Border Politics is a curious film. Directed by Judy Rymer, the documentary follows human rights barrister Julian Burnside as he travels around the world, engaging with intellectuals, cities, and cultures, trying to find a path to answering the question – has the West lost its moral compass by adopting ideas that reject humanity and undermine democracy?
Why is Border Politics a curious film? Well, it’s curious because it raises a lot of questions that the left side of politics has been asking with alarming regularity. Questions like, why don’t countries like Australia, the US, and England, do more to help refugees and asylum seekers? How can countries like Australia wilfully engage with breaching the human rights conventions we signed after World War II? What on earth do we do to help people in need, and in turn, persuade the right side of politics to actually do something?
But, is Border Politics just rattling around in an echo chamber? Like discussions about climate change, has the worryingly endless discussions around asylum seekers become a numb topic in society? In turn, has the aggression from the right side of politics, and the demonization of asylum seekers from the media and politicians, swung the conversation too far to the right? When the aggressively harmful dialogue around legitimate, legal asylum seekers turns to political name calling (with refugees being called everything from illegal immigrants, to queue jumpers, to rapists and murderers),where does society head to from there? Is there any point of return?
Like Eva Orner’s searing documentary, Chasing Asylum, Judy Rymer’s Border Politics is unashamedly steeped in empathy for asylum seekers. Where Chasing Asylum showed the treacherous journey that thousands have made from Asia to Australia, risking their families lives on barely seaworthy vessels to hopefully reach some kind of safety, some kind of better life, Border Politics shows the history of why Australia, and 47 other countries, signed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, way back in 1948, and what the Universal Declaration of Human Rights means in the year 2018.
But, just like Chasing Asylum, which outlays in startling detail the lives that asylum seekers live on remote prisons like Manus Island and Nauru, does Border Politics have the punch and bite to actually break through and sway people to listen to refugee stories? With the great Julian Burnside as the guide, one would hope this would be the case, especially as he discusses human rights with other great minds like Gillian Triggs and Lord Dubs. A fair amount of the conversation is directed straight to the camera – this is Burnside talking directly to the audience and explaining what our duty is as human beings.
Hearing first hand stories about how refugees were saved on the island of Lesvos, and how the community has rallied behind the refugees to ensure their safety, is powerful. Equally powerful is the stories of Scottish communities embracing refugees and welcoming them into their community, ensuring they were employed and made to feel united. In Mexico, the much touted by Trump & Co.’s ‘Big Border Wall’ is exposed for the family breaking utility that it is – with a segment of the fence only being open for certain periods of the year so that fractured families on either side of the wall can spend a whole three minutes interacting through thick wire. Equally devastating is hearing about ex-military people who were deported to Mexico, even though they have served terms fighting in the US army.
It seems like a foreign concept to some, but the act of empathy appears to be lost in modern society. The ability for one to put themselves in another’s shoes and see the world from a different perspective appears to have diminished over time, instead turning into amplified, grand scale xenophobia and oppression. So, even with these stories that Julian Burnside uncovers, I fear that the people that would need this story the most will remain close minded and unable to accept what is going on.
While Eva Orner was touring Chasing Asylum in Australia, she mentioned about how the film was aiming to help convert the ‘30%’ that needed converting. To paraphrase, there are 40% of people who are already on board with the film and its message, there are 30% of people who will be changed after seeing the film, and there are 30% of people who will not be changed at all and disagree with the message of the film. The same can be applied to Border Politics – regardless of who is preaching the message of human rights, regardless of whatever footage is shown, there will always be an alarming amount of people who will reject the message outright.
When Julian Burnside stands beside a staggering pile of lifejackets, explaining how the life jackets ended up where they did, and what the pile of life jackets represents (both souls lost, and souls that were saved), one can’t help but feel an immense weight drop in your heart. To see so many lives – some 22.5 million lives – being displaced, and then to know that the society that you live in wilfully rejects a small number (thousands) of these people in need, makes you feel immensely powerless and heartbroken. If someone like Julian Burnside can’t persuade people to change their mind, or to help guide people to find empathy, then what hope do we have?
Whatever you do – see Border Politics. It may feed into your own echo chamber, but it also may not, and you may learn something you weren’t aware of. The world is in crisis, and it’s through the actions of the few that the world can change for the better.
Director: Judy Rymer
Featuring: Julian Burnside, Gillian Triggs, Lord Dubs
Read more about Border Politics here.