Monash University
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Peripheral visions: the refugee-focussed documentary film in 'Howard's Australia'

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posted on 2017-01-15, 23:46 authored by Johnston, Meg Elizabeth
This PhD thesis examines the proliferation of refugee-focussed documentary film texts in Australia as a response to the re-emergence of exclusive forms of nationhood in the mid-1990s. Responding to the (re)formation of the nation as a closed space and the ‘problematic’ of cultural pluralisation during the years under the Howard government, these films are positioned as disrupting the rhetorical and representational Othering of cultural minorities at this time. Through the marginalised narratives of their refugee and asylum seeker subjects and reflecting on a nation in ‘identity crisis’, films such as Tahir Cambis and Helen Newman’s Anthem: An Act of Sedition (2004), Pip Starr’s Through the Wire (2004) Clara Law’s Letters to Ali (2004), Tom Zubrycki’s Homelands (1993) and Molly and Mobarak (2003), Sally Ingleton’s The Isabellas: The Long March (1995) and Steve Thomas’ Hope (2007) offer a filmic response to an ‘Us and Them’ ideology that permeated the national imaginary. Where the national identity has been simplified and coded white by political rhetoric and popular media during this period, my writing in this thesis establishes the importance of documentary film as an audiovisual enunciation of alternatives; of imagining the nation differently to account for the shifting nature of its constituency. Whilst drawing on various incarnations of nationhood throughout the twentieth century and the positioning of documentary film discourses therein, this thesis will consider the stories of transnational journeying, exile and (un)belonging within these refugee-focussed films. This thesis positions these narratives as articulating a new cultural politics through the inclusion and, indeed, centring of individual narratives of seeking asylum. The six chapters of Peripheral Visions engage with themes of nationhood and national identity, border politics, immigration and multiculturalism, globalisation, transnationalism and migration and national cinemas, whilst their pivotal points focus on documentary film theory. As such, an overarching objective of this thesis is to foreground documentary film as a valuable and contributory evidence-based medium in this moment of perceived social crisis. While emphasis is placed on the reading and textual interpretation of the refugee-focussed documentary films, my writing here pays attention to their reception, their modes of production, the national and transnational frameworks they adhere to, as well as the transcultural, collaborative exchanges that occur through the filmmaking process, documented on screen as a reflection of the real world the films seek to portray.


Principal supervisor

Belinda Smaill

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Department, School or Centre

School of English, Communications and Performance Studies


Doctor of Philosophy

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Faculty of Arts

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