Photo: Tribeca Film Festival
Before We Vanish by Mattie Lucas Film

Island of Hungry Ghosts | Gabrielle Brady

April 11, 2019

The foggy shores of Australia’s Christmas Island become a crossroad for migrants of both the human and animal variety in Gabrielle Brady’s haunted and moody new documentary, Island of Hungry Ghosts. The film chronicles not only Christmas Island’s famous crab migration, but also its lesser known high security encampment that houses thousands of refugees seeking asylum in Australia. In an ironic juxtaposition, Brady explores the ubiquitous crabs’ journey to the sea with the stagnation of the asylum-seekers trapped in what is essentially a glorified prison, treated as criminals for the simple act of seeking a better life. The animals are free to carry on with their ancient journey, lead by an instinct to procreate and seek a better life for their children, while the humans are punished for similar desires.

While the film deals with Australian immigration practices in particular, one can’t help but recognize the universal plight of the displaced currently facing immigrants in Donald Trump’s America, and across Europe. Island of Hungry Ghosts feels like a rebuke to right-wing populism and anti-immigrant sentiment, yet Brady also avoids turning his film into a simple polemic, eschewing rhetoric for an intrinsic humanity. Here, on an island made famous by migratory animals, Brady paints a poetic, and at times chilling, portrait of life in transit, of a struggle for survival as old as time now playing-out in both the macro and the micro; an eternal flux on a tiny island, at a time when humans are treated with less dignity than the lowest creatures.

Published as part of Before We Vanish | Issue 3.