HRAFF review: The Opposition

A rollercoaster ride as a PNG community fights for its rights against Australian hotel developers. Hollie Fifer announces herself as a great talent.

In a case of life imitating art, which also happens to be real life, Australian filmmaker Hollie Fifer’s documentary about the unlawful destruction of Papua New Guinean community in favour of an Australian-based five-star hotel developer, The Opposition found itself, like its subjects, battling it out David and Goliath-style in court.

Starting life as a student project covering the recent constitutional crisis involving not one but two Prime Ministers, Fifer was instead drawn to the fate of the residents of a shanty community by the water, Paga Hill, and one man’s impassioned fight for their survival, Joe Moses.

Soon finding herself hurled into the madness hen the police moved in with guns and bulldozers to tear it all down at any cost without even so much as a permit, Fifer knew she was onto something big. The film grew from there as events spiralled wildly with thriller-style twists and even a double crossing as a one-time ally of Moses and the community retires from politics and takes up a fat cheque gig with the very developers she once resisted.

Before enjoying its debut at last year’s Hot Docs International Documentary Film Festival in Toronto, The Opposition ended up in court in New South Wales because that very turncoat demanded the excision of all footage featuring her, leading to a temporary injunction being awarded. Fifer was forced to resort to explanatory inter-title cards and some handy narration from local actor Sarah Snook.

With that injunction now lifted, audiences at the Human Rights Arts and Film Festival can now see the uncut version in all its soaring, people power glory. Moses is a charismatic leader gifted with great oratory power and an unbending grace in the face of quite horrendous abuses of his and his fellow Paga Hill residents’ civil liberties.

Commendations are due for Fifer too. For a debut filmmaker she shows an uncanny nose for a rapidly developing story and a hit the ground running ability to follow its breakneck turns while never losing sight of the human heart of the story. Fascinating stuff.

Stephen A Russell @SARussellwords

★★★★

Book tickets for The Opposition at HRAFF here.