Dramatically unfolding with exquisite attention to details, “The Tall Man” is a documentary that haunts you long after the credits roll. On beautiful Palm Island, off the coast of Queensland Australia, an ugly incident occurs between impoverished, uneducated and unemployed Aborigines and the whites that govern them. In November 2004, 36 year-old Cameron Mulrunji Doomadgee died in police custody after being arrested for swearing at a cop. Chris Hurley, the Senior Sergeant who apprehended him, was called ‘“The Tall Man” because of his six-foot six-inch height.
Dispassionately reciting his side of the story as if discussing the weather, Hurley maintains that Doomadgee fell while being led into his office. Yet two separate autopsy reports show multiple injuries, including four broken ribs and a liver nearly severed in half that could have only been caused by hard blows to the body. Was a fall responsible for Doomadgee’s organ being cut almost in two and leading to his loss of life? Aborigines didn’t think so, and rioted when investigators declared his death an accident. They also set “The Tall Man’s” house on fire.
Eventually, Hurley was charged with manslaughter, the first time a police officer was put on trial for the death of an Indigenous person. Yet, unbelievably, he remains free today still working in law enforcement in another town. Dazzling cinematography, hypnotic music and poignant interviews with Doomadgee’s family, friends and attorney makes this film hard to forget.
In stark contrast to the giant-like Hurley, a little person is the subject of Samoa’s first full-length narrative, “The Orator.”
Featuring all Samoan actors, this film presents landscape so lush that the breezes from billowing palm trees can almost be felt, likewise the drumming rainfall and simmering sun.
Saili (Fa’afiaula Sanote) is a dwarf with a regular-sized wife, Vaaiga (Tausili Pushparaj). Whether her daughter, Litia, is also Saili’s is hotly debated, but bigger problems brew on the horizon. Bullied, laughed at, and constantly teased, Saili works in his taro patch by day and as a watchman by night, sitting on his mat in the dark in front of the general store. Although small in stature, he possesses a man-sized heart and is the rightful heir to his late father’s chiefdom. But a lack of oratory skills and his diminutive physique makes that impossible. The tradition of two chiefs in disagreement, airing their grievances by squaring off with each other holding staffs and orally presenting their cases, is beyond Saili’s reach—or so he believes.
Meanwhile, Vaaiga’s brother arrives, demanding that his sister return to their village following years of her banishment. Blaming his injury that won’t heal on their dead parents’ despair over her abandoning their family, he is relentless. When Saili is forced to perform as an orator, no one is more surprised at the results than him. A fully textured, fascinating tale, this film is so audio and visually rich that you can almost smell the leaves being woven into mats.
Ever since the internment of Japanese Americans became more widely known, there’ve been many stories told about their hideous experiences behind barbed wire. But “The Manzanar Fishing Club” takes a different angle.
In this documentary, former internees and their families discuss how they managed the stress of being imprisoned in their own country. Fighting against boredom, and hoping to elicit a temporary feeling of freedom, they determined how to escape past guards with machine guns and searchlights to the nearby waters of the Sierra Nevada. There, they fished.
For avid fishermen and women, there are meticulous instructions about the best bait and how to create rods with bamboo brooms. But beyond those dialogues, including the varieties of fish caught, the defiance of the internees is clear. Their disobedience against the injustice of being interned is realized in their simple act of going fishing.
Archival footage includes hysterical anti-Japanese sentiment while cooling lakes contrast with the omnipresent dust of Manzanar. By announcing each interviewee’s original California hometown, then their camp’s block, barrack and apartment numbers, the film is a reminder of how innocent lives were wrongly disrupted.
“The Tall Man,” and “The Orator” played at the Seattle International Film Festival in May while “The Manzanar Fishing Club” opened June 1 at the Varsity theater.