IDFA Review: ‘The Australian Dream’ Powerfully Confronts with Truth
by Alex Billington
December 1, 2019
Wow wow wow. What a film…! I don’t know too much about Australia’s history nor do I follow the country’s current events, so going into this film I wasn’t sure what to expect. I didn’t know anything about the story it was telling. And there’s nothing like hearing a story for the first time: learning about all that has happened, the ups and downs, and the truths about what is really going on. The Australian Dream is a wonderful doc that focuses on an Australian sportsman named Adam Goodes. He plays the rugby-meets-cricket sport called “Australian rules football”, run by the AFL (the “Australian Football League”), and he is descendant from Aboriginal natives. The film tells his story and in doing so confronts latent Australian racism head on. And man oh man is it an absolutely fantastic film. I was moved to tears by this, multiple times near the end.
First things first, I’m glad Australians have been speaking up about this film. It premiered at the Melbourne Film Festival and many friends have been raving about it since then. I’m glad because this is what caught my eye, and when I saw the film on the IDFA schedule I made sure to make time for it. Yes it’s as powerful and as emotional and as remarkable as they’ve been saying. The title, The Australian Dream, is a reference to an idea similar to the “American Dream” – the right to a successful life in pursuit of happiness. Goodes wants – and even had – just that, but over the course of his sports career, he learns that racism is still a major part of Australian society, preventing aboriginals from having that same dream. And to truly support that dream, Australian’s need to be forced to look at their own racism and confront this problem directly before they can move forward together as one nation. If this sounds familiar, it’s a major issue in many countries these days.
The moment the film ended I was already ready to proclaim that it is one of the best docs of the year – hands down. The Australian Dream is a remarkably engaging, powerful doc that confronts Australian racism head on in the most heartfelt, caring way. It’s a deeply profound film. And unique in the way it simply shows the truth, even when the news media claims otherwise, they have the actual footage that proves it was all made up (he never said that, he never did this, despite them saying he did – which is often how racism works in order to discredit good people). Director Daniel Gordon handles Adam Goodes’ story with such great care and concern, yet it’s also a film that invigorates and encourages change by stirring up feelings. He wants to confront all of us and force us to deal with our demons, make us question whether we’re really as good as we say/think we are. Can we better? Sure we can, just listen to Adam’s story and importantly learn from him.
No need to worry – while it is a film about confronting racism head-on, it is not off-putting or aggressive or annoying. It’s a beautifully sensitive & understanding film, a loving look at how much compassion matters, and how telling the truth can (hopefully) make a difference. Goodes doesn’t want to cause more problems, he just wants to make people realize they are racist, and then educate them. Allow them to learn from their mistakes through compassion and understanding. I’m blown away by this film. So many twists and turns, so many shocking moments, yet it still feels optimistic. There’s this unwavering belief in goodness, something that seems to be especially rare, and Goodes is an embodiment of that – goodness as a force for change. His involvement and conversations are vital to understanding him, but simply telling his story in this fashion is an effective way at building empathy. I had no idea what was going to happen and I’m still so shocked by it.
Whenever I wonder whether documentaries can change the world, I think about films like this. I remember that films like The Australian Dream exist, they’re out there in the world, and they’re being seen and talked about, they’re riling people up. And maybe, just maybe, they can change the world. Maybe, just maybe, they tell a story in such an exhilarating way that it allows us the freedom to change our minds; to grow up and to own up to the truth about our past (whether it’s about Aboriginals, Native Americans, etc), to recognize our mistakes, and work to be better. We need more films like this that are heartfelt, sensitive, and provocative all at once. We need films that challenge preconceived notions and bitter bigotry. We need films that force us to have conversations we don’t want to have. This is one film that can maybe change things for the better.
Alex’s IDFA 2019 Rating: 9.5 out of 10
Follow Alex on Twitter – @firstshowing