Haunted by the ghosts of SIEV-X

Hope: 104 minutes. Rated: M. Director: Steve Thomas

Hope In October 2001, a people-smuggling boat sank on its way from Indonesia to Australia. 353 people died, many of them women and children who were trying to join their husbands and fathers already here on temporary protection visas.

This tragedy barely surfaced in our media, for these were the overheated days of post 9/11, and Australians were angrily arguing about another maritime accident, known as the 'children overboard incident'. This film seeks to remedy this ignorance, by telling the story of the SIEV-X (Suspected Illegal Entry Vessel 'Unknown') through the account of one its survivors, Amal Basry, whose name means 'Hope' in her native language.

With her hair covered in a dark scarf, this middle-aged woman looks very ordinary — like any other suburban grandmother of Middle-Eastern descent. But when Amal speaks she has a voice that demands to be heard, and a story that is unforgettable.

After various brothers and brothers-in-law were killed and tortured under Saddam Hussein's regime, Amal and her family decided they had to leave Iraq. They travelled to Iran, then Indonesia. Finally, she and her youngest son boarded a leaky boat to Australia, where they hoped to be reunited with Amal's husband, who had just been released from the Woomera detention centre.

When the boat sank, Amal spent 22 hours in the water, clinging to the body of a dead woman to stay afloat, and fearing that she'd lost her son forever.

A striking feature of the film is the inclusion of Kate Durham's paintings depicting the 353 people who died on the SIEV-X. Using only her imagination of the undocumented events, refugee activist and artist Durham has created eerily beautiful portraits of wide-eyed children and women floating and disappearing into the murky waters. Amal, who is a friend of Durham's, expresses amazement at the way these pictures reflect her own terrible memories.

There are many questions that remain about the Australian government's knowledge of that boat in our heavily patrolled seas — the film implicitly suggests that a parliamentary inquiry is essential.

But Hope is really about Amal, and the hardships she encounters once she is rescued from those dark waters. Making a life in a new country is hard, especially on a temporary protection visa that precludes overseas travel to see loved ones. And then there is the isolation, the poverty, the haunting ghosts of children drowned, and finally, as if she hasn't suffered enough, breast cancer.

For all the tragedy it contains, the film is not, ultimately, a depressing one. But it does have its flaws. Directed by Steve Thomas (Welcome to Woomera) and co-produced by Sue Brooks (Japanese Story), Hope is a low budget film in need of a stricter edit.

What shines through, however, is Amal's wonderful courageous spirit, and her refusal to be silent about the many innocent people who died on that dreadful October night. It's an important and inspiring reminder of the journeys people make to live in our 'Paradise'.

Hope official website

Rochelle SiemienowiczRochelle Siemienowicz is the films editor for The Big Issue Australia. She has a PhD in Philosophy and Cultural Inquiry with a focus on Australian cinema and globalisation. Rochelle blogs at www.itsbetterinthedark.blogspot.com.


Topic tags: Rochelle Siemienowicz, Hope, SIEV-X, Steve Thomas, kate durham, immigrants, refugee, boat people



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Existing comments

Tragic! Events like these happen more often than not. This one broke through the radar. Amen.

BOB | 12 June 2008

Ex-diplomat Tony Kevin's scrupulously researched "A Certain Maritime Incident"
should be compulsory reading for all those working for justice (and for an enquiry!) Tony named the boat SIEV X.
Peter Faulkner | 12 June 2008

I think Amal was loved by many who never had the privilege of meeting her.

I am seeing the film on Thursday night and can sleep knowing that in my own small way I helped to expose the horror of this story with Marg Hutton, Tony Kevin, the wonderful Mary Dagmar Davies and her untiring humour, Helen Tait, Kay Kan and the wonderful Kate Wildermuth who started her quest as Charles.

Congratulations on finally getting an Australia wide release for the film.

I will be taking four boxes of tissues.
Marilyn | 14 June 2008

I have seen the film, all those tissues were required. One strange thing bobbed up. Amal was issued a visa to Indonesia in the embassy in Australia but denied entry on arrival and sent off to Bangkok.

Did Bill Farmer interfere again in this woman's quest for the truth even though she was dying?
Marilyn | 20 June 2008


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