Likely to be extremely controversial when aired on network TV in Australia later this year, the candid docu “Maverick on a Mobile” is a study of Graeme Campbell, an Australian federal member of Parliament reckoned by many to be on the far right wing of the political spectrum. Filmmaker Graham Chase depicts Campbell’s many contradictions and reveals him to be more complex than many would have supposed. As a result, pic will be praised or damned, depending on the political leanings of the viewer. It preemed to a mostly hostile crowd at the Sydney fest.
For several years Campbell represented the vast West Australian district of Kalgoorlie, for the Labor (left-of-center) Party. His territory, described as six times the size of Japan with only 70,000 voters, many of them aboriginal, is based on an old mining town. But prior to the 1995 general election, Campbell, known for speaking his mind, alienated his party’s leaders with his opposition to further immigration (widely seen as being directed at Asian and Middle Eastern migrants), to the official policy of multiculturalism and to ATSIC, the body that funnels government funds to aboriginal communities (which he sees as a faction-ridden bureaucracy).
His suggestion that the Labor prime minister, Paul Keating, could best serve Australia by dying (“Have a state funeral!”) also didn’t endear him to members of his party. Labor withdrew its endorsement of Campbell, who promptly stood as an independent, and Chase filmed him in the closing days of an increasingly bitter campaign.
Much of the film’s drama centers on an election-eve interview of Campbell by a young female reporter from a local TV channel, who asks him to comment on the use of the word “gin” by one of his supporters. (“Gin” is a derogatory description of an aboriginal woman, and has much the same connotation as “slut.”) Though Campbell states he’d never use the word himself, he refuses to condemn its use on the grounds of freedom of speech, and is soon faced with angry demonstrators outside his office, all fodder for the evening news. This lengthy sequence, the best in an uneven film, vividly shows the way an insignificant incident can be blown out of all proportion by the media.
Ironically for a man who wants to end immigration to Australia, Campbell himself migrated to the country from Britain, while his wife and invaluable supporter, Michelle, came from France. Answering charges of hypocrisy, Campbell claims that immigration was beneficial to Australia 20 or 30 years ago, but not now.
Chase, like all docu directors, is selective in what he shows of Campbell, and the film, which climaxes when the controversial politico retains his seat with an increased majority while Labor loses the election, makes a hero of a man many Australians would consider a bigot or worse.As a documentary, “Maverick on a Mobile” is rudimentary and shallow and unlikely to be of interest outside Australia, where the likely controversy it creates will be out of proportion with its qualities. It was a curious choice for a festival screening.