Review Fix chats with ‘Manus’ director Angus McDonald, who lets us know why this film is a special one.
Review Fix: What inspired this film?
Angus McDonald: The inspiration for the film is horrendous situation facing hundreds of refugees and asylum seekers who have been held offshore on Manus Island in PNG by the Australian Federal Government since 2013. The Government’s policy is an inhumane response that has inflicted suffering on those who have arrived in Australia simply exercising their human right to seek our country’s safety and protection. Through the film, we aimed to allow the men on to tell their own stories and humanize their plight.
Review Fix: How difficult was this film to put together?
McDonald: The footage used for the film was captured by an award-winning journalist, Olivia Rousset, who traveled secretly to visit the men with two other people at the end of 2017 when the detention center on Manus was closed and the men were forced by the Australian government to move to new centers nearby. That footage was not easy to capture and the three Australian who traveled there had to be smuggled in. We took the 13 hours of footage they returned with and crafted the 13 min film around the testimonials provided by many of the men.
Review Fix: What films have inspired it the most?
McDonald: It is a film where the narrative is provided entirely by the individuals impacted by the policy told in their own words. Other films that have inspired Manus include Human Flow, The White Helmets, On My Skin.
Review Fix: What have you learned about yourself through this entire process?
McDonald: Filmmaking is new to me. This is my first documentary and the first I’ve entered into competition. I’ve learned that the essence of storytelling in film is to exclude anything that is not essential to powering the story forward. As far as what I’ve learned personally, well, I’m reminded of just how fortunate we are to live in a relatively prosperous country where our safety is guaranteed by the rule of law. We have done nothing to earn this situation but the good fortune of being born here and I have learned how important it is to extend the hand of support and compassion to those who have not been so lucky.
Review Fix: What was the feeling like on set?
McDonald: It was shot at night, in a tense situation where hundreds of men have experienced long term mental anguish. However, the feeling reported to me was one of hope and relief for those held captive that they could tell their own stories
Review Fix: Why is the topic of this film important today to you?
McDonald: The topic is important, very important because our leaders have forgotten their decency and compassion. If we become accustomed to treating one group of human beings in our society as second class people, then it is a habit that can spread to other groups. We have to remember that all human beings deserve the same rights and protection regardless of their racial and religious make-up, regardless of their sexual preference and their circumstances.
Review Fix: How did it feel being a part of the St. Kilda Film Festival?
McDonald: It was a fantastic festival and it was incredible to be a part of it. There were so many beautifully crafted films in the festival and the organizers showcased some amazingly talented filmmakers.
Review Fix: While referring to the previous question, how do you feel winning the Best Documentary Award at St Kilda?
McDonald: I was shocked to win. It is my first festival. However I am grateful and share the award with everyone who worked on the film and in particular, I dedicate it to all the men still held on Manus Island now.
Review Fix: What’s next?
McDonald: The St. Kilda film festival is an Academy Awards qualifying festival for the winner in our category, that is, for Best Documentary. That’s exciting. MANUS is entered in several other strong upcoming festivals both in Australia and overseas and we hope to work hard to take the film as far as we can and possibly to the Oscars.
Review Fix: Anything else you’d like to add?
McDonald: Yes. If the recognition we receive through this award shines more light on the plight of those still held on Manus and makes a contribution to their release, then I am grateful to accept the award.