International Conference Presentation – “No Going Back: Continuity and Change in Australian Documentary”

Associate Professor Deane Williams will present (in collaboration with author-filmmaker, John Hughes), a paper entitled “No Going Back: Continuity and Change in Australian Documentary” at Laboratory of Audiovisual Investigation and Critique (LAICA), University of São Paulo, Brazil, on April 5, 2013.

Synopsis: In 1952 the Australian Department of Information released the singular Mike and Stefani, written and directed by Masyln Williams shot mostly on location in a Europe struggling to recover form WWII. This film essayed the plight of displaced people and Australia’s immigration procedures and responsibilities. Shot in 1949, its release was delayed as Immigration Department officials feared its “bleak depiction of the humiliations involved in selection procedures”. Sixty years later Australian public opinion and refugee policy fractures along the same fault lines. In some ways contestation around documentary and ‘factual’ programming are also mirrored, then and now Over recent years, documentary in Australia, like in many other countries,  has been subject to an increasing hegemony of television factual forms. This shift has resulted in an emphasis on specialist factual series, melodrama and game show based programming at the cost of diminished programming and funding of independent ‘creative’ documentary. Amongst all this, a recent, celebrated Australian series Go Back to Where You Came From deploys ‘reality TV’, melodrama and the simulation game as audiences follow a group of ‘typical Australians’, widely divergent in their views, on a reverse journey through the travails of asylum seekers. This paper will examine Go Back to Where You Came From and other recent documentary responses to public opinion in Australia around refugee issues in relation to the context of the constraints on documentary today, noting their various refractive mirroring of a Australian documentary tradition exemplified by Williams’ Mike and Stefani.