Reviewing documentaries about serious topics is no easy task. How do you remove yourself from an affecting topic and objectively review the feature for its film-making merits? I think the honest answer is that I can’t and that instead I should take my inability to separate the message from the craft of documentary film-making as an indication that the film was a success.
John Pilger’s latest documentary is named after a large region in northern Australia that is home to the oldest human presence on Earth. Over the course of almost two hours Pilger looks at the way the indigenous people of one of the world’s richest countries are treated like second class citizens and have been exploited, abused, and ignored. Utopia is a moving film filled with brutal images of poverty and neglect in the lives of the original inhabitants of Australia and the ignorance of those who have now come to occupy it.
Pilger does not approach the topic calmly and his opinions, filled with outrage and disgust, come pouring out in the film; he is not afraid to point the finger of blame when he sees fit. Such passion from a documentarian helps to drive a film but can sometimes create a sense of bias and subjectivity. When Pilger interviews those who do not agree with his view it soon becomes less of an interview and more of a one-way barrage of shouting on behalf of Pilger. Personally I would have liked to hear what everyone has to say on the topic not just those who agree with the message of the film.
Utopia is definitely a tricky film to review, hence why this review is so late and so brief. I am not going to ever be able to say that I enjoy this type of film but that’s not really the point. This is a film about investigative journalism in which Pilger reveals a deep-seated level of prejudice in a country that goes right up to government policy. This is another important documentaries that is worth seeking out to educate rather than to entertain.
A powerful watch about a subject I knew nothing about Utopia is a personal film from Jon Pilger that has a lot to say.
Utopia is currently on limited release and will be available on DVD from 2nd December 2013 www.utopiajohnpilger.co.uk