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The Tall Man (2011)

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Documentary about the events on Palm Island that follow the death of local indigenous man Cameron Doomadgee on November 19, 2004.

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Storyline

This is the story of Palm Island, the tropical paradise where one morning Cameron Doomadgee swore at a policeman and forty-five minutes later lay dead in a watch-house cell. This is also the story of that policeman, the tall enigmatic Christopher Hurley who chose to work in some of the toughest and wildest places in Australia, and of the struggle to bring him to trial. The Tall Man is a story in luminous detail of two worlds clashing - and a haunting moral puzzle that no viewer will forget. Written by Chloe Hooper

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Life in Paradise. Death in Custody

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Documentary

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2 March 2011 (Australia)  »

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AUD 1,110,000 (estimated)
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(HD)

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16:9 HD
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How an 'accident' changed a community - and the law
6 January 2012 | by (Canberra, Australia) – See all my reviews

Palm Island is a very beautiful little island off the tropical Queensland coast of north-east Australia. It is isolated socially, if not geographically, from the rest of the world. A century ago, it was a church mission, the destination of people who gave 'trouble' in mainland missions. The population tended to be Australian aboriginal, or from Pacific islands. In another culture, Palm Island would be an idyllic resort, with fishing, boating and all the attractions that money can buy. But Palm Island has no industry of note. Unless you count 'welfare' as industry.

An odd background to this story is that Queensland in the '80s had the lowest rate of reported domestic violence in Australia, with the highest rate of Aboriginal incarceration. Later studies showed that Queensland police officers had themselves a bad record of domestic violence.

The death of an Aboriginal man minutes after being arrested for being drunk and disorderly was apparently so important that the arresting officer released without charge at the same time a violent man who confessed to bashing his wife. The police claimed the death was an accident. The post-mortem showed injuries typical of a calamitous motor accident. The police officer was acquitted of manslaughter after a coroner named him. Another inquest many years later revealed that various police officers had lied, connived, and ignored positive evidence of an eyewitness.

This documentary is in the finest tradition of Australian reportage. Considering the final outcome (the Queensland government paid substantial compensation to the victim's family) this is a well-balanced story, beautifully photographed. There are no actors, but the natural love of the camera by the Aboriginals makes it a moving and memorable film. Police refused to help with the film, but the editor has cut into the story sequences shot on police video. The contrast between the shots of violence and the cutaways to serene landscapes is heart-stopping.


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