Reviewed by GREG KING
Directors: Michael McIntyre, Kate McIntyre Clere.
Not to be confused with the 1986 adaptation of the controversial D H Lawrence novel that starred Judy Davis and Colin Friels, or even the 1952 drama that starred Maureen O’Hara and Peter Lawford, this Kangaroo is a documentary that explores the dichotomy of feelings for our iconic national symbol. The documentary has been produced by filmmaking couple Michael McIntyre (Aussie Rules The World) and Kate McIntyre Clere (Yogawoman) and is certainly a far heavier documentary dealing with more serious issues than those films.
The kangaroo is on our coat of arms and our national airline (QANTAS), and our national sporting teams proudly sport its name. But many regard the kangaroo as a pest. And although supposedly a “protected species”, kangaroos are being slaughtered by professional hunters and then sold for profit as meat and a number of other products on the international markets, including studs for soccer boots.
This is a complex issue. The film looks at the kangaroo from both a cultural, environmental and political perspective, and the filmmakers interview some 46 people during the film. There are interviews with environmentalists like Tim Flannery and Terri Irwin, through to activists like Diane Smith and Greg Keightly, who, at the risk of their own lives, have been shooting footage over the years that show the brutal reality of the kangaroo hunts. Baby joeys are ripped from their dead mothers’ pouches, and brutally bashed to death against the bumper bars of trucks. Kangaroos are dismembered, diseased carcasses are carried on the back of utes, and many kangaroos are badly wounded and left to die in agony.
Aboriginal elder “Uncle Max” Dulamunum Harrison talks of the spiritual connection between his people and the kangaroo. Then there is Mark Pearson, an animal rights activist who was elected to Parliament on his platform of protecting animals. He has been actively trying to get a ban on kangaroo meat imports to Russia, due to the fact that much of the meat itself in unhygienic and loaded with diseases. But then there are the government agencies and spokespeople who say that the kangaroo culls are necessary because the population is out of control. And the cattle farmers claim that the kangaroos are pests that destroy their livelihood and defend the need for regular culls.
There are lots of talking head interviews here that present both sides of the argument with passion and conviction, but it is clear where the filmmakers’ attitudes lie. They wear their hearts on their sleeves here. Audiences will remember the disturbing scenes of the drunken, frantic kangaroo hunt from the classic 1971 film Wake In Fright, but those images have nothing on some of the brutal imagery presented by the filmmakers here. They certainly don’t pull their punches in showing the ugly reality of the night time culls. Some of the footage is truly ugly and deliberately confronting.
Kangaroo is a piece of eco-activism, along the lines of documentaries such as the Oscar winning The Cove and Blackfish, which were extraordinarily effective in rousing public sentiment against animal cruelty.
But it is not all dark and downbeat. McIntyre, also a cinematographer, has shot some incredibly beautiful footage of the outback and drone footage captures the majestic grandeur of the kangaroos in full flight, bounding across the harsh desert landscapes.
The McIntyres cover plenty of ground in the film, which was shot over a period of four years, and provide plenty of food for thought. The footage has been deftly edited together by veteran Wayne Hyett (The Castle, etc). David Bridie’s musical score evokes an element of intrigue and danger.