A powerful documentary that takes some time to connect the dots, Island of the Hungry Ghosts won the award for the best documentary at the festival and it is easy to see why. It stunningly captures three seemingly unrelated situations – asylum seekers from war-torn/violent countries being detained indefinitely, baby crabs slowly migrating from the beach inland, and rituals associated with Chinese mythology – all intersecting on Christmas Island intersect.

At the detention centres, families are separated and the most basic of human rights are ignored. Furthermore, the Australian government has introduced laws that punish workers of any type talking about anything that is happening within the centres. This situation interlocks with the Chinese beliefs of ghosts being lost spirits who, not unlike those being detained, are trapped between worlds. The brief commentary on the migration of baby red crabs, and the difficulty they face, also has obvious similarities to the other narrative strands in the film.

Island of the Hungry Ghosts is a great documentary that effectively shows the dark and ugly stain that detention centres have left on the country. Gabrielle Brady’s film is incredibly cinematic and very atmospheric. Featuring frenetic camerawork, that mimic the pace of the baby crabs, and long takes, the film highlights the desperation for change. A change that doesn’t look like it will arrive any time soon.


    1. It isn’t really heavy because of the comparisons to the crabs and lost spirits. But the ugliness of the detention centres still comes through and it really needs to be seen by the rest of the world. IMO these places are easily worse than ‘Gitmo’ for instance. Far, far worse. I have never heard of people literally sewing their lips shut to protest.

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