Dialog Box

Human Rights | Refugees | Social Justice
Freedom Stories
A decade after the Australian Government toughened its stance against asylum seekers arriving by boat what has become of those who experienced at first hand its policies of indefinite mandatory detention and temporary protection visas?\n\nFreedom Stories will collaboratively explore the personal stories of asylum seekers who arrived off Australian shores around the time of the tumultuous period in 2001 that began with the arrival of the Tampa. Few of us know what became of them but today the vast majority are Australian citizens contributing in all kinds of ways to Australian life.\n\nYet they had the hardest of starts. Under the temporary protection visa (TPV) system they were given only temporary refugee status, minimal Government support and no possibility of reunion with their families. It took more than seven years and a change of Government before they began to feel secure. So what have they achieved since? And what have they got to say?\n\nThese are pertinent questions in light of the ongoing controversy about 'boat people'. The current Government finds itself operating twice as many detention centres with more than twice as many inmates than at any time in 2001. And the Opposition is promising that if the Government doesn’t bring back the ‘Pacific solution’ and TPVs then it will. At the same time others are questioning the very notion of indefinite mandatory detention, with Australia the only signatory to the UN Convention on Refugees that operates such a system.\n\nWhat better time to explore the stories of some of the people who experienced this policy the first time round? For, a decade later, many are achieving much, although some will be forever affected by their experience. Just like the rest of us, they have professions and trades. They are parents, students and artists. But they also know what it’s like to run for your life only to find yourself living in a painful limbo for years, deprived of freedom in a free country. Although treated as ‘queue jumpers’ and ‘illegals’, from the very start they longed to contribute, to be of use and offer their sweat and toil in this new country.

How does the project meet the aims of a philanthropic foundation?

The goals of this project are both social and cultural and aimed at developing social cohesion and wellbeing. The cost to Australia of its mandatory detention policy is extremely high both economically and socially. Many asylum seekers have been psychologically damaged by their experience. This project aims to help heal these wounds and see what can be learned for the future. By enhancing the social inclusion of people from varied cultural backgrounds in Australian society it will help bring about long-term benefits.\n\nFoundations and Trusts concerned with the arts will note that many former asylum seekers include artistic skills among their personal and cultural resources. And as a documentary, Freedom Stories will both contribute to Australia’s artistic culture and itself become a cultural resource for use in all kinds of ways, particularly in the field of education.
Aims & Objectives

What outcomes do you hope to achieve by making this film and how will you measure its impact?

The voices of those most affected by Australia’s policy of indefinite mandatory detention – asylum seekers themselves – are missing from media debate. This film will give a voice to those who arrived a decade ago, at the height of the former Government’s ‘Pacific solution’. What have they achieved and how do they feel now about the ‘welcome’ they received?\n\nIt is hoped that by meeting these people, audiences will question the policy of mandatory detention and ask if there isn’t a better way of dealing with ‘irregular arrivals’, given that so many are now making a contribution to our community.\n\nThe impact of the film will be assessed by gauging responses from peer review, including press and TV reviews, articles, features and awards; audiences; the social justice sector via our extensive links with refugee, human rights and cultural organisations; educational take-up via an Educational Distributor; and subsequent policy reform or attitudinal change.\n\nThe purpose of Freedom Stories is to spawn a multi-platform opportunity for the contributions of ‘boat people’ to Australian society to be widely celebrated.

What is your education and outreach strategy?

By applying the experience acquired during our previous project Hope, we will utilise the multi-platform release strategies of cinema, festival, DVD, TV acquisition, community screenings, online and educational distribution to ensure the film’s widest possible dissemination. \n\nThe intended audience is extensive – radiating outwards from ‘refugee sympathiser’ audiences to human rights and social justice interest groups, schools and universities, DVD audiences – particularly younger audiences via internet marketing - and TV and cinema. \n\nWe have good relationships with several Educational Distributors and will develop a Study Guide for the film. As with Hope, we will hold community screenings/discussions around the country, especially in regional areas. \n\nAn important component of the project will be an interactive website where, inspired by the film, other former asylum seekers will be able to lodge their own stories.\n\nWe aim to launch the film at the Sydney and/or Melbourne Film Festivals; secure a theatrical season for the feature version in capital cities via Nova or Dendy; enter local/overseas festivals; approach SBS and ABC re. acquisition of a 1-hour version; release a DVD with Extra Features and separately package individual stories for educational distribution.
Steve Thomas
Lisa Horler and Steve Thomas
Total budget
99 Minutes