Letters to Ali (2004)

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Released 16-Mar-2005

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Documentary Main Menu Audio
Featurette-Q & A At Melbourne International Film Festival
Additional Footage-Including Extended Interviews
Notes-Newspaper Article
Notes-Where Is Ali Now?
Web Links-Resource Weblinks
Theatrical Trailer
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 2004
Running Time 104:51 (Case: 106)
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (85:02) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Clara Law
Studio
Distributor

Madman Entertainment
Starring Trish Kerbi
Clara Law
Eddie Ling-Ching Fong
Rob Silberstein
Emma Silberstein
Rian Silberstein
Hannah Silberstein
Erin Silberstein
Malcolm Fraser
Ian McPhee
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $34.95 Music Paul Grabowsky


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.78:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

“Children must not be put in jail without just cause...”

Malcolm Fraser
Australian Prime Minister (1975-83)

    The premise for this film could not be simpler - it is almost a road movie, but the story revolves around a complex and controversial topic - the imprisonment of refugees, especially children in detention centres around the country. At the time of filming there were more than 100 minors locked up in the five detention centres around Australia. Just think about that for a minute. 100 children having years of their precious childhood taken away from them because politicians think it is helping the greater cause. That is really what this film is about - making the viewer question practices such as those.
   
     Letters To Ali is the personal journey of a very average Melbourne family, who decide to make some sort of contribution to the suffering of the refugees in Australia by writing to Ali - a 15-year-old Afghani boy locked up with no family at the Port Hedland detention centre since 2001.

    Trish Kerbi is an average woman from an average family - a GP and mother of four, who felt she wanted to learn more about the plight of those locked up for years on end with no indication of what their future might hold. She started writing letters to young Ali (it's not his real name - and his entire identity is masked in the film), who had been holed up at Port Hedland for a year after fleeing the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. With her husband and four children, the family established a bond with Ali over a lengthy period, which resulted in Trish penning a letter to The Age newspaper about the contact and what it meant to her. This letter was spotted by filmmaker Clara Law, herself an immigrant from Hong Kong in 1995 and someone interested in the plight of people seeking a haven in our magnificent land. She decided to drop everything and turn the story of Ali into a film.

    This is the story of that ordinary Australian family and their long trip, by road, from Melbourne to Port Hedland to visit with Ali. Clara and her cameraman husband Eddie travel along with them through the heart of Australia's outback. They call the trip "The Long March", through some of the most amazing outback landscapes ever captured with a simple mini DV camera.

    This is a touching journey, made with almost no budget and with the help of lots of people from diverse backgrounds. It follows the journey of discovery for Trish and her family, but also Clara and Eddie as they see for the first time the true outback of their adopted country. When the group marvels at how much space we have in Australia and how we seem so unwilling to share any of it with the world, it will certainly have you questioning the current policy of instant detention for any refugees imposed by the Howard Government.

    The group makes it to Port Hedland, but with cameras not allowed in the detention centres, we see no images inside or of Ali. We only get to hear the descriptions from the children, who paint these centres as a place best described by the youngest child when she says "I'm glad we are only visiting".

    There are interviews with former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser and Immigration Minister Ian McPhee which give some indication that Australia in the 1970s was far more generous and giving than the current climate of fear perpetuated by the leaders of this country. After visiting Ali the story continues with Trish's efforts to have him granted a bridging visa allowing him to come and live with them in Melbourne.

    This simple film should spark something within us all, to question what our leader's intentions really are when they say that locking up children is for the best. If it merely creates a small amount of national discussion on the subject it has achieved its aim. It should be compulsory viewing for all.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    The video transfer is in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is 16x9 enhanced.

    Shot on a mini DV camera, do not expect anything more than an average level of sharpness and clarity here. This is an ultra-low budget production (so low I don't think the director had any budget at all) and as such the production values reflect the amount of money the crew had at their disposal. The quality of the lighting varies - with some of the interviews looking a little dark and grainy, while the outdoor scenes are bright and vivid. The inability to keep the camera steady when driving in the cars across the corrugated roads of outback Australia also adds to the low budget look.

    There are no compression artefacts and there are no video artefacts

    Disappointingly there are no subtitles available.

    The disc is dual layered with the layer change at 85:02.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    There's only one audio option available here, this being a Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo soundtrack.

    The dialogue is prominent and well placed in the soundtrack, though the quality of the recording is at times on par with that found in a home video style of production. Lots of wind and general chatter going on in the background can interfere with what you are trying to hear. There are no audio sync problems.

    There's a little music present. Composed and played by Paul Grabowsky it is subtle and thought-provoking.

    There is no surround or subwoofer use.



Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Main Menu Audio

Featurette - Q&A  At Melbourne International Film Festival

    A week after the world premiere of the film, the director Clara Law, Trish Kerbi, former immigration minister Ian McPhee and human rights lawyer Julian Burnside took part in a question and answer session at the Melbourne International Film Festival. Lots of topics are discussed, though the moderator could have learnt to read properly. It runs for a lengthy 51:51.

Additional Footage

    Three different pieces of additional footage are included. First up is the full interview with former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser, who despite his famous "Life wasn't meant to be easy" quote from many years ago now comes across as a man with great compassion. The full interview runs for 24:10. Next is more interview footage with Trish Kerbi that runs for 7:10, and finally a little unused footage from the family on the road in the outback (7:30).

Notes - Newspaper Article

    This is a text reproduction of the original The Age newspaper article written by Trish Kerbi that inspired director Clara Law to make this film.

Notes - Where is Ali Now?

    Sadly this one page of text does not actually answer that question. Rather, it mentions that at the time of the DVD production he was still in detention.

Web Links

    Links through to several websites including the official site www.letterstoali.com and www.refugeecouncil.org.au.

Theatrical Trailer

    A nice little trailer that gets straight to the point and doesn't sensationalise or glamorise the story in any way. Runs for 1:52.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    This title is not available in Region 1.

Summary

    Letters To Ali focuses on one average family and their trip from Melbourne to Port Hedland to visit with a young refugee held in detention with whom they have made a bond. It is a journey of discovery for not just the family but the film crew and the viewer. It is the sort of documentary that should spark discussion in the community about our government's treatment of refugees and in particular children.

    The video and audio quality are fair based on the quality of the source.

    The extras are numerous.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Darren Walters (It's . . . just the vibe . . . of my bio)
Monday, March 07, 2005
Review Equipment
DVDDenon DVD-3910, using RGB output
DisplayLoewe Calida (84cm). Calibrated with Digital Video Essentials (PAL). This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Digital Video Essentials (PAL).
AmplificationHarmon/Kardon AVR7000.
SpeakersFront - B&W 602S2, Centre - B&W CC6S2, Rear - B&W 601S2, Sub - Energy E:xl S10

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