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The eponymous hungry ghosts are the souls of those who years ago came to Christmas Island and were left without burial. The local Chinese community believes that these ancestors should be fed – sacrificial gifts are burned for them in an appropriate ritual to soothe their restless sleep. Those ancestors who had died years ago were migrants who were looking for a new home on the virgin island.

Contemporary Christmas Island is still a place where restless souls, banished from their homes, are looking for a shelter. Located south of Java, the island, which is the outermost territory of Australia, is a buffer zone for refugees trying to get out of Asia. It is not great distances – or rough seas – that are an obstacle for them, but rather cogs of affectionless administration. This clerical vortex means that they do not know when (in a week, in a month, in a year) and whether they will be able to continue their journey to the promised land at all[1].

Island of the Hungry Ghosts is a fictionalized documentary. It tells a story about a psychologist – a descendant of former migrants – who deals with refugee matters on Christmas Island. A family idyll that she can experience outside of work is not enough to bear all the emotions associated with difficult stories and a sense of powerlessness in the face of the system’s rigidity in front of human tragedies.

Gabrielle Brady – Island of the Hungry Ghosts, still from the movie

This system has much greater empathy in its approach to the migrating red crabs that the island is famous for. The oldest of them still remember the first settlers. On the one hand, it is a beautiful metaphor for migration, on the other – roadways full of moving red remind us that all people are newcomers and the land is not given to humanity at all.

Gabrielle Brady created a fictionalized documentary in the style of slow cinema. Poetry will be intertwined with oneirism and restlessness of ghosts wandering at night, which one can almost see and hear looking at dark, threatening shots of the jungle. During the day, these ghosts would take the physical form of crabs, as well as people seeking for shelter.

Island of the Hungry Ghosts is therefore a film about hunger for wanderings, about life in constant motion – and stopping this motion is an act of brutality. It is a kind of lyrical manifesto of humanitarianism and freedom. It is a work that will reach sensitive people, causing tears and a feeling that humanity suffers from a disease called lack of empathy.


[1] Australia’s right-wing government policy has strongly tightened migration controls.

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Mateusz Tarwacki

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