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Those unfamiliar with Australian football are unlikely to become adherents after watching The Final Quarter, a documentary that weaves together archival footage to tell the story of Indigenous player Adam Goodes, whose outspokenness about racism led to a cavalcade of jeers and finally to his exit from the game.
Documentary-maker Ian Darling relies chiefly on broadcast footage, as well as upon newspaper headlines splashed across the screen, in retracing his tale. It begins in 2013 when Goodes, at that point a veteran of the game, singled out an opposing team’s supporter for calling him an “ape” during a match. The spectator, who turned out to be a 13-year-old girl, was promptly escorted from the stands by security, but in the aftermath Goodes was accused of victimizing and publicly humiliating a teenager. This despite the nuance with which he spoke about the incident, and his carefulness to lay the blame on her “environment,” rather than on the girl herself.
The president of the opposing team, Eddie McGuire — a former host of the local version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? — subsequently exacerbated the situation by suggesting, in an on-air interview, that Goodes be used to promote the forthcoming stage musical King Kong. The fallout inevitably led to a backlash against the fallout, in a manner familiar to anybody who’s cast a cursory glance at online comments sections, in which ‘over-sensitivity’ is positioned as an existential threat.
Just whose existence is being threatened, and by whom, is a subject canvassed by a procession of pundits once Goodes starts getting booed by fans of every stripe. Retired players such as Sam Newman, whose goblin-faced invective bookends the film, reassures Goodes he’s being jeered not because he’s black, but because he’s a jerk. Or, as right-wing columnist Miranda Devine has it, a “pillock.” While figures such as writer and broadcaster Waleed Aly are articulate in diagnosing what’s really driving the catcalls: a discomfort with uppity minorities.
Goodes himself recedes as the film goes on and the media barrage continues. So, too, do the boos — every time the player steps foot on the paddock, for more than sixteen weeks. He emerges before the fade-out as a thoughtful man, and not remotely strident, but one powerless to control snowballing events. Uncomfortable, too, in the middle of a media storm he never saw coming, and which seems never to abate.
Goodes was christened Australian of the Year in 2014, and a telling moment sees him asked about Australia Day (or Invasion Day, per its detractors), the annual commemoration of the First Fleet’s arrival. His response strives to acknowledge the hurt inflicted on Aboriginal peoples without sounding ungrateful for the honor just bestowed upon him, and it’s the futility of his efforts to tread this line — between calling a spade a spade and conciliation — that gives his media encounters their sense of discomfort, and of poignancy.
Perhaps fed up with just that kind of dance, Goodes celebrates a goal with a traditional war jig that culminates in the throwing of an imaginary spear, and talkback radio again lights up. The filmmaker’s sympathies are not in doubt, though his decision to avoid talking heads — relying instead on contemporaneous television coverage — makes his case stronger by giving all the fulminators enough rope to hang themselves. Darling presents a self-consciously larrikin culture in which the right to provoke is sacrosanct, and perceived pomposity is eagerly sniffed out.
Oz musicians Paul Kelly and Dan Sultan provide an original ballad for the film’s bleak coda, which brings the saga very much into the present tense. The fact it’s ongoing was underlined by an apology to Goodes issued by the sport’s governing body that directly preceded the film’s Sydney Film Festival premiere, and another documentary on the same subject is set to open the Melbourne International Film Festival in August.
Production companies: Thirty Seven Films, Shark Island Productions
Director: Ian Darling
Screenwriters: Mark Monroe, Ian Darling
Producers: Mary Macrae, Ian Darling
Editor: Sally Fryer
Music: Paul Charlier
Venue: Sydney Film Festival
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