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Australia 2013
Directed by
Heather Kirkpatrick
81 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars

Mary Meets Mohammad

Synopsis:  When a temporary asylum-seeker detention centre is established in Pontville, a rural hamlet to the north-east  of Hobart, there is a lot of resistance from the locals. One such is Mary, a widowed old age pensioner, staunch Catholic and member of the local community knitting group.  This is the story of how her unlikely friendship with one of the detainees, Mohammad, developed.

Heather Kirkpatrick’s first feature length documentary, which she has independently produced as well as directed, acted as camera and sound operator, and co-edited is a marvellous achievement  - a no-frills affair but one that goes directly to the heart of the matter.  Partly this was good fortune, because with Mary she came across a subject who was, in her own understated way, willing to explore the world around her, but partly it is also due to Kirkpatrick as the person who shaped Mary’s story into a journey of self-discovery with such understated finesse.

The brilliance of Mary Meets Mohammad is the immediacy with which Kirkpatrick presents the issues.  Whether ill-informed parochialism or out-and out bigotry or, contrawise, the realization that this is all a fear-mongering smokescreen, it is embodied in the unvarnished utterances of Mary and her neighbours.  Kirkpatrick uses the occasional caption to inform and to rectify mis-information but for the most part she allows reality, with which we the audience are apiece and thus feel connected to, for better or worse, to speak for itself.

Following Mary over a 16 month period we observe her remarkable transition from one end of the spectrum to the other – from self-protective defensiveness to overt expressions of connectedness.  Mary Meets Mohammad is ultimately a documentation of simple humanity at work and for that reason it has a powerful resonance.

Providing her own voice-over, Kirkpatrick’s approach is somewhat reminiscent of that of Werner Herzog  - probingly thoughtful, pushing at the essence of things but at the same time respecting their integrity - and it is slightly frustrating that she does not provide any explanation about her presence or why she came to be making the film (you can read about her and her film here).

Perhaps it could have been a little shorter, particularly over the final 15 minutes when some judicious pruning would have preserved the poignancy, but notwithstanding, Mary Meets Mohammad is a wonderfully rewarding even uplifting film and one which should be mandatory viewing for ratbags everywhere.




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