Summary

On an isolated island in the Indian Ocean, land crabs migrate in their millions from the jungle to the sea. The same jungle hides a high-security Australian detention centre where thousands of asylum seekers have been locked away indefinitely. Their only connection to the outside world is trauma counsellor Poh Lin Lee.

 

About

Located off the coast of Indonesia, the Australian territory of Christmas Island is inhabited by migratory crabs travelling in their millions from the jungle towards the ocean, in a movement that has been provoked by the full moon for hundreds of thousands of years.

Poh Lin Lee is a “trauma therapist” who lives with her family in this seemingly idyllic paradise. Every day, she talks with the asylum seekers held indefinitely in a high-security detention centre hidden in the island’s core, attempting to support them in a situation that is as unbearable as its outcome is uncertain.

As Poh Lin and her family explore the island’s beautiful yet threatening landscape, the local islanders carry out their “hungry ghost” rituals for the spirits of those who died on the island without a burial. They make offerings to appease the lost souls who are said to be wandering the jungles at night looking for home.

ISLAND OF THE HUNGRY GHOSTS is a hybrid documentary that moves between the natural migration and the chaotic and tragic migration of the humans, which is in constant metamorphoses by the unseen decision-making structures.

Crew

For full crew biographies please see here.

Director & Writer: Gabrielle Brady
Narrative practice consultant:Poh Lin Lee
Cinematographer: Michael Latham
Sound Designer: Leo Dolgan
Composer: Aaron Cupples
Editor: Katharina Fiedler

First AD: Zena Kells
Script Consultant: Lillah Halla, Francoise Von Roy, Noelia Lacayo
Researcher: Florian Kunert

Research Advisor: Arthur Floret
Producers: Alex Wadouh, Samm Haillay, Alex Kelly, Gizem Acarla, Gabrielle Brady
Co-Producer: Julie Niethammer
Produced by: Chromosom film Germany, Third film UK, echotango Australia, Various films Germany
Additional Editor: Iara Rodriguez Vilardebo

Editing Consultant: Benjamin Mirguet
Field Producer: Dani Yannoulis
Website design: Miranda Grant
Color grade: Aline Biz
Post Production house: Moonlight Barcelona
Supported by: British Film Institute (UK), WDR (Cologne), Film- und Medienstiftung NRW (Cologne), MBB (Berlin), Bertha Foundation and Screen Territory (Australia)

Reviews & Awards

REVIEWS

“The best documentary award goes to a film that demonstrates extraordinary mastery of the full symphonic range of cinematic tools: cinematography, editing, score, sound design and, perhaps greatest of all, an exquisite use of metaphor. To a film that moved us deeply, impressed us immensely and made us feel we were witnessing nothing less than the emergence, fully formed, of a major new cinematic talent”

– Tribeca Jury

“[A] poetic profile of the forgotten asylum seekers detained on Christmas Island… Lush cinematography… Timely subject matter.” 

– Laurence Boyce, Screen International

“Gorgeous… [A] beautifully rendered portrait of an alien landscape… Reality is suspended and in its place Brady’s surrealist dreamscape, shot breathtakingly by Michael Latham, becomes an all-encompassing tribunal on man’s inhumanity to man in a clandestine landscape filled with lost spirits.” 

– Pamela Cohn, Filmmaker Magazine.com

“A fascinating metaphoric collision.” 

– Scott Macaulay, Filmmaker Magazine.com

“[A] standout… This is a film that lingers with you long after it’s gone.” 

– Patricia Aufderheide, Documentary.org

“ Island of the Hungry Ghosts is one of the year’s most impressively made documentaries, a film that’s as occasionally surreal as it is persistently moving. Island of the Hungry Ghosts is a true discovery.”

– Joshua Brunsting, Criterion Cast.

( ★★★★ out of 5) – Amber Wilkinson, Eye For Film

“There is a true ruminative beauty here in Brady’s impressionistic portrait of this haunted island out of time.”  

– Chris Barsanti, The Playlist

“A documentary overflowing with empathy, poetry, and elemental power.”  

– Hubert Vigilla, Flixist

“The magic of documentary filmmaking comes alive in this film… A thunderstorm of sensation… A powerful statement.” 

– Briana Atkins, The Knockturnal

“Hauntingly beautiful.”  

– Helen Kaplow, Indie NYC

“Hauntingly beautiful Island of the Hungry Ghosts combines multiple narratives…into one glorious whole… Powerful cinema… A mesmerizing work of visual wonder, the breathtaking images forming an evocative setting for a vital discussion of human rights… A rapturous viewing experience… A stunning, visceral first feature, announcing the director as a major talent to watch”  

– Christopher Llewellyn Reed, Film Festival Today

AWARDS

TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL

Award for best documentary film

VISION DU REEL

Buyens-Chagoll Award

EDINBURGH FILM FESTIVAL

Special Jury Mention

MUMBAI INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL

Grand jury prize for best film

IDFA

Human rights award

CRESTED BUTTE FILM FESTIVAL

Award for  Best documentary

ADELAIDE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL

Winner best documentary film

ZURICH HUMAN RIGHTS FILM FESTIVAL

Winner Mercurius prize  

VALETTA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL

Award for best documentary film

DARWIN INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL

Award for best documentary film

FESTIVAL DES LIBERTES

Winner best documentary film

CINEMA EYE AWARDS

Nominee, Spotlight award

AUSTRALIAN CINEMA AWARDS

Nominee, best sound

Nominee, Best cinematography

BRITISH FILM AWARDS

Nominee, Best music