Review: Utopia

Written by: Dee Pilgrim

Australian journalist and film-maker John Pilger is well known for his polemical pieces about the plight of the Aborigines; indeed, he’s been making films about the injustices they endure since the 1960s.

Utopia visits some of the themes explored in these earlier films and shows that 50 years on, nothing much has changed.

A scene from John Pilger's Utopia

Utopia is an actual area of Australia where many Aboriginal groups live in tin shacks, without electricity and running water, sharing mattresses on the floor and using toilets that don’t flush, as their original homes are condemned due to asbestos contamination. However the government doesn’t offer alternative accommodation. In many cases people describe the conditions as Dickensian, or even worse than those in the Victorian slums where poor hygiene and nutrition led to blindness, infection and premature death.

As John Pilger confronts a succession of politicians on their woeful track record as far as the treatment of Australia’s ‘first people’ is concerned, the striking thing is for the most part this is a hidden injustice; we just don’t hear about it. Whereas, if this was a film about the treatment of black people in America or South Africa, and a state of poverty that is wholly preventable, the whole of Western civilisation would be up in arms about it, organising marches and raising crisis funds.

But this is Australia and even though campaigners such as Pilger may raise the issue, absolutely nothing gets done.

John Pilger does not make staid, even-handed, emotionally-neutral films. He is angry and he is politicised and so is this film. So, this may not be the most coolly considered of documentaries, but what it does very effectively is bring the hidden plight of the Aborigines straight into your face.

It is not pretty, or fair and at times seems overwhelmingly hopeless, but at least John Pilger has revealed this whole issue to a new audience and for that, at the very least, he should be applauded, even if he offers no clean-cut solutions to the problem.

Author: Dee Pilgrim

Dee always knew she wanted to make her living from writing and so trained as a journalist before working for a variety of music and women’s titles including Sounds, Company, Cosmopolitan, Ms London, New Woman, and Girl About Town. After going freelance she concentrated on celebrity interviews and film, theatre, music and restaurant reviews. Her love of film goes back to her very first cinema experience at the age of five when her mother took her to see Bambi. She cried. At one time she was the Film Editor for NOW magazine and also the secretary for the film section of the Critics’ Circle and the celebrity coordinator for its annual film awards’ event. She has written a number of books for teenagers through Trotman Publishing, including five Real Life Guides to vocational careers (including Carpentry, Plumbing and Catering), and also three books on Real Life Issues (Money, Bereavement and Self Harm). Her favourite film is still Bladerunner.

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