Film Reviews

Review: ‘Chasing Asylum’

Hot Docs 2016

Asylum seekers en route to Australia from Indonesia
Photo by Joel Van Houdt

Chasing Asylum
(Australia, 96 min.)
Dir. Eva Orner
Programme: Made in Australia

Director Eva Orner puts her native Australia under the microscope in the fearless exposé Chasing Asylum. This courageous doc blows the whistle on the inhumane methodologies the Aussies use to discourage migrants from seeing their island nation as an ideal destination. Orner presents images of the Australian government’s holding compounds, which are essentially detention centres, on the remote islands of Nauru and Manus where refugees wait in despondent limbo. The images of the film are a shocking call for accountability.

Chasing Asylum accesses these tightly guarded compounds through the clandestine efforts of a handful of insiders who refuse to be complicit any longer. Hidden cameras capture living quarters that resemble slums as asylum seekers dwell in small, sweltering tents smeared with feces, blood, and a nation’s shame. The grainy images of the footage might not lend themselves well to optimal viewing on theatrical screens in DCP, but the renegade aesthetic underscores the dirtiness of Australia’s secret.

The director also assembles a series of former and current employees who speak in a mix of open interviews and in shots that protect their anonymity. Chasing Asylum notes that future whistleblowers face serious consequences for speaking out, but the testimony unanimously talks of rampant human rights violations of which the Australian people need to know. The delivery is a little heavy-handed, and the sporadic title cards at the end draw numerous false endings, but the passion, conviction, and courage displayed throughout make this one compelling and persuasive doc.

Chasing Asylum screens:
-Sunday, May 8 at Cineplex Scotiabank at 9:45 PM

Please visit the POV Hot Docs hub for more coverage on this year’s festival.

Hot Docs runs April 28 – May 8. Visit for more information.