AN ISLAND CALLING (Annie Goldson, New Zealand). 75 minutes. Thursday (April 24), 7:15 pm; Friday (April 25), 2:15 pm, ROM. Rating: NN
There’s a misconception that strong storytelling and compelling characters only matter in fiction, not documentary. Annie Goldson’s flawed An Island Calling shows that that’s just not so.
She’s got a fascinating subject involving murder, sex, race and colonialism, but she loses grasp of her material, the story meanders, and the viewer never gets a good grasp on the story or its people.
The film’s centred around the murder of John Scott and his partner Greg Scrivener in the Fijian town of Suva. Scott’s great-grandfather was one of the missionaries who brought Christianity to Fiji more than a century earlier. Ironically, the pair were killed by a homophobic bible-thumping Fijian man who was one of their former friends.
Goldson spends a lot of time filling in the subtle changes in Fiji’s political and social history, from its colonial past through to its independence and repeated political coups. She doesn’t make any of this terribly interesting.
Worse, one of her main characters is John’s brother Owen, who had written a book about his family history and his brother’s death. Owen has a cool, detached presence that sucks any life out of the film. There seems to be little at stake for him, and he regards everything he sees and hears with the same bemused half-smile.
We get many talking heads representing various levels of society. Some of them are compelling, others aren’t. You get the nagging feeling that some questions have gone unanswered, some mysteries unexplored.
For one thing, Goldson never interviews the pair’s killer, Apete Kaisau, who’s still alive and living in a psychiatric hospital. Although we do get sympathetic interviews with his two parents, a glimpse into Apete’s mind would have humanized the story and added another layer of complexity.