THE TALL MAN, 2011
This is the story of Palm Island, the tropical paradise where one morning Cameron Doomadgee swore at a policeman and forty-five minutes later lay dead in a watch-house cell. This is also the story of that policeman, the tall enigmatic Christopher Hurley who chose to work in some of the toughest and wildest places in Australia, and of the struggle to bring him to trial. The Tall Man is a story in luminous detail of two worlds clashing - and a haunting moral puzzle that no viewer will forget.
The Tall Man seems like the kind of documentary built for easy answers. In 2006, an aboriginal resident of Palm Island, Australia was found dead in his cell, 45 minutes after being taken into custody for public drunkenness. Cameron Doomadgee's death is the impetus for this film, a chance to take a look at one event as a microcosm for the racial tensions at the heart of so much of Australian life. However, what sets The Tall Man - based on the book of the same name by Chloe Hooper - apart is its willingness to explore all avenues, and the presence of interviewees who are as concerned with the grey areas as the film itself.
Cameron's family give heart-wrenching accounts of what happened, but they are also upfront about the difficulties within their own community: alcoholism, domestic abuse and a seeming epidemic of suicide among these people that has since taken the lives of Cameron's son and a key witness. However, the ills at the heart of this community pale in comparison to the murky events surrounding Cameron's death, and the police intervention that tainted the case beyond recognition.
What many would admit began as a loss of temper in an arrest case (and it's relieving for the documentary to so fully explore how suspect Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley is by no means some racist monster) became collusion among friends and the wider force, eventually culminating in a police march to protest Hurley's innocence. That the Queensland police union still can't see the horrific conflict of interest in marching to protect a man suspected of murder exposes a much more widespread problem in Australian society.
From the opening shots of the paradise that is Palm Island, through to increasingly upsetting interviews with friends, families, and people who have been split by this debate, The Tall Man seeks to open up this Pandora's Box forcefully - but rather than letting everything tumble out it looks at each piece with crystal clarity. This was, in many ways, a terrible heat of the moment act which became a racial issue through collusion and cover-up, and the film is at its strongest when interviewees acknowledge this fact.
One would hope that exposing this grave miscarriage of justice (Hurley remains free) might shock those involved into action, but as the head of the police union describes aborigines and the police as "two minority groups" it becomes clear: these people are painfully unaware of the divisions they've created, and the carelessness with which they wield their power. A sad, thorough and beautifully shot piece that stands as a testament to the wrongness and conflict of a people divided by history.
CLICK the LINKS and EXPLORE