Screened as part of NZIFF 2002
Troubled Waters, produced for SBS in Australia, is exactly the kind of documentary that, were it not for the parlous state of New Zealand current affairs programming, we could expect to see on television any night of the week. Although its format is very traditional, it’s a tradition of meticulous investigative journalism that we don’t see nearly enough of.
The filmmakers, Ruth Balint and Erika Addis, succinctly expose the manifest injustice of the prosecution and persecution by the Australian Ministry of Fisheries of traditional Indonesian fishermen. Their film methodically documents the peculiarly vicious treatment of these people by the Australian government and the complementary injustice that awaits them back home.
Australia’s annexation of the oceans has had a devastating impact on the fishermen of the island of Roti in the Timor Sea. They are waterlocked by the Commonwealth’s Exclusive Economic Zone and obliged by the legislation of their neighbour to set out in primitive boats. This ban on technology alone has been responsible for 150 deaths in the past decade. And when these unpowered vessels, forcibly deprived of sophisticated navigation equipment, drift into Australian waters, the fishermen are ruthlessly prosecuted, incarcerated in maximum security prisons (in direct contravention of UN conventions), and their boats are destroyed. Troubled Waters further raises the possibility that the authorities are deliberately dragging the procedural chain to force guilty pleas, while at the same time withholding legal aid.
When the fishermen finally return home, implacable economics force them back out onto the ocean, and back into the crushing arms of the Australian Coast-watch. Blasé justice officials parrot rationalisations, but the heart of this film is the gripping testimony from the men in prison, powerless but articulate and angry, and the women they are forced to leave behind, again and again. — Andrew Langridge