Why Aussie Oscar winner wants to bag country

KARL QUINN
Last updated 15:00 29/05/2014
The Age

Oscar-winning documentary maker Eva Orner turns her gaze on Australia's treatment of asylum seekers.

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Eva Orner's filmmaking career has taken her to the some remote parts of the world, but the Australian Oscar-winner's next project will bring her home to work for the first time in a decade.

She plans to use her mix of insider knowledge and outsider perspective to make a feature documentary called Bloody UnAustralian, a critical look at Australia's treatment of asylum seekers.

The title comes from her memories of growing up in Melbourne in the 1970s, she says. "When people did something that wasn't decent, you'd be like, 'That's bloody unAustralian'. It was a nice, old-fashioned part of vernacular that applies to this, which is something that has become very Australian - but it should be bloody unAustralian.''

Though she has lived in the US for the past decade, Orner says she follows Australian news avidly and in recent months felt the pull to respond in her own way to what she was seeing.

"As a filmmaker, this is the sort of work I do, and I thought I can't just keep watching this, I have to do something," she says via Skype from her Los Angeles home. "When we start seeing headlines about us breaking UN resolutions and Amnesty not being allowed into camps, it just starts to become unAustralian. It seems so wrong."

Ordinarily, an Australian documentary filmmaker might look to the government agencies for help. But, Orner says, "I didn't want to go to Screen Australia or the states because I knew the budget was coming and I knew people were going to be slammed, and this was controversial and we have a tricky government at the moment".

She also didn't want to get caught in the slow-moving machinery of film bureaucracy. "I feel like there's an urgency to this, and I didn't want to spend a year raising finance. So I reached out to people in Australia who I knew believed in this. In less than two months we've raised about $350,000."

Now she has launched a fundraising campaign on indiegogo to raise another $200,000. She knows it's a big ask but she takes heart from the fact that last March 100,000 people marched to protest against Australia's treatment of asylum seekers. "If each one of them gave just $2," she muses. "Or if 4000 of them gave $50..."

Local filmmaker Robert Connolly has agreed to distribute the film, and she ultimately hopes to take it on a "grassroots" tour of Australia, "to big towns, small towns, town halls, schools. Really get people engaged in talking and debating". Ultimately, she hopes to make a film that might "help change policy".

Orner won an Oscar in 2008 as producer of Taxi To The Dark Side, Alex Gibney's documentary about the treatment of US prisoners of war in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo. Last year, she made her debut as a director, with The Network, a documentary about a television station in Afghanistan.

She intends to direct Bloody UnAustralian herself, and to move back to Australia to do so. She has storylines she intends to follow in Afghanistan, Lebanon, Cambodia and Indonesia, and she's already picturing how one scene might play out.

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She will apply for a visa to visit Nauru - at a cost of $8000, non-refundable. She envisages "writing out a cheque for $8000, waving it away and then getting your rejection notice. It would be amazing having a chart showing what visas cost everywhere else in the world, and then Nauru - this shithole in the middle of nowhere - costs $8000. And then you're not allowed in the camps anyway".

She knows she will get hate mail, that some people will attack her for daring to come back only to criticise, and she's ready for it. But crowd-funding, well, that's a whole other matter.

"It's terrifying," she says. "I think in the next month I'll be a complete wreck, checking my computer every five seconds and not sleeping through the night. It's a scary thing to do but I just believe in this."

To donate to the crowdfunding campaign.

- FFX Aus

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