Well May You Ask That, Pontius Pilate: Carlos Gonzalez’s Robbed Of Truth

The premiere of Carlos Gonzalez’s film Robbed Of Truth at AFTRS last night, a very good film, became in the Q&A period after it as ugly and unpleasant an occasion as I’ve experienced since my house burned down in 1993. A Judgment At Nuremberg situation, with the war criminals on Skype awaiting interrogation, dwindled into a fifteen-person mud-wrestle-at-one-remove and it needn’t have, and the lady moderator was a bigger idiot than Bronwyn Bishop, and I’m still simmering down.

The story so far. Carlos, an Oscar-nominated Venezuelan cameraman based in LA, shot some of a film called Stolen, reviewed below, for the beautiful, tempestuous Bolivian actress-turned-auteur Violeta Ayala and her meek blond Bondi lover/producer Dan Fallshaw who resembles a heartbroken Peter Weir. It was a film about Fetim, a black Saharawi schoolteacher in in a West Sahara refugee camp, finding again at last her birth-mother, whom she had been separated from by the Moroccan Conquest when she was four, and an auntie took her away to safety on the other side of a very big wall. A quarter of a million dollars of Australian taxpayers’ money was to be spent on this first-time director, and a film on this subject, and a good deal of shooting among sandhills in a muddy, mysterious village sluggishly occurred.

A chance remark, however, mistranslated, and a couple of body-language events, misunderstood, suggested to the highly suggestible Violetta that Fetim was her auntie’s slave. Slavery persists, she decided, in the camps, and it is imposed or prolonged by the Polisario, an exact equivalent of the Fretilin, fighting for the Sahawarans’ liberty against the tyrannous Moroccans, who are currently oppressing and starving them, much as the Israelis from time to time oppress and starve the Gazans, the way such conquerors do.

More shooting occurred, and Violetta and Dan had a hairsbreadth midnight escape from death, we are told, at the hands of the fiendish Polizario, re-created on the Cronulla sandhills, then were captured, tortured, released and paid by the suddenly saintly Moroccans to fly to America and give lectures praising this dodgy verminous monarchy in rousing public events in New York. It is to be noted at this point that Morocco is a dictatorship, and the system in the camps a communitarian democracy.

Some of their film was stolen by the Moroccans, they allege, I’m not sure why. But they glued together what they could and they released it on the festival circuit, and got a lot of prizes for it, largely because of the camel-killing sequence, described below, which they paid the delighted villagers to enact on film, a festive luxury they could not, as slaves, afford, of course, and had not enjoyed for about thirty years. No releases were signed by the participants, and three young men in need of the money were flown to Mauritania and agreed that they, indeed, were slaves, though somehow able to get to Mauritania despite the shackles and whips of their masters.

Fetim, however, turned up at the 2009 Sydney Film Festival, showed by her passport and her frequent holidays in Spain that she was (allegedly) no slave, and she had a husband working in Cuba as an engineer (a person whose existence the film had suppressed, implying she was a single supporting mother), and the whole thing in her view was a pack of lies. She said that what they said she had was a mistranslation, and provided three translators who said that what she said, because of a confusion of tenses, common in that language, was the opposite of what they had said she had said. Dan would not let her speak when she stood up to do so (there is film of this in Carlos’s film, and I was there and can vouch for it), said he pitied her because the Polisario was making her tell these lies, doing so, he said, by threatening the lives of her children — one of whom is at university in Spain — and a shouting-match between me and them and Philippe Mora occurred in a bar, and Matt Peacock on The 7.30 Report formed the same view as us, that they were (probably) cons and nutters and fantasists and exploiters of some Third World people who had housed and fed and trusted them, people whom, to the best of my knowledge, they had failed to pay a penny of their quarter of a million dollars apart from the money expended on the shrieking, struggling, howling butchered camel.

None of this would be remarkable — there have been propagandists for dictatorships before and bipolar fools before and there will be again — except for the fact that some Australian documentary icons, Tom Zubrycki and Bob Connolly among them, sided with the ‘young filmmakers’ and alleged that ‘both sides of the story had not been told’, and a great wave of public feeling followed suit, in favour of this massive expenditure on this now notorious untruth.

And so it was that in this mood Carlos’s film was shown to a mixed and mutinous audience at AFTRS, and a chairperson, xxx, announced at 8.10 that we had to be out of there by 9.05 and she would interview Carlos for forty minutes and then take questions — OR STATEMENTS — from the audience and from the perspiring, embattled Dan and Violetta endlessly waiting up on skype, and then favoured us with her own heroic autobiography for a couple of minutes while we looked at our watches apprehensively.

Her redundant conversation with Carlos then took place — what is your film about, she asked him, and we had just seen it — for, amazingly, only twenty minutes, and a logjam of multidirectional fury in the audience vented garrulously all over the occasion BEFORE Dan and Violetta, screaming in their turn on skype, were allowed to talk over the chairperson, who kept yelling back at their giant images up on the screen, shut up, she said, shut up, and it got to be twenty past nine and a woman kept asking will you all please leave now and I’ve rarely had a lousier time in my life. I and Philippe and Meredith Burgmann co-starred in the film, and it would have been nice to discover how it might have gone down with an unbiased audience but this was not, alas, to be.

I will write more about this after viewing the response to it which Matt Peacock, who was I think as angry as me, is going to put on 7.30 tonight. I note that the Sydney and Melbourne Film Festivals have refused to screen Carlos’s film; of course they have. Why show two sides of anything? This is what our democracy is all about now: the Official Story, and no dissenters.

I hope Dan and Violetta do not henceforth have a day’s luck, and Hell has a special chapter for them, in which Gerard Henderson and Rolf Harris sing Abba favourites to them in duet for all eternity.

  1. Paola Bilbrough

    hi Bob, how strange and disappointing -Carloz’s film screened in Melbourne at the beginning of the year to a very receptive and engaged audience…

    what the hell is wrong with the festivals??? i thought dissent was a good thing? And why is it that violetta’s film has been embraced as the official story? is because mainstream australia are comfortable thinking of Africans as slaves?

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