Documenting the truth

By Nigel Tapp

Hobart documentary filmmaker Heather Kirkpatrick has given up two years of her life – and more than $150,000 of her own funds, a loan and donations – to give asylum seekers a voice.

And it is more of a deep roar than a quiet whisper which emanates from her film Mary Meets Mohammad.

The documentary is very much a fly-on-the-wall portrayal of the relationship which develops between a 26-year-old asylum seeker, Mohammad, and a 71-year-old resident of a small southern Tasmanian town.

Mary is anti asylum seekers and considers Muslims heathens. She has swallowed all the rhetoric about asylum seekers being given an easy pass in Australia and cannot see herself ever allowing one of them into her home.

That is until she hears the real story from Mohammad and sees that his situation is a typical asylum seeker story – detained for more than 18 months behind wire at five different centres from Western Australia to Pontville, near Hobart.

Mary finds a man who is showing clear signs of suffering from mental illness and admitting that if he had not been released from detention there was no knowing how deep his malaise would become. It is a story that many who work with asylum seekers hear on a daily basis but most Australians do not.

Mary’s initial revulsion towards asylum seekers changes to one of support and love for Mohammad and his friends, a love that continues to this day as the pair remain in regular contact. Mohammad hopes to eventually settle his family near Mary.
Heather said for too long, everyday Australians had been denied the chance to hear the voice of the asylum seeker and she was desperate to tell that story in the documentary.

What she seeks to do is show the real people behind the wire and demonstrate that they are no different to you or me.
Heather said for more than a decade –“ever since the (MV) Tampa (in 2001)” – Australians have been spun myths about asylum seekers and Heather’s mission was to right that wrong.

She said she had become horrified by the mistruths she saw paraded as fact every day.

The documentary shows why approximately 86 per cent of those placed in indefinite detention suffer mental problems and why one in four will attempt to take their own life.

Viewers are left to wonder how a supposedly civilised country such as ours is the only one in the world which considers locking asylum seekers up indefinitely to be a good idea – despite the overwhelming medical evidence to the contrary.

Mary Meets Mohammad is available for community screenings.

Heather is currently in the process of developing a study guide with the view to having the documentary studied in media classes.

Anyone interested in hosting a screening or who would like to find out the screening schedule can visit http://www.marymeetsmohammad.com/ or can search Mary Meets Mohammad on Facebook.

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