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A film about heroes

The documentary centres on a group of Indigenous Australians living in Utopia, a region in the Northern Territory above Alice Springs.

The film, which first showed in the United Kingdom in mid-November, initially struggled to find a distributor in Australia as various local cinemas felt the content was too dark for local audiences.

However, Pilger’s opening address at the film’s premiere insisted the film is not intended to scare: “This film is about heroes. This film is not about victims. It’s about struggle and resistance. It brings together some of the most admirable human beings I’ve ever met.

“It’s not telling you, the Indigenous people, anything you don’t know. It’s perhaps not telling the non-Indigenous people who are here things they don’t know. But it will tell, if it can get to them, the majority in this country many things they don’t know.”

Pilger first visited Utopia 28 years ago during the filming of his documentary The Secret Country. After returning in 2013 he discovered that the conditions in which the locals were living had not improved – they’d worsened even.

Rosalie Kunoth-Monks, a Utopia Elder and guest speaker at the film’s premiere, has lived in the area her entire life. “I was born there in 1937 in the river that runs down it, in the dry river bed. I live in the community – it’s not a nice place, although it’s your home. And I’ll continue to live there until I die, I guess.”

In regards to the film, Rosalie says it’s a true account of history, as well as current issues. “People who aren’t up in the Territory don’t understand what our people are going through and the policies that are inflicted on us. I think the rest of Australians need to be aware of what’s happening to certain groups within Australia and how that certain group is of course the nation’s first people.”

Robert Eggington, director of the Dumbartung Aboriginal Corporation, feels that Utopia will impact not only those who watch it, but also members of the Indigenous community across Australia more broadly. “It’s not just about what Utopia does in terms of white consciousness and humanity – what it does for Aboriginal people is that it allows us to look at our leadership and how we are represented at a leadership level. Leadership that bleeds with our people, and individuals that understand the pain – that’s absolutely crucial, but it’s an oppressed and silenced voice. That’s why we need films like Utopia.”

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