There will probably be no surprise to find that when Mary meets Mohammad, there will be a meeting of minds and hearts. However, the surprise was all Mary’s.
With so many headlines highlighting refugees and asylum seekers, many Australians have been stuck with the names as labels, rather than as seeing the refugees as persons.
This documentary is a contribution to understanding and appreciation by doing that most ordinary of things, showing people meeting one another, getting to know one another as persons, and breaking through prejudices.
The film begins with the Australian Federal government’s decision to build a detention centre outside Hobart, at Pontville. One of the volunteers at the centre is a knitter named Mary, 72, a widow, living alone, and quite definite in her not wanting Afghan refugees around the place, let alone in her home.
However, she is curious about the stories she has heard about detainees and their luxurious lifestyle – the farmer’s wife quoting three course meals, spas… Well, Mary goes, finds that the men are different from what she was expecting. She continues to visit and becomes very friendly with a Hazara Afghan refugee, Mohammad. Because there was no filming for the media inside Pontsville, some of Mohammad’s conversation is presented as text on screen.
Eventually, Mohammad receives a temporary visa and is released into the community. He is invited to a holiday house owned by Joy, the leader of the knitters. Mary happily goes as well. Again, we see ordinary scenes of Mohammad, in the parks and gardens, talking with the two women, reminiscing about his home in Pakistan, where he lived illegally and could not go to school, his wife still there, though his ringing her for cooking hints for the ladies, his period of mental disturbance. He has a prayer mat and prays, with Mary saying that he seems to be more open to other religions than she is. There are meals, going fishing, conversations between friends, with Mohammad seeing Mary as his Australian grandmother.
There is a warmth about the film as well as strong campaigning on behalf of the detainees, especially the point of the 90-day limit on detention. And a note to say that the visa for Mohammad’s wife to come could take several years – and one wonders why.
Peter Malone, ACOFB
Documentary film by Heather Kirkpatrick. 83 minutes. Rated PG (mild themes).