Doco knits heartwarming tale of friendship against the odds

June 19, 2013
Mohammad and Mary.

Mary Meets Mohammad
Directed by Heather Kirkpatrick

If you thought that knitting and controversial current affairs don’t mix, then think again. Mary Meets Mohammad is a fantastic first feature length documentary by Tasmanian film maker Heather Kirkpatrick. It has received rave reviews by cinema-goers in Tasmania and will soon be screened in cinemas across the country.

Some time after the federal government opened a detention centre in 2011 for asylum seekers in Pontville, just out of Hobart, a local knitting group decide to knit beanies for the men detained inside.

The film follows the story of one member of the knitting group, 71- year-old Mary, who refuses to contribute any beanies to the cause because she considers the asylum seekers to be “heathens” and “cowards” — and is “dead set against them coming here”.

However, her curiosity gets the better of her so she decides to go along with other members of the knitting group to deliver the first bundle of beanies to detainees. The meeting, during which the group gets to talk to some of the detainees, has a profound impact on Mary, opening her eyes to their difficult plights.

Over time, Mary and the other knitters develop a friendship with these men that continues even after some of them are released into the community. Particularly moving is the genuine connection she makes with Mohammad, an Afghan Hazara man who fled Afghanistan after his elder two brothers were killed by the Taliban and his remaining family were threatened.

Through the simple act of communication, they develop a close bond and Mary learns to be more open-minded about refugees and questions of religion.

The scenes that portray her talking to her fellow members of the pensioner’s social club who have strong, but falsely-informed, views on the topic are reminiscent of her own attitudes before she had direct experience with the asylum seekers.

Like the acclaimed SBS series Go Back to Where you Came From, the film shows how attitudes can change when people learn directly about the individual stories behind a controversial issue and how if people are given a chance to connect one-on-one, they can bridge cultural and religious divides to discover their common humanity.

The film includes information about the damage that indefinite detention has on the mental health of asylum seekers and busts myths about asylum seekers being illegal, jumping queues to get here or being given luxury treatment by the government.

It profiles the efforts of community activists who set up a program of matching volunteer visitors with asylum seekers, as well as the support of the local mayor and the Anglican church.

The filmmaker took a risk on choosing the characters that she did, not knowing if Mary’s views would change . But the risk paid off.

The scenes Kirkpatrick was able to film between Mary and Mohammad after he is released into the community are truly heart-warming. The imagery and scenery in the film is beautiful, the conversations genuine and there are a few laughs too.

Kirkpatrick said it will take her two years to pay off the debts incurred from making the film . She is committed to following up with schools, community groups and cinemas to ensure the film gets shown to as big an audience as possible. Make sure you don’t miss it when it comes to a cinema or hall near you.

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