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There are many different views about refugees in Australian society, where illegal boat people and over flowing detention centres are a controversial problem today. Go Back To Where You Came From is a documentary directed by Ivan O’Mahoney about a social experiment that challenges the dominant views of six Australians about refugees and asylum seekers. These six Australians are taken on a 25 day journey where they are placed into the troubled “worlds” of refugees. For a few of the Australians it is their first time overseas but, for all of them it is the most challenging and confronting experience of their lives.
This essay will discuss the codes and conventions used in this documentary to position and challenge the cultural assumptions and beliefs of the viewer. One of the main techniques used in the documentary was to present the stories of the six Australians using a “reality TV” format. The camera was an observer of the reactions and raw emotions showed from the Australians as they experienced first-hand the troubles of many refugees. We see this clearly this when they are on the asylum seeker boat.
A heated argument broke out between Raye and Raquel, stress levels were high and panic rose when the boat started to sink. Through this technique characterisation is developed and we follow the changes in the six Australians’ views and attitudes as they live with and get to know refugees in Australia, Malaysia, Africa, Jordan and Iraq. For example, in the beginning of the documentary Raquel states, “I guess I am a bit racist, I just don’t like black people. ” However, by the end of the first episode Raquel reaches out and comforts Maisara, from the Congo, “You’re a lovely lady.
You don’t deserve this. ” During her time in the refugee camp in Kenya we see further changes in Raquel. She states that she will no longer use the term “black people” instead she will say Africans. We see this characterisation develop in all of the characters with the exception of Darren who remains fixed that asylum seekers decision to come by boat is wrong. Another technique used in the documentary to challenge the viewers’ assumptions was the use of narration to present facts about the refugee situation. These facts and figures give the viewers a truthful and realistic picture of the situation.
Some beliefs that exist in Australian society are that we are taking in too many refugees; they are criminals, they are taking over Australia, using Australian tax payers’ money and changing our culture. However, we are presented with facts and figures that change our assumptions. For example, more than 30 million people have fled their homes with nothing but the clothes they wear, boat smugglers charge up to and over $10, 000 US dollars, 13, 000 refugees are accepted annually only 2,000 of those refugees arrive by boat.
Despite what many people think, like Raye who believed refugees in Australia are “handed everything on a gold platter,” life in detention centres is hard. In Villawood Detention Centre, over 9 months, three detainees committed suicide and 18 caused self-harm. Finally, camera angles and shots were used cleverly to draw the viewer into the journey of the six Australians and the lives of the refugees. Close-ups were used to capture emotions and feelings of the characters. For example, during the immigration raid in Malaysia, close-up camera shots showed the fear, confusion and also shock on the six Australians.
Close-ups were also effective during the interview sequences where the camera zoomed in on the faces to capture the emotions of what was being said. In addition wide-angle and landscape shots captured setting such as the barren and dry terrain of Kenya and the desolate and dusty landscape of Iraq. While flying over Malaysia and Kenya, the camera panned across large areas showing makeshift huts and buildings indicating how immense the refugee problem is. So, in the end was the social experiment a success in challenging dominant beliefs and attitudes towards refugees?
From the characters final comments, we realise that their original attitudes, beliefs and assumptions had been changed even if was just a little for some. As a viewer, my own beliefs and assumptions were also challenged to be more empathetic and also to be more critical of what I see and hear on the media. In Dr David Corlett’s final words in the documentary, we are challenged to remember that the refugee issue is very complex and we should never forget, “the humanity of people concerned and their right to live free from fear of persecution. ”