With its grand sweeping vistas and awe-inspiring natural wonders, Australia is the closest you can get to a picture postcard paradise, particularly if you're a member of the wealthy elite. But the country's earliest inhabitants have come to know a different Australia; one that is characterized by intolerance, oppression and the constant threat of extermination. The feature-length documentary Utopia is a sharply observed portrait of their plight, and a rallying cry for all the country's citizens to stand against the grotesque human rights abuses taking place in their own backyard.
The black Aboriginal people of Australia made their home on the land for thousands of years prior to the European invasion of 1788. These invaders showed a flagrant disregard for the rights of these natives to exist, and proceeded to decimate their tribes through violence, concentration camps and the spreading of devastating diseases.
That same sense of deep-seated racism still thrives to this day even if it is hidden in plain sight. The film shows us surveillance video of physical abuses imposed by members of law enforcement, and an interview with one official who advocates for sterilization of the aboriginal race.
The most obvious offenses, however, are apparent from the manner in which the aborigines are forced to exist. The ironically named Utopia is the poorest region in Australia, and contains the largest population of Aboriginal people. That's where the filmmakers station the unflinching gaze of their cameras, and force us to witness firsthand the squalor and despair of their living conditions. The people appear to be dumped, abandoned and all but forgotten by "civilized" society. They lack proper shelter, clean water, public transport, electricity, and access to healthcare and sanitation services. Philanthropic organizations fight to improve the quality of life for the Aboriginal people, but their efforts are frustrated by a lack of awareness among the country's citizens, and an absence of empathy from members of its government.
The Aboriginal tribes of Australia are an irreplaceable part of the country's history, and they must be protected. Unfortunately, the sins of the past continue to define the present. Hopefully, films like the powerful and compassionate Utopia can help to shape a better future.
Directed by: John Pilger, Alan Lowery