John Pilger’s Utopia screens in Nimbin this week

ON SET: Filmmaker John Pilger pictured during the filming of his TV documentary Utopia.
ON SET: Filmmaker John Pilger pictured during the filming of his TV documentary Utopia.

"ABOUT 200 miles from Alice Springs, I'm heading into the red heart of Australia. It's a region known as Utopia. The poorest place in Australia. It's the home of the first Australians."

This is how journalist and filmmaker John Pilger opens his film, Utopia.

The trailer is sometimes hard to watch, announcing topics such as concentration camps, the Stolen Generations, denial and racism.

Pilger asks some tough questions with this film: Has the "lucky country" inherited South African apartheid? How could this happen in the 21st century? What role has the media played?

Utopia is both a personal journey and a universal story of power and resistance.

It focuses on how modern societies can be divided between those who conform and a dystopian world of those who do not conform.

It is also our own story as a nation.

Utopia had its Australian premiere in the urban heart of indigenous Australia, The Block in Redfern, Sydney, in January 2014.

Four thousand indigenous and non-indigenous Australians attended to hear the call for a renewed struggle for justice for Australia's first people.

On January 26, 2016, John Pilger spoke at a rally at Sydney Town Hall on the hidden meaning of Survival Day.

"Why are we here? Why are we doing this every January 26 - year after year?" Pilger asked.

"Of course, we know why - Indigenous people are saying to Australia: 'Look, we are still here. We have survived the massacres and the cynicism. We have survived'.

"Yes, yes, they say, we understand. We have a place for you on the great Australian facade, next to Qantas and Anzac and Fair Go. Their delusion is that as long as Indigenous people have a token role in the theatre of Australia Day, then all is well. As long as there's a bit of dancing and a smoking ceremony down by the Harbour Bridge, then all is well."

John Pilger was born and grew up in Bondi, Sydney.

He launched his first newspaper at Sydney High School and later completed a four-year cadetship with Australian Consolidated Press. Pilger and two colleagues left for Europe in the early 1960s.

They set up an ill-fated freelance agency in Italy (named Interep) and quickly went broke.

Arriving in London, Pilger freelanced, then joined Reuters, moving to London's Daily Mirror, Britain's biggest-selling newspaper, which was then changing to a serious tabloid.

His numerous documentaries on Australia, notably The Secret Country (1983), the bicentenary trilogy The Last Dream (1988), Welcome to Australia (1999) and Utopia (2013), revealed much of his own country's "forgotten past".

At the Nimbin Bush Theatre tomorrow Friday from 5.30pm. $10.

Topics:  documentary film

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