Utopia (2013 film)

Last updated

Utopia (2013 film).jpg
Directed by John Pilger
Country of originAustralia
Original languageEnglish
ProducerJohn Pilger
Running time110 minutes
Original release
  • 15 November 2013 (2013-11-15)(United Kingdom)
  • 17 January 2014 (2014-01-17)(Australia)

Utopia is a 2013 documentary film written, produced and presented by John Pilger and directed by Pilger and Alan Lowery, that explores the experiences of Aboriginal Australians in modern Australia. [1] [2] The title is derived from the Aboriginal homeland community of Utopia, Northern Territory, one of the poorest and most desolate areas in Australia. [3]



The film begins with Pilger's journey to Utopia to observe the changes that have occurred in Aboriginal Australia between 1985, when he featured the poverty in the documentary The Secret Country and the time of filming, 2013. After almost three decades, Pilger discovers that Aboriginal families are still living in extremely overcrowded and poorly sanitized asbestos shacks, and are plagued by easily curable diseases. The Secretary General of Amnesty International, Salil Shetty, who happens to be in Utopia at the same time as Pilger, ponders why one of the world's richest countries cannot solve the problem of Aboriginal poverty and states that the inequity and injustice could be fixed if the will to do so existed. [4] [5] The film goes on to explore some of the issues currently afflicting Australia such as; failed health policies, Aboriginal deaths in police custody, mining companies failing to share the wealth they have acquired with the first Australians and the disputed allegations made by the media and government that there were pedophile rings, petrol warlords and sex slaves in Aboriginal communities and the resulting 2007 intervention. The film also features a visit to Rottnest Island, Western Australia, where an area that was used as a prison for Aboriginal people until 1931, has now been converted into a luxury hotel where tourists are not even informed of the island's brutal history. [4]

Utopia highlights that Aboriginal Australians in Australia are currently imprisoned at 10 times the rate that South Africa imprisoned black people under apartheid, rates of rheumatic heart disease and trachoma among Aboriginal Australians are some of the highest in the world and suicide rates are increasing, especially among youths. [3] [4] [6] [7] Pilger informs viewers that unlike the US, Canada and New Zealand, no treaty was ever negotiated between the indigenous peoples of Australia and the colonists and that the abandonment of the mining tax in 2010 lost an estimated $60 billion in revenue, which he argues was more than enough to fund land rights and to end all Aboriginal poverty. [8]

Political impact

In Western Australia, the Police Minister was sent to a screening of Utopia by the state government, and the State Premier held discussions with Aboriginal leaders on some of the issues highlighted in the film. [9]

In the Northern Territory, government representatives were advised to defend the existing policies against any concerns raised by the community due to the film. [9]

John Pilger, when discussing the impact and relevance of Utopia stated:

That Australian governments believe they can manipulate and discriminate against Aboriginal communities in a manner that has been described in the UN as 'permissively racist' is astonishing in the 21st century. How ironic that as Nelson Mandela was buried and venerated, another form of the system he fought against was alive and well in Australia.

John Pilger, The Guardian . [5] [10]



Peter Galvin in a review for SBS gave the film 3 of 5 stars, commenting "despite its flaws in conception and coverage, this is an angry and sorrowful film about an important subject and it's typical of Pilger." [11] Eden Caceda of Filmink described the documentary as a "bleak but powerful film" in which "Pilger reminds us that resolving the issues of Indigenous people is far from over". [12]

Gerard Henderson, dismissing Pilger as a FIFOE (Fly In, Fly Out Expatriate), wrote in The Australian that the film contains "close to two hours of unremitting propaganda" in which the journalist "states and restates his case." Henderson also wrote that Pilger simply ignored Aboriginal leaders who did not fit into his thesis, those whom he considered "part of the political elite" in Australia. [13]

Kieran Finnane of Alice Springs News criticised the film, writing that "The film cannot rightly be called 'documentary' or 'journalism' if those words are still to have any standards attached to them. It does not ask questions, other than ones Pilger thinks he knows the answers to and to which he can lead his interviewee. It does not seek out or fairly treat a single dissenting point of view. It does not recognise complexity. It has all the irksome smugness – and the sing-song voice to boot – of a man in a pulpit who is quite sure of being right." [14]

AFL player Adam Goodes found the silence about Utopia in mainstream Australia and the assertion that the film doesn't show the good or other side of Aboriginal Australia disturbing and hurtful and wrote in The Sydney Morning Herald that "Utopia has shown me how, over 225 years, the Europeans, and now the governments that run our country, have raped, killed and stolen from my people for their own benefit. The total injustices that have been played out since colonisation are absolutely shameful, and I now find it hard to say I am proud to be Australian." [15] [16]

United Kingdom

David Parkinson, writing in Britain's Empire magazine, commented that "the filmmaker firebrand is in pungent form as he dismantles the hypocrisy of Australia's treatment of its indigenous peoples." [17] Charlotte O'Sullivan of the London Evening Standard wrote that "what brings the material alive is Pilger's visit to Mutitjulu" where an Australian Broadcasting Corporation television programme in 2006 concocted an entirely fictitious story about a pedophile ring run by community leaders, which led to police moving families off their land. "The final shocker is that the territory vacated turned out to be rich in minerals and is now being vigorously mined." [18]

Reviewing the film, Peter Bradshaw wrote: "The awful truth is that Indigenous communities are on mineral-rich lands that cause mouths to water in mining corporation boardrooms." [19] "When the subject and subjects are allowed to speak for themselves – when Pilger doesn't stand and preach – the injustices glow like throbbing wounds", wrote Nigel Andrews in the Financial Times , but the documentary maker "goes on too long. 110 minutes is a hefty time in screen politics, especially when we know the makers' message from scene one. [20]

According to Geoffrey Macnab, this "angry, impassioned documentary [reveals that] indigenous communities still live in 'unchanging, shocking poverty'." [21] Mark Kermode wrote that the film amounts to a searing indictment of the ongoing mistreatment of the first Australians. [22]

Intended audience

Pilger states that Utopia was filmed for both Australian and international audiences. [5] He believes most Australians are mostly unaware of Indigenous history and culture. [5]


(As themselves)

International broadcasting

Australia (origin) SBS, NITV
New Zealand Māori TV
United Kingdom ITV

See also

Related Research Articles

Stolen Generations Indigenous Australian children forcibly acculturated into White Australian society

The Stolen Generations were the children of Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent who were removed from their families by the Australian federal and state government agencies and church missions, under acts of their respective parliaments. The removals of those referred to as "half-caste" children were conducted in the period between approximately 1905 and 1967, although in some places mixed-race children were still being taken into the 1970s.

John Pilger Australian journalist

John Richard Pilger is an Australian journalist, writer, and documentary filmmaker. He has been mainly based in Britain since 1962.

Arnhem Land Region in the Northern Territory, Australia

Arnhem Land is a historical region of the Northern Territory of Australia. It is located in the north-eastern corner of the territory and is around 500 km (310 mi) from the territory capital, Darwin. In 1623, Dutch East India Company captain Willem Joosten van Colster sailed into the Gulf of Carpentaria and Cape Arnhem is named after his ship, the Arnhem, which itself was named after the city of Arnhem in the Netherlands.

Mutitjulu Town in the Northern Territory, Australia

Mutitjulu is an Aboriginal Australian community in the Northern Territory of Australia located at the eastern end of Uluru. It is named after a knee-shaped water-filled rock hole at the base of Uluru, and is located in the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. Its people are traditional owners and joint managers of the park with Parks Australia. At the 2011 census, Mutitjulu had a population of 296, of which 218 (71.2%) were Aboriginal.

Larissa Behrendt

Larissa Yasmin Behrendt is a legal academic, writer, filmmaker and Indigenous rights advocate. As of 2020 she is a Professor of Law and Director of Research and Academic Programs at the Jumbunna Institute for Indigenous Education and Research at the University of Technology Sydney, and holds the inaugural Chair in Indigenous Research.

Marcia Lynne Langton is the Redmond Barry Distinguished Professor at the Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, University of Melbourne. In 2016 she became distinguished professor and in 2017, associate provost.

Lajamanu, Northern Territory Town in the Northern Territory, Australia

Lajamanu is a small town of the Northern Territory in Australia. It is located around 557 kilometres from Katherine and approximately 890 kilometres from Darwin. At the 2006 census, Lajamanu had a population of 669, of which 92 percent are of Aboriginal origin.

Rosalie Kunoth-Monks

Rosalie Kunoth-Monks, also known as Ngarla Kunoth, is an Australian film actress, Aboriginal activist and politician.

Utopia, Northern Territory

Utopia is an Aboriginal Australian homeland area formed in November 1978 by the amalgamation of the former Utopia pastoral lease with a tract of unalienable land to its north. It covers an area of 3,500 km2 (1,400 sq mi), transected by the Sandover River, and lies on a traditional boundary of the Alyawarre and Anmatyerre people, the two Aboriginal language groups which predominate there today.

<i>The War on Democracy</i> 2007 film directed by Christopher MartinJohn Pilger

The War on Democracy is a 2007 documentary film directed by Christopher Martin and John Pilger, who also wrote the narration. Focusing on the political situations in nations of Latin America, the film criticizes both the United States' intervention in foreign countries' domestic politics and its "War on Terrorism". The film was first released in the United Kingdom on 15 June 2007. Critics accuse the film of fostering anti-American sentiment.

Little Children are Sacred, or Ampe Akelyernemane Meke Mekarle is the report of a Board of Inquiry into the Protection of Aboriginal Children from Sexual Abuse, chaired by Rex Wild and Patricia Anderson. Commissioned by the government of the Northern Territory, Australia, the report was publicly released on 15 June 2007.

Robert James "Bob" Randall was an Aboriginal Australian elder, singer and community leader. He was a member of the Stolen Generations and became an elder of the Yankunytjatjara people from Central Australia. He was the 1999 NAIDOC Person of the Year. His 1970 song, "My Brown Skin Baby They Take Him Away," is described as an "anthem" for the Stolen Generations. He was known by the honorific "Tjilpi", a word meaning "old man" that is often translated as "uncle". He lived in Mutitjulu, the Aboriginal community at Uluru in the Northern Territory of Australia.

Anthony Hayward is a British journalist and author. He is a regular contributor to The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph, The Independent and the i, and has written more than 20 books about television and film. The subjects of justice and censorship have been constant themes throughout his work. "Hayward is particularly good on conflicts with authority," wrote one critic reviewing his biography Which Side Are You On? Ken Loach and His Films.

<i>Welcome to Australia</i> 1999 Australian film directed by Alan Lowery

Welcome to Australia is a 1999 Carlton Television documentary, written and presented by John Pilger and directed and produced by Alan Lowery that demonstrates the injustices endured by Aboriginal Australian sportsmen and women who were, until recently, denied a place on Australia's olympic teams.

<i>Our Generation</i> (film) 2010 Australian film directed by Sinem Saban Damien Curtis

Our Generation is a 2010 Australian documentary film about the struggle of Aboriginal Australians in the Northern Territory to retain their land, culture and freedom.

The Ngaanyatjarra, Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara Women's Council is a community based community organisation formed in 1980 delivering services to the Ngaanyatjarra, Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara women in the central desert region of Australia across the borders of the Northern Territory, South Australia, Western Australia with its headquarters in Alice Springs. It provides a range of community, family, research and advocacy services.

Bruce Pascoe is an Aboriginal Australian writer of literary fiction, non-fiction, poetry, essays and children's literature. As well as his own name, Pascoe has written under the pen names Murray Gray and Leopold Glass. Since August 2020, he has been Enterprise Professor in Indigenous Agriculture at the University of Melbourne.

The Secret Country: The First Australians Fight Back is a 1985 television documentary made for the British Central Independent Television company by writer/presenter John Pilger and producer/director Alan Lowery. It details the persecution of Aboriginal Australians and Torres Strait Islanders throughout Australia's history.

Vincent Forrester

Vincent Forrester is an Aboriginal Australian activist, artist and community leader. Forrester was a founding member of a number of Aboriginal organisations in central Australia. He lives at Mutitjulu, where he has served as the chairman of the community council. During the 1980s, he served as an advisor on indigenous affairs to the governments of Malcolm Fraser and Bob Hawke.

Glenn Skuthorpe is an indigenous Australian country musician from Goodooga, New South Wales. His indigenous heritage is Nhunggabarra, Kooma and Muruwari and his musical influences include Hank Williams, Tex Morton and Archie Roach. He has released six albums independently, including Out of the Darkness (2001), Restless Souls (2004),See My World (2017) and Wild Winds of Dooga (2018). His songs have featured on compilations such as Fresh Salt (2002), Home (2013), Buried Country (2014) and in films including Emu Runner (2018) and John Pilger's documentary, Utopia. Skuthorpe is a regular performer on the Australian country music festival circuit and tours extensively from his home in South Australia.


  1. 1 2 Utopia (2013) at IMDb
  2. John Pilger on breaking the Great Silence of Australia's past. The Irish Times , Donald Clarke, 15 November 2013. Retrieved 22 December 2013.
  3. 1 2 Crace, John (20 December 2013). "Utopia (John Pilger) – TV review". The Guardian . Retrieved 17 December 2014.
  4. 1 2 3 Waters, Marcus (17 January 2014). "Review: Pilger's Utopia shows us Aboriginal Australia in 2014". The Conversation. Archived from the original on 17 December 2014. Retrieved 17 December 2014.
  5. 1 2 3 4 Laughland, Oliver (8 January 2014). "John Pilger: Utopia is one of the most urgent films I have made". The Guardian . Retrieved 17 December 2014.
  6. Page, Fleta (27 February 2014). "John Pilger hopes to open eyes to plight of Aboriginals with Utopia". The Canberra Times . Retrieved 17 December 2014.
  7. "The Elders' Report into Preventing Indigenous Self-harm & Youth Suicide" (PDF). Culture Is Life. Retrieved 17 December 2014.
  8. Drape, Julian (31 December 2013). "John Pilger's damning new film about indigenous Australia". The Sydney Morning Herald . Retrieved 17 December 2014.
  9. 1 2 "The Impact of John Pilger's Utopia" (PDF). John Pilger. Retrieved 17 December 2014.
  10. Farrell, Paul (3 March 2014). "Adam Goodes decries muted response to John Pilger film Utopia". The Guardian . Retrieved 17 December 2014.
  11. Galvin, Peter. "Utopia". SBS . Retrieved 23 March 2014.
  12. Caceda, Eden (9 January 2014). "Utopia". Filmink . Retrieved 23 March 2014.
  13. Henderson, Gerard. "John Pilger deploys a bludgeon against racists like us". The Australian . Retrieved 23 March 2014.
  14. Finnane, Kieran (27 January 2014). "Pilger's polemic fails Australia and Aborigines". Alice Springs News. Retrieved 11 March 2021.
  15. Goodes, Adam (3 March 2014). "Hostility to John Pilger's film a denial of nation's brutal past". The Sydney Morning Herald . Retrieved 17 December 2014.
  16. "With Utopia, John Pilger wrings the heart but objectivity is not his forte". The Sydney Morning Herald . 9 February 2014. Retrieved 17 December 2014.
  17. Parkinson, David. "Utopia: John Pilger heads into Australia's red heart". Empire . Retrieved 23 March 2014.
  18. O'Sullivan, Charlotte (15 November 2013). "Utopia – film review". London Evening Standard . Retrieved 23 March 2014.
  19. Bradshaw, Peter (15 November 2013). "Utopia – review". The Guardian . Retrieved 23 March 2014.
  20. Andrews, Neil (14 November 2013). "Review – Utopia". Financial Times . Retrieved 23 March 2014.
  21. Macnab, Geoffrey (14 November 2013). "Film review: Utopia – John Pilger's documentary reveals 'shocking poverty' of Australia's indigenous communities". The Independent . Retrieved 23 March 2014.
  22. Kermode, Mark (17 November 2013). "Utopia – review". The Guardian . Retrieved 23 March 2014.