KANGAROO: A LOVE-HATE STORY, Australia, 2018.Directed by Kate McIntyre Clere, Michael McIntyre. 100 minutes. Rated M (Mature themes and scenes of animal slaughter).
For audiences who want to see close-ups of kangaroos, front on, profiles, individuals hopping, groups hopping, mothers with Joeys in their pouch, this film offers many opportunities.
But, a warning, this is a very strong documentary about kangaroos and their treatment in Australia, especially the hunting down of kangaroos, their being seen as “pests and plague” and their being culled, shot, not always immediately killed, and some brutal bashings.
As can be seen by the title, this is not only a partisan documentary about the kangaroo situation in Australia but it is quite militant. The directors have spent a great deal of time travelling around Australia, photographing the kangaroos, getting photos of night culls, and interviewing a great number of people.
There is great deal of reflection on the symbolism of the kangaroo and the new and the ironic comments that these two symbols, on our coins, notes, symbolically above the new Parliament house, have a history of being eliminated. Some of the Americans interviewed the film cannot understand this, offering the opinion that kangaroos a great tourist draw. And, probably for many city Australians this is true as well.
The film also traces the history of the use of kangaroo as meat, for pet food in past decades, then to using restaurants, the issues are exporting kangaroo meat and some of the bands that have occurred, for instance in Russia and in California (and subsequent Australian lobbying in both territories). It also traces the history of the use of kangaroo hides and kangaroo leather, with some testimony by David Beckham about football boots and English and other teams choose to the use of this leather in their countries.
So, there are a lot of visuals which are particularly disturbing – especially taken by a couple in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales where they had set up a free zone farm but are bordered by farmers who eliminate the kangaroos. And some of this testimony film has been presented to governments, especially New South Wales – with regretful comments that enquiries have been closed down. Significant in the film is the Upper House politician, Mark Pearson, staunch supporter of animal rights.
The talking heads in the film are not completely partisan. There are a number of farmers who give their views, indicate the destruction of grazing country by the kangaroos, seeing them as a pest to be eliminated in the area. There are also parliamentarians who speak about farmers rights as well and is emphasising the importance for kangaroo meat and trade connections.
The directors have lined up a significant group of talking heads to alert the audience about the role of kangaroos, the value of the statistics/or not about their being pest and plague, on conservation, preservation. They include Tim Flannery, strong spokesman on the environment. There is also Peter Singer noted for his comments on animal welfare. There is Terry Irwin speaking about zoos. There is a character from outside Alice Springs who calls himself Kangaroo Dundee who does tourist tours for kangaroo-seekers. Other speakers include politicians as well as tax expert, Kevin Henry.
So, the love-hate of the title is well to the fore in the film.
Documentaries like this, while they promote a cause, can foster conversations, changes of mind and attitude, appeals to the public, possible political changes and economic changes.
Not always easy to sit through, but a significantly provocative documentary, especially for Australian audiences.
Released March 15th.
Peter Malone MSC is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.