With asylum seekers so often in the news, and Australians’ opinions about them extremely polarised, Tasmanian filmmaker Heather Kirkpatrick’s Mary Meets Mohammad provides a timely look at the situation from two very different points of view.
Selected as a finalist in the national Outstanding Documentary Talent Award 2013, Mary Meets Mohammad opens with the Australian government’s surprise announcement to build Tasmania’s first detention centre for 400 male and mostly Afghan asylum seekers at Pontville on the outskirts of Hobart.
The local community erupts with hostility as the Department of Immigration host a public meeting and, when a suggestion is made at the local knitting club to make beanies for the asylum seekers, not everyone is in support.
Knitter and elderly Christian woman Mary is strongly opposed to the Muslim asylum seekers. However she becomes curious to see the ‘luxurious life’ the detainees are rumoured to have, and visits the centre a couple of months later as the beanies are delivered.
Mary and four other knitters become regular visitors to the asylum seekers. The knitters’ friendships deepen with the men from Afghanistan as they help knitting and craft activities flourish within the detention centre. Asylum seeker Mohammad provides revealing insights of life inside the detention centre and the knitters are surprised by the first hunger strike at the centre.
When the detention centre closes after six months some of the refugees decide to settle in Hobart. The knitters stay in contact with them and we see a close relationship develop between Mohammad and Mary, although Mary remains uncomfortable with Mohammad’s Islamic beliefs. The close of the film sees knitter Joy invite Mohammad and Mary to her fishing shack in the Central Highlands of Tasmania.
Will a connection of common humanity prevail for Mary and Mohammad over their religious and cultural differences?
Heather’s decision to make the film came about when she watched television reports of the response from the community at the Immigration Department’s public meeting, while at the same time becoming aware that a volunteer group was emerging who wanted to be friends with the asylum seekers through visits to the detention centre. ‘When Mohammad was released from detention, I observed an astoundingly deep connection develop between him and Mary, which became the strength and focus of the story’, says Mary. ‘I hope the cross cultural and cross religious challenges they come to meet will resonate with audiences both here in Australia and worldwide.’
Director and producer Heather Kirkpatrick could well be the subject of a documentary about herself, given her varied and interesting life. She is an independent documentary filmmaker and freelance journalist from Tasmania. Before the film Heather worked as a professional outdoor instructor and emergency relief work logistician. She has led expeditions on every continent as she climbs mountains and raft-guides in the world’s most remote regions. She has spent seven seasons teaching field survival skills in Antarctica and recently managed the logistics of helicopter operations as food was delivered to flood victims in Pakistan.
Heather’s worldwide travels inspired her to pursue short courses in filmmaking over the last decade and to study postgraduate Convergent Journalism at the University of Tasmania. Since then she has travelled independently through the Democratic Republic of Congo filming stories of war-displaced people, and in Rwanda following orphans from the genocide who became rap-artists.
Tickets at regular cinema prices are now available at the cinema box office, phone bookings 6680 8555.
Mary Meets Mohammad – Film and Q&A
Palace Byron Bay Cinema
Sunday September 15, 7pm