John Pilger curates radical documentary festival in Sydney

Harvest of Shame by war correspondent Ed Murrow shows that a form of slavery existed in the United States in the mid-20th century.

“At a time of an information onslaught, the critical differences between fact and fiction are blurred,” says radical filmmaker John Pilger of the “Power of the Documentary: Breaking the Silence” festival he is curating in Sydney from November 28 to December 9.

“Documentary films are a powerful way to make sense of these competing voices and ideas.”

The Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA) at The Rocks and Parramatta-based Riverside Theatre are presenting the festival, featuring a series of powerful documentaries put together by Emmy and BAFTA award-winning documentary filmmaker, journalist and author John Pilger. 

Pilger has selected 26 landmark documentaries from the past 70 years to be screened at both Riverside Theatres and the MCA in November and December. The selection includes a rare retrospective of some of John Pilger’s own work.

Pilger is renowned for his independent investigative journalism giving a “voice to the voiceless”. The documentaries chosen made significant impact on audiences, shaping the way we understand and respond to global issues such as war and conflict, civil rights and propaganda. 

Some of Pilger’s groundbreaking works that are featured include his first documentary The Quiet Mutiny (1970), an expose of UIS soldier insurrections in Vietnam; The War You Don’t See (2010), a look at the role and responsibilities of media reporting on war; and Utopia (2013), an epic portrayal of the oldest continuous human culture and an investigation into a suppressed colonial past and rapacious present.

Other program highlights include Harvest of Shame (1960), demonstrating a form of slavery that existed in the United State in the mid-20th century; Hearts and Minds (1974), questioning the US invasion of Indo-China; Half Life (1986), a look at the human consequences of the US’ hydrogen bomb tests in the Marshall Islands; That Sugar Film (2014), one man’s journey to discover the bitter truth about sugar; and Journey into Hell (2015), a searing report of those who traffic the fleeing Rohingya to Thailand.

The festival will also feature introductions with special guest speakers, including Mark Davis, Damon Gameau, Curtis Levy, Robert Love and Alec Morgan. Pilger will open the festival with a keynote address on the importance of critical thinking and documentary filmmaking.

Pilger said: “The documentary remains a powerful way of making sense of the world, of connecting the past with the present and breaking the silence  … Documentaries that go against the received wisdom are becoming an endangered species, at a time when we need them perhaps more than ever.”

[Tickets are now on sale. For the opening and closing events, tickets are $40/$32 concession. For single sessions, tickets are $15/$12 concession. You can pick up a festival “four pack” for $45 and a “festival pass” for $99 (excludes opening and closing events). For the full program and tickets visit www.thepowerofthedocumentary.com.au.]