REVIEW: An Island Calling
New Zealand director and producer Annie Goldson has built her career on telling deeply emotional stories, often involving family members going back to where a loved one has died and makings sense of their story. An Island Calling follows this formulae, and along the way it shows us the story of modern Fiji itself.
The brutal murder of John Scott, Head of Fiji’s Red Cross, and his gay partner is still clouded in rumour and political mystery. In a country that has become increasingly fundamentalist, many regarded the couple with hostility. Allegations of drug use, pornography and rent boys circled. Shortly before his death, Scott came to international acclaim helping hostages during the 2000 coup. Was his murder a political assassination; the result of a soured love affair or an act of insanity?
This award winning documentary uses the murders to examine Fiji’s history over the past 50 years. Narrated by Scott’s brother, it’s a moving tale of colonial privilege, evangelical Christianity and a country still deeply divided. Goldson has some evocative cinematography of the island country and its people, the beaches and sea, the jungle and the towns, which come to life before your eyes and draw you into this idyllic paradise. She is an accomplished director, and even when lingering on historical photographs, she pans across a photo album in such a way that is lingering and hypnotic, evocative and tender.
Goldson spends considerable time telling the family story and showing the backdrop of colonial privilege that the indigenous people themselves did not have. This is the real guts of the film and it’s a fascinating portrait of a time gone by, captured through footage of the time. After Fiji was made a British colony in 1874 sugarcane was planted as a cash crop, and Indians brought in from the other end of the Empire to be the slaves. Their rise as a demographic and political force changed the face of Fiji, and set them against the indigenous Fijians, who allied with the British Colonialists.
As Fiji endures two coups in the name of Fijian nationalism, John Scott’s position in the community becomes endangered. Scott bravely represented the Red Cross and helped liaise and protect hostages, and received death threats in return. After the coup fizzled, Scott and his lover were murdered.
Goldson then traces the story of Scott’s killer, visiting his family and giving deeper context to the whys and wherefores of his murderer. The rise of fundamentalist Methodist Christians, whose power base supported the coup, saw a vilification of gays.
Interestingly, interviewees say “there’s a lot of promiscuity in Fiji, and many men have sex with other men, but don’t consider themselves gay. As long as you don’t wear it on your sleeve” and be public about it, it’s condoned. John Scott, however, crossed that line.
Finally, having John’s brother both narrate and share this journey with the viewer puts us in the emotional hotseat in this intimate and evocative film which answers a lot of questions. But the issues around gay rights and equality in Fiji it raises, remain.
Watch this film