Self-distribution and Mary meets Mohammad: towards ethical witnessing
Heather Kirkpatrick's Mary Meets Mohammad is a noteworthy case study of an Australian documentary feature that was not only privately funded, but one that was also used in unconventional community screenings and social media publicity to eventually get the attention of the mainstream media, distribution networks and human rights film festivals. In other words, it bypassed the local and international film festival exhibition route traditionally used by independent film-makers, yet still received a Walkley Award nomination. What is significant in this case is not the distribution/exhibition context in isolation, but how this intersects with the political content of the film (based on an unlikely friendship between an elderly Tasmanian woman and a Muslim Hazara asylum seeker) to invoke particular responses and establish a dialogue. In this article, I will simultaneously map the screening trajectory of the film, the growing responsiveness of the mainstream media and film distribution networks to the very existence and content of the documentary and the framing devices utilised by the film-maker to advocate for refugees in a way that is most likely to resonate with Australian audiences who might otherwise be indifferent or unsympathetic to the plight of asylum seekers. This simultaneous mapping falls within the framework of ‘ethical witnessing’, that is examining the content and reception of a media text to understand how it facilitates a range of ethical and dialogic responses amongst its audiences.