Utopia (2013 film)

Directed by John Pilger
Produced by John Pilger
Release dates
15 November 2013 (United Kingdom)
17 January 2014 (Australia)
Running time
110 minutes
Country Australia
Language English

Utopia is a 2013 documentary film written, produced and presented by John Pilger and directed by Pilger and Alan Lowery, that explores the experiences of Aboriginal Australians in modern Australia.[1][2] The title is derived from the Aboriginal homeland community of Utopia, Northern Territory, one of the poorest and most desolate areas in Australia.[3]


The film begins with Pilger's journey to Utopia to observe the changes that have occurred in Aboriginal Australia between 1985, when he featured the poverty in the documentary The Secret Country and the time of filming, 2013. After almost three decades, Pilger discovers that Aboriginal families are still living in extremely overcrowded and poorly sanitized asbestos shacks, and are plagued by easily curable diseases. The Secretary General of Amnesty International, Salil Shetty, who happens to be in Utopia at the same time as Pilger, ponders why one of the world's richest countries cannot solve the problem of Aboriginal poverty and states that the inequity and injustice could be fixed if the will to do so existed.[4][5] The film goes on to explore some of the issues currently afflicting Australia such as; failed health policies, Aboriginal deaths in police custody, mining companies failing to share the wealth they have acquired with the first Australians and the disputed allegations made by the media and government that there were pedophile rings, petrol warlords and sex slaves in Aboriginal communities and the resulting 2007 intervention. The film also features a visit to Rottnest Island, Western Australia, where an area that was used as a prison for Aboriginal people until 1931, has now been converted into a luxury hotel where tourists are not even informed of the island's brutal history.[4]

Utopia highlights that Aboriginal Australians in Australia are currently imprisoned at 10 times the rate that South Africa imprisoned black people under apartheid, rates of rheumatic heart disease and trachoma among Aboriginal Australians are some of the highest in the world and suicide rates are increasing, especially among youths.[3][4][6][7] Pilger informs viewers that unlike the US, Canada and New Zealand, no treaty was ever negotiated between the indigenous peoples of Australia and the colonists and that the abandonment of the mining tax in 2010 lost an estimated $60 billion in revenue, which he argues was more than enough to fund land rights and to end all Aboriginal poverty.[8]

Political impact

In Western Australia, the Police Minister was sent to a screening of Utopia by the state government, and the State Premier held discussions with Aboriginal leaders on some of the issues highlighted in the film.[9]

In the Northern Territory, government representatives were advised to defend the existing policies against any concerns raised by the community due to the film.[9]

John Pilger, when discussing the impact and relevance of Utopia stated:

That Australian governments believe they can manipulate and discriminate against Aboriginal communities in a manner that has been described in the UN as 'permissively racist' is astonishing in the 21st century. How ironic that as Nelson Mandela was buried and venerated, another form of the system he fought against was alive and well in Australia.
John Pilger, The Guardian.[5][10]



In Australia, the film was commended for its raw and powerful nature. Peter Galvin in a review for SBS gave the film 3 of 5 stars, commenting "despite its flaws in conception and coverage, this is an angry and sorrowful film about an important subject and it's typical of Pilger."[11] Eden Caceda from Filmink magazine described the documentary as a "bleak but powerful film" in which "Pilger reminds us that resolving the issues of Indigenous people is far from over".[12] Gerard Henderson, dismissing Pilger as a FIFOE (Fly In, Fly Out Expatriate), wrote in The Australian that the film contains "close to two hours of unremitting propaganda" in which the journalist "states and restates his case." Henderson also wrote that Pilger simply ignored Aboriginal leaders who did not fit into his thesis, those whom he considered "part of the political elite" in Australia.[13]

Australian of the Year and AFL player Adam Goodes found the silence about Utopia in mainstream Australia and the assertion that the film doesn't show the good or other side of Aboriginal Australia disturbing and hurtful and wrote in The Sydney Morning Herald that "Utopia has shown me how, over 225 years, the Europeans, and now the governments that run our country, have raped, killed and stolen from my people for their own benefit. The total injustices that have been played out since colonisation are absolutely shameful, and I now find it hard to say I am proud to be Australian."[14][15]

United Kingdom

David Parkinson, writing in Britain's Empire magazine, commented that "the filmmaker firebrand is in pungent form as he dismantles the hypocrisy of Australia's treatment of its indigenous peoples."[16] Charlotte O'Sullivan of the London Evening Standard wrote that "what brings the material alive is Pilger's visit to Mutitjulu" where an Australian Broadcasting Corporation television programme in 2006 concocted an entirely fictitious story about a pedophile ring run by community leaders, which led to police moving families off their land. "The final shocker is that the territory vacated turned out to be rich in minerals and is now being vigorously mined."[17]

Reviewing the film, Peter Bradshaw wrote: "The awful truth is that Indigenous communities are on mineral-rich lands that cause mouths to water in mining corporation boardrooms."[18] "When the subject and subjects are allowed to speak for themselves – when Pilger doesn't stand and preach – the injustices glow like throbbing wounds", wrote Nigel Andrews in the Financial Times, but the documentary maker "goes on too long. 110 minutes is a hefty time in screen politics, especially when we know the makers' message from scene one.[19]

According to Geoffrey MacNab, this "angry, impassioned documentary [reveals that] Indigenous communities still live in 'unchanging, shocking poverty'."[20] Mark Kermode wrote that the film amounts to a searing indictment of the ongoing mistreatment of the first Australians.[21]

Intended audience

Pilger states that Utopia was filmed for both Australian and international audiences.[5] He believes most Australians are mostly unaware of Indigenous history and culture.[5]


(As themselves)

International broadcasting

Country Network(s)/Station(s)
Australia (origin) SBS, NITV
New Zealand Māori TV
United Kingdom ITV

See also


  1. 1 2 Utopia (2013) at the Internet Movie Database
  2. John Pilger on breaking the Great Silence of Australia's past. The Irish Times, Donald Clarke, 15 November 2013. Retrieved 22 December 2013.
  3. 1 2 Crace, John (20 December 2013). "Utopia (John Pilger) – TV review". The Guardian. Retrieved 17 December 2014.
  4. 1 2 3 Waters, Marcus (17 January 2014). "Review: Pilger's Utopia shows us Aboriginal Australia in 2014". The Conversation. Retrieved 17 December 2014.
  5. 1 2 3 4 Laughland, Oliver (8 January 2014). "John Pilger: Utopia is one of the most urgent films I have made". The Guardian. Retrieved 17 December 2014.
  6. Page, Fleta (27 February 2014). "John Pilger hopes to open eyes to plight of Aboriginals with Utopia". The Canberra Times. Retrieved 17 December 2014.
  7. "The Elders' Report into Preventing Indigenous Self-harm & Youth Suicide" (PDF). Culture Is Life. Retrieved 17 December 2014.
  8. Drape, Julian (31 December 2013). "John Pilger's damning new film about indigenous Australia". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 17 December 2014.
  9. 1 2 "The Impact of John Pilger's Utopia" (PDF). John Pilger. Retrieved 17 December 2014.
  10. Farrell, Paul (3 March 2014). "Adam Goodes decries muted response to John Pilger film Utopia". The Guardian. Retrieved 17 December 2014.
  11. Galvin, Peter. "Utopia". SBS. Retrieved 23 March 2014.
  12. Caceda, Eden (9 January 2014). "Utopia". Filmink. Retrieved 23 March 2014.
  13. Henderson, Gerard. "John Pilger deploys a bludgeon against racists like us". The Australian. Retrieved 23 March 2014.
  14. Goodes, Adam (3 March 2014). "Hostility to John Pilger's film a denial of nation's brutal past". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 17 December 2014.
  15. "With Utopia, John Pilger wrings the heart but objectivity is not his forte". The Sydney Morning Herald. 9 February 2014. Retrieved 17 December 2014.
  16. Parkinson, David. "Utopia: John Pilger heads into Australia's red heart". Empire. Retrieved 23 March 2014.
  17. O'Sullivan, Charlotte (15 November 2013). "Utopia – film review". London Evening Standard. Retrieved 23 March 2014.
  18. Bradshaw, Peter (15 November 2013). "Utopia – review". The Guardian. Retrieved 23 March 2014.
  19. Andrews, Neil (14 November 2013). "Review – Utopia". Financial Times. Retrieved 23 March 2014.
  20. MacNab, Geoffrey (14 November 2013). "Film review: Utopia – John Pilger's documentary reveals 'shocking poverty' of Australia's indigenous communities". The Independent. Retrieved 23 March 2014.
  21. Kermode, Mark (17 November 2013). "Utopia – review". The Guardian. Retrieved 23 March 2014.
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