Location Australia Australia

Iranian refugee’s film shot on mobile phone shows life inside Australian detention centre

by Eric Tlozek

Audiences around the world will soon have the chance see what life is like inside one of Australia’s offshore detention centres.

An Iranian refugee in the Manus Island detention centre has released a feature film he shot from inside its walls.

Behrouz Boochani, a Kurdish journalist who continues to write articles from detention, shot the film entirely on a mobile phone.

He worked with a Dutch-Iranian director to put it together, giving audiences a unique insight into a place where the media is not allowed to go.

It took Boochani months to collect the material, sending the files one tiny piece at a time on the incredibly slow mobile phone internet to his co-director, Arash Kamali Sarvestani, in the Netherlands.

“After the film was finished, I found out my beard had gone grey from too much stress,” he said.

“I was continuing my work as a journalist at the same time so I was also busy with that.

“It was very hard, very hard.”

Sarvestani approached Boochani about making the film.

He had initially wanted to make a movie asking how children in detention on Nauru felt about the sea, but could not find a family in that centre to work with.

“I couldn’t find any connection there,” he said.

“But I could find out what’s really happening in those camps, in Manus and Nauru, and after some time I just wanted to make something about those camps, it didn’t matter if it was Nauru or Manus.

“I wanted to make a movie with a smartphone with someone who was detained in the camp and I found Boochani on Facebook.

“I saw he had lots of articles on The Guardian and other websites, so I thought he was brave enough to contact and ask him about making a movie.”

‘We didn’t want to make an action movie’

The film is called Chauka, Please Tell Us the Time.

The title refers to both a well-known Manus Island bird and the name of a notorious isolation compound within the Manus centre — a place dreaded by detainees.

The filmmakers said they wanted to show audiences the debilitating nature of indefinite detention.

They believe the passing of time and the asylum seekers’ uncertainty about their fate have become a type of torture.

“When you are in jail, you are a criminal and you will stay there for five years, two months, or 50 years and you know when the jail will be finished,” Sarvestani said.

“But the people held in Manus and Nauru detention centres, they have no idea about the time anymore, and that’s absolutely horrible.”

The film focuses on the mundane events in the centre, to highlight the boredom of detainees and the seemingly endless days of life on Manus Island.

“We absolutely didn’t want to make an action movie,” Boochani said.

“I took a lot of shots of violence, but we didn’t use any of those shots because this movie draws on a style of cinema that uses silence and poetry and it is completely different from a documentary film.

“We wanted to talk with people in a different language.”

‘Australia knows what’s happening in camps’

The Manus Island detention centre remains off limits for the media and film crews, and there has only been limited access to Australia’s other offshore centre on Nauru.

The filmmakers hope this movie will give the public a view inside the centre the Australian and PNG governments have denied them.

“Australia knows what’s happening in those camps and they are responsible for these people in the camp, those kids, and we just make it for the history,” Sarvestani said.

The PNG Government has set a deadline of October 31 to close the Manus Island detention centre.

Some of the refugees there are expected to be resettled in the United States, but it is unclear how many will go, or what will happen to the others.

As the men wait to learn what their future holds, audiences at film festivals around the world will be watching and learning about their lives.

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