When a person attends a documentary film festival with the breadth of True/False it is 1) impossible to catch all the films, and 2) hard to rank them. They are hard to rank because they all deal with different subjects and contain very different backgrounds. But some do stand out. One did for me this year.

Island of Hungry Ghosts is the portrait of Christmas Island – off the coast of Australia – and the interweaving liminalities inside its coastline. The island itself has only recently been inhabited by humans, for only a century or so. Its very location lends itself to liminal status. But what happens there makes it even more so and director Gabrielle Brady will not let us miss it.

The migration of the red crabs is a phenomenon which is embraced and recognized by the whole island. Humans watch and even assist the great passage  of the crabs from land to sea and the laying of eggs. As the crabs continue their cyclical trek other things are happening. They bring a luster of timelessness to unfolding and cyclical creation. They have been here before us and will most likely be here after us.

The Chinese continue to assist the ghosts of their ancestors who never received a proper burial. The spirits are lost, caught in-between, souls that never received a proper send off. Many of the past immigrants came alone, leaving family behind, and became more or less indentured slaves, an involuntary permanent liminality from which they could not pass. Today their descendants strive to assist them on their way with prayers, rituals and chants.

Therapist Poh Lin Lee moved to the island to assist in providing counsel to the traumatized. Her clients are international immigrants to Australia who have been separated from their families and moved from one “dark” detention to center to another, Christmas island being one of them. She struggles to provide help as she watches the trauma inflicted by a cruel detention tear her clients down faster than she can help them heal. And eventually she comes to the conclusion that she can no longer be complicit in a system that does this to people and uses social workers and therapists to create the illusion that they are humane when they are not.

Crabs, unsettled spirits, and detainees. In transit. Stuck. Longing to be set free. Waiting to depart and arrive, to be connected – to the sea, to the place of the ancestors, to family and home wherever home can be. And we move with them in one way or another, if not through our own parallel experiences, then in the recesses of the heart, the place where we are most honest and lucid, the most conscious part of us where we know, deep down, that nothing is forever, everything changes, and the island hosts the fleeting and the forever at the same time.

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