Almost eleven months after initial release Mary Meets Mohammad has had a run at the box office, won a cluster of awards and is still going strong in community screening across the country.
On Tuesday night, over one hundred and seventy people piled in to the Union House Theatre at Melbourne University to see the documentary which tells the story of an unlikely friendship between an Afghan man living in detention and a pensioner who lives in the community near the centre.
The film opens with the construction of the Pontville Detention centre near Hobart in 2011 and the community’s outrage to learn that asylum seekers will be in detention so close to home.
Heather Kirkpatrick, who is a first time director and the producer of the film spent all her savings and her inheritance as well as devoting two years of her life to the production of the film.
She told Peril Magazine that she has no regrets. “Despite cinema success, publicity costs were just slightly more than box office return. So I’m in debt but that’s okay. An inheritance well spent.”
The film speaks of the common ignorance of most Australian’s to the truths behind detention as well as the results of humanising asylum seekers.
Mary is part of a local knitting group some of whom decide to knit beanies for the four hundred male asylum seekers arriving in Tasmania in the winter. Mary is so outraged at the idea of knitting for the men she refuses to participate.
As some of the women begin visiting the centre and some of the asylum seekers are eventually released on bridging visas into the community the two groups form bonds, connections and genuine friendship.
Mohammad’s experience in detention is a heart-wrenching but a sadly familiar one, as a Hazara living in Pakistan after his two older brothers were killed by the Taliban he fled and after arriving in Australia faced two years in detention bringing on isolation and severe depression.
For Mary and the other women of the knitting club, the prejudices they held quickly dissolve almost overnight when they meet the people in detention and they are humanised as individuals, the film hopes to do this humanising to a broader audience on a much larger scale.
After a brief limited run at in the cinemas the film is now being shown in community organised screenings throughout Australia in cities as well as in rural areas, including several sold out screenings to crowds that included Serco detention centre guards on Christmas Island.
The film has also been well-received critically and was a finalist for a Walkley Award in 2013 as well as a finalist for ‘Outstanding Documentary Talent Award’ at the Australian International Documentary Conference.
Heather said she is thrilled with the response to her first film and that interest is still growing. “We are getting about five new community screenings booked every week so there should be a very hundred again this year,” she said.
The audience at Melbourne University were gripped by the film breaking into applause at the end, but with this crowd it was largely preaching to the converted. However screenings in other areas of the country hope to engage other groups of people in the discussion.
While hearing interviews with Mohammad and some of the other detainees about their experiences in detention, keenly in mind was the fact these are the brutal horrors our government puts people through on onshore processing, Manus Island aside.
Details of future screenings for Mary Meets Mohammad can be found here.