Transitions Film Festival: Right Now’s Top Picks

By Caitlin Cassidy and Samaya Borom
Film still of Convoy, courtesy of Transitions

Transitions Film Festival 2020 showcases another year of world-changing social and technological advances.

This year the festival also tackles social and economical change, and urges their audience to take immediate action against life-changing global issues.

Below Right Now covers several documentaries screening at Transitions 2020.

The Whale & The Raven

Directed by Mirjam Leuze

Reviewed by Samaya Borom


Hermann Meuter and Janie Wray have interesting jobs. Based in a remote First Nations village in British Columbia Canada, it is their job as whale researchers, to study them in their pristine environment – an environment it appears that is increasingly under threat from a burgeoning Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) industry and the massive tankers that now weave their way through the very path of the gentle giants.

Mirjam Leuze’s film The Whale & the Raven is set in Tsimshian Territory with the Gitga’at peoples who have lived in and around the coastline for over ten thousand years. Facing pipelines, tankers and possible environmental disasters due to an increasing interest in LNG, the film highlights the precarious position of First Nations people and researchers as they come together to try to protect against the loss of biodiversity and to safeguard the remote untouched environment.

The film centres around the study of possible impacts on the whale habitat from the LNG companies, yet it’s immediately clear it is not just the whales who will possibly be impacted. The decolonisation of the food system has impacted adversely on First Nations. Interspersed with First Nations knowledge and storytelling about their lands, it is also a tale of ensuring cultural heritage, environmental management and customs and way of life can be passed down to successive generations.

Beautifully shot, with an equally impressive soundtrack provided by different whale species, an abundance of other wildlife and the environment itself, The Whale & the Raven illustrates the threat facing both the First Nations and scientists trying to ensure survival of these magnificent creatures. It also tells the story of First Nations people struggling still against colonisation and its impacts.



Directed by Matthew Newton

Reviewed by Samaya Borom


The Carmichael coal mine (Adani mine), based in Central Queensland near the important Galilee Basin is highly controversial. The Adani mine, run by billionaire Gautam Adani passed its final environmental approval hurdle in June 2019 despite multiple legal challenges from not only environmental groups such as the Australian Conservation Foundation but also traditional owners of the land, the Wangan and Jagalingou people whose sacred lands will be devastated and whose cultural heritage will be wiped forever.

Matthew Newton’s 2019 Convoy follows the Bob Brown Foundation when in April 2019 they lead a convoy of activists and concerned citizens from Tasmania to Queensland in protest. Featuring interviews and footage shot as part of the protest the film opens with a strong statement from Bob Brown: “I’ve been around politics long enough to know that in the run to an election the environment gets taken off every time and out come the bribes”. The priority for the protest, and for the foundation is to flip the narrative so that the environment and voters place within it is something that is thought of as they go into the ballot box”.

Brown has experience in running environmentally focused campaigns, the Franklin River Dam blockade in the 1978-81 protest being successful and resulting in the protection of pristine Tasmanian forest that we enjoy today. What might be surprising for some is that the documentary shows that support for the convoy ripples through all levels of society, from school teachers to farmers to children who are all concerned with the impact of the mine on not just Queensland but tying it into climate change issues which affect all. Indeed, a common theme was the sense of urgency in stopping the mine for the sake of the next generations and to prevent environmental catastrophe – something most Australian’s have experienced first-hand over summer. Convoy is also a story of hope and community, showing individuals that they are empowered and can be part of a force for change – given the current political environment this will be a space to watch.




Directed by Fredrik Gertten

Reviewed by Samaya Borom


Fredrik Gertten’s film Push is timely, not just within Australian urban areas but seemingly throughout the world. The film tries to understand why it is becoming increasingly difficult to live within our cities, why lower socio-economic people can no longer be a part of an urban community due to extremely high rents and gentrification and what it means for cities if the middle class is also unable to meet the increasing monetary demand.

Leilani Farha, UN Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing travels globally investigating housing issues in regard to the concept of the right to adequate housing.  Her interviews and reconnaissance missions with vulnerable people who live with housing issues such as rodents and leaks, paints a bleak picture of intimidation and bullying tactics by powerful landlords or organisations who put profit over people. It’s not just a city issue either, the buying of rural land then forces urbanisation, a vicious cycle that pushes people further into poverty – something that a human rights framework tries to rectify. The film reveals some shocking statistics that provide some reason as to why this is becoming such a massive global issue. For example over the past 30 years, Toronto housing prices have increased 425% despite family income only increasing by 133% which is pushing tenants to the margins of affordability and indeed liveability. Multi-million-dollar properties owned by foreign corporations in inner-city London and surrounds is jaw dropping, their empty shells lending shelter to homeless people and squatters.

Push is insightful viewing into how international human rights conceptions of the right to housing is not being met by States and how this impact upon not only the most vulnerable people within society but how it ultimately has a ripple effect through community thereby affecting us all.



Magic Mushrooms

Directed by Monty Wates

Reviewed by Caitlin Cassidy


Why are some drugs stigmatised, and others aren’t? Why are some made highly illegal, and other, more harmful drugs, are readily consumed and sold in shops, restaurants and bars?

Magic Medicine, a documentary centred around the medical possibility of psilocybin mushrooms, or magic mushrooms, asks these questions. In 2012, a team of medical researchers in the UK took three years to get the necessary permission to test magic mushrooms on people suffering from severe, long term depression.

What follows is a heartfelt account of the first ever trial of psilocybin mushrooms on volunteers suffering from clinical depression. Director Monty Wates, over four years is given direct access to the trial, and the following impacts of the medical research on three people and their families. The bold staff running the trial believe the long stigmatised treatment may hold the key to transforming the lives of millions of people around the world suffering from clinical depression. Magic Mushrooms paints a tender, intimate picture of the suffering depression causes, for individuals and their families. Through moving footage of their ‘trips,’ the documentary displays the hopes for future psychedelic research.



You Bet I Dance!

Directed by Lars Pape

Reviewed by Caitlin Cassidy


Creative expression has an immense power, and this is demonstrated beautifully in You Bet I Dance!, a documentary that follows the uplifting journey of a Staatsballet ballet class in Berlin for children with cerebral palsy.

Leonie and Hannah are two girls with highly differing manifestations of the early childhood brain injury, yet both are united in their long life love of dance. We follow the the two girls’ adventure, with eight other children, as their dreams of dancing come true.

The film is truly brought to life through the passion of creative artist and ballet dancer Loretta Stern. Through her unique vision, the first dance workshop for children with cerebral palsy in Germany is able to come to fruition – at one of the most well-regarded dance theatres in the world, the Staatsballett in Berlin. The documentary displays with tender beauty the possibilities for children with physical and cognitive limitations when they are able to express themselves through dance, music and art.

Dancing is an act of joy, of expression and of unwinding – and watching the unbridled joy of the children, and of their families, is a true delight. Lars Pape’s You Bet I Dance! emotional, warm, joyous film.



Review – Renewal: Five Paths to a Fairer Australia

By Georgia Cerni

Sophie Cousins’ book Renewal: Five Paths to a Fairer Australia is, in many respects, a proposal. For Cousins, the COVID-19 pandemic has provided Australians with an opportunity to reconsider the ways our society currently functions. Cousins aptly makes her case – while in some ways the pandemic reinforced burgeoning inequalities, it also presented us the chance to apply collectivist values to solve systemic problems.