday.
"The situation of their indefinite and prolonged confinement, exacerbated by the lack of appropriate medical care amounts to cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment according to international standards," seven UN human rights officials said in a statement.
McDonald said the spike in reported incidents was clearly connected to the Federal Election results that saw the Scott Morrison-led Government returned to power.
"I have spoken to a few of the guys there recently and the problem for them is its this kind of endless situation where there's no end in sight," he said.
"Their mental health continues to deteriorate because they're stuck in this strange psychological limbo. When the government got returned, it was too much for them.
"One of the things Labor said it would do was talk to New Zealand about a new deal. It was just like a massive shock for them (when the Coalition won) and they were already in a horrible place psychologically.
"The resilience is starting to wear thin. They've just been pushed so far."
The 13-minute film project started when McDonald decided to move away from painting - something he had been doing for 24 years - and try his hand at a medium that could better move people to action.
"We want as many people to see it as possible," he said.
McDonald's production company, Howling Eagle, shares its content here. The film will screen today at 1.30pm at St Kilda.
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