November 29, 2020

Chauka, Please Tell Us the Time documents the purgatory endured by migrants detained on Los Negros Island, Papua New Guinea, by the Australian government. The film, shot by a detainee in secret, premiered in Canada on Sept. 19 at the Balsillie School of International Affairs in Waterloo.

“What we have done is showed the face of these innocent people,” said filmmaker Behrouz Boochani by conference call to the audience.

Boochani, an Iranian Kurdish journalist, fled persecution in Iran in 2013 and was detained en route to Australia to seek asylum.

He shot the film via smartphone inside Manus Regional Processing Centre, a Papua New Guinean facility operated at Australia’s expense by various corporations. He shot it secretly: journalists’ access to the facility was controlled, according to the Guardian (Boochani has written extensively for the UK paper). The site closed in late 2017.

Behrouz Boochani speaks with a fellow detainee at the Manus Regional Processing Centre, Papua New Guinea, in the film Chauka, Please Tell Us the Time.
Courtesy Arash Kamali Sarvestani/Sarvin Productions

The film’s editor, Arash Kamali Sarvestani, joined the audience in person.

“I believe that this Chauka, Please Tell Us the Time can be a revolution in filmmaking” similar to the advent of camcorders, he said. “We can make a movie in one of the most mysterious places in the world.”

Dr. Alison Mountz, director of Wilfrid Laurier University’s International Migration Research Centre, invited Sarvestani to bring the film to the Balsillie School.

She said in an interview, “Australia started stopping (seaborne migrants) before they reached Australian territory, to essentially mediate or limit their access to claims for asylum.”

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has taken a hardline stance on illegal migration.

In a Twitter post on Feb. 12, he said, “Our border protection framework works. We stopped the boats, stopped the deaths at sea, closed the detention centres, removed all children from detention and from Nauru (another island detention centre).”

In 2013, while an opposition backbencher, he tweeted, “Nauru and Manus will continue, but not in the half-hearted way Labor has implemented this policy they don’t believe in.”

Mountz said, “It’s a fact of contemporary life that people are displaced, and that people are moving globally. And so these shouldn’t be crises; these should be migrations that governments are prepared for, and are prepared to respond to in an orderly and fair way.”

Filmmaker Arash Kamali Sarvestani discusses Chauka, Please Tell Us the Time with
Dr. Alison Mountz and an audience at the Balsillie School of International
Affairs, Waterloo, Ont., Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019.
Caleb Burney/The Spoke

In the film, Manusian Sam Malai says of the detainees, “They’re trying to look for freedom. Now when they’re here, there is no freedom.”

Six Manus detainees died while the facility was open, according to the Guardian, one, Reza Barati, by murder.

“It is impossible for people to understand (the detainees’ situation) from the outside,” Boochani remarked, “even if they’ve been following the news for years. … Only through art and literature can they understand.”

Boochani said there were about 900 migrants on Manus two years ago, of which about 300 have since gone to the United States under a 2016 resettlement deal.

“This deal is like torture,” he said, because of the wait. Boochani is now in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea.

Canadian organizations MOSAIC and the Canada Caring Society are raising money to sponsor up to 200 former Manus and Nauru detainees to come to Canada, according to their websites.

Boochani doesn’t have high hopes for the film’s impact.

“It’s so sad when you work for history,” he said, wishing he were working for change for this time.

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