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Article by Maya Chanthaphavong | Published July 1, 2012
Over 600 people attended the Australian Premier of the documentary Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, which took place at St Kilda’s historic Astor Theatre. The film looks at the circumstances surrounding individuals and families who “decide” to become boat people, taking the treacherous and – sometimes fatal – voyage from Indonesia to Australia.
Produced by Jessie Taylor, a refugee advocate and barrister, the documentary is both a moving tribute to those who have lost their lives in the pursuit of freedom and a damming condemnation of States whose inadequate processing of refugee claims leads to human rights violations. Imprisonment without crime and inadequate access to health care and education ultimately push people in the only direction that appears to still hold some hope – that of a “boat” person.
The documentary opens with a family, originally from northern Afghanistan, shopping at the Dandenong Market, in the outer suburbs of Melbourne. The daughter, Zainab, converses with stall owners in English whilst translating for her mother. They appear happy and content. It is a fairly typical scene, mirrored around the country daily, and it illustrates the disparity between this sense of normalcy and the journey that preceded it.
These people “exist” rather than “live”, for they are stuck between a rock and a hard place – between the devil and the deep blue sea.
Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea focuses on the struggle that persists even after people have been given refugee status by the UNHCR in Indonesia. It is the story of people struggling for freedom, for their families and for themselves.
Taylor journeys to Indonesia to interview asylum seekers. With hidden cameras, she films asylum seekers who are being held in Indonesian jails whilst awaiting official refugee status, and documents their experiences of being treated like criminals instead of human beings fleeing war-torn countries and dire situations.
Those already classed as refugees are found inhabiting one to two bedroom lodgings that are neither sanitary nor appropriate for family living. These people “exist” rather than “live”, for they are stuck between a rock and a hard place – between the devil and the deep blue sea.
The people that Taylor interviewed are deeply affected by their experiences in Indonesia, as well as their experiences in their homelands. In this sense, abject displacement pervades the film. The only hope they have is their dream of a future and of a better life, and this dream is manifested as “Australia”.
Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea … is a powerful statement on the right to live in peace.
Australia is viewed as a land of opportunity, a new beginning, a hope that is desperately clung to in the absence of all happiness. It is the ultimate destination – indeed it is viewed as freedom itself – and some pay for the promise it represents with their lives.
Zainab and her family were lucky – they now live in the safety of the Australian suburbs. Many others, however, remain missing; the ocean remains their last resting place.
Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea humanises “boat people”, and provides a voice to those that so very often remain unheard. It aims to deconstruct the notion of “us verses them” that has become prevalent in some aspects of the refugee discourse in Australian media and society.
The documentary has had issues getting screen time in Australia. Perhaps this is due in part to either the testimonials of those interviewed or the political sensitivity surrounding the issue. Whatever the reason, it is problematic: Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea should be readily accessible to all. It is a powerful statement on the right to live in peace.