Pleiades Mailbag 13/Jul/2012

Gimme Some Truth, Part 101

Back in 2009, a film was shown at the Sydney Film Festival to what amounts to a storm of criticism for its dodgy contention that there were slaves where there were not. I wrote about it at the time  here, here, and here.The film’s director’s aunt came over to these pages to contend that what her nephew had done was totally acceptable and honorable – which, patently was not true, no in the least bit – and the brouhaha spilled over even on to this little blog.

In some ways, the whole episode contributed to my feeling that Screen Australia were ethically compromised from within to allow such a film to be made and furthered the impression by washing their hands of the business. The inside information I got at the time was that once the film was made, what was there to be said or done? They were simply going to let that film ride out into the sunset, but whatever acclaim that came to it, they would take credit (as is the way with Australian Film Institutions in general – but that’s another discussion altogether).

It was all very messy. My own take away message was that if one were to value one’s own integrity as a film maker, one could do much better than associate with the likes of Violeta Ayala, Dan Fallshaw and Tom Zubrycki; that one could do better than to open conversations with Screen Australia on anything that remotely involved public ethics; and that the so-called undecidability of authorial intent over a text had reached an apotheosis of stupidity where people were stating bare-faced lies and then denying they stated their lies.

“There’s no reason slaves can’t fly overseas”, said Dan Fallshaw, the co-auteur. “Slavery is a state of mind.”

“Slavery can be mental”, Violeta Ayala said. “I never said Fetim is a slave”, Dan said. “Other people in the film do.”

A slave with a husband travelling Qantas and lodged with an eminent Labor politician? “I never said she was a slave”, Dan said.”The film shows us the facts. The audience can make up its mind.”

But no-one is shown shackled in the film. No-one is shown being spoken to harshly. No-one is shown being humiliated in any way. The only person (and he is treated as a person) who is humiliated in the film is the camel, whom the directors paid the villagers to humiliate and murder in front of the camera.

That was three years go now, and discussing the issues *surrounding* the film was an experience I found on the whole disgusting, nauseating and heartbreaking to say the least. Yes, it broke me. I decided I wanted out from the Film Industry if this was the tenor of the debate. I mean, why would anybody want to stay after that?

Today, Pleiades sent me this link where Bob Ellis discusses the new film made by the cinematographer of ‘Stolen’ denounces the film and its filmmakers.

And so it was that in this mood Carlos’s film was shown to a mixed and mutinous audience at AFTRS, and a chairperson, xxx, announced at 8.10 that we had to be out of there by 9.05 and she would interview Carlos for forty minutes and then take questions — OR STATEMENTS — from the audience and from the perspiring, embattled Dan and Violetta endlessly waiting up on skype, and then favoured us with her own heroic autobiography for a couple of minutes while we looked at our watches apprehensively.

Her redundant conversation with Carlos then took place — what is your film about, she asked him, and we had just seen it — for, amazingly, only twenty minutes, and a logjam of multidirectional fury in the audience vented garrulously all over the occasion BEFORE Dan and Violetta, screaming in their turn on skype, were allowed to talk over the chairperson, who kept yelling back at their giant images up on the screen, shut up, she said, shut up, and it got to be twenty past nine and a woman kept asking will you all please leave now and I’ve rarely had a lousier time in my life. I and Philippe and Meredith Burgmann co-starred in the film, and it would have been nice to discover how it might have gone down with an unbiased audience but this was not, alas, to be.

I will write more about this after viewing the response to it which Matt Peacock, who was I think as angry as me, is going to put on 7.30 tonight.

I hate to be writing this entry only a couple of weeks after going back to AFTRS for a wonderful evening and rekindling my passion for film making, but I guess at some point we all have to confront this ridiculous evil somehow.

Bob Ellis says he was in the minority but the opinions I had found at the time were firmly on his side – the side that demanded nothing buy the truth – and I would contend to this day that those who support the Ayala and Fallshaw positions are philosophically bankrupt munchkins undeserving of whatever public forum they possess to expound their idiotic views. If AFTRS is essentially going to be a little haven of ideologically motivated moral relativists then I guess that’s one tragedy.

But it also goes to core of what can be such a dogy area of epistemology in this part of history: the context-compromised documentary presenting itself as a depiction of reality or truth.The amazing thing is how these people insist on the veracity of their content while denying they made any false claims, claiming it is our fault for interpreting the presented information as saying they are claiming there is slavery. If that’s not the most pernicious kind of sophistry, I don’t know, maybe they should make films in praise of good Nazis who tried to protect us from evil Jewish Bankers – because that’s the level of context-denial that’s running through the defense of the film.

And what gets me is that some people are worried about ‘Ted‘ or ‘Human Centipede II‘. Jeebus. If you really want to get up in arms with your pitchforks, line up outside AFTRS and where Dan and Violeta live. That’s where the rot is setting in our public discourse.

As I’ve always contended on this topic, I’d like some truth from those people defending the film makers. Oh, and I will necessarily delete all comments of those defending ‘Stolen’ on this entry so you’ve all been warned.


Here’s a link to a Matt Peacock interview with Carlos Gonzales who made the film denouncing ‘Stolen’ and its makers.

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