Last week we previewed one type of short appearing at the ReelGood Film Festival (Saturday, Lido Cinemas) that has its own category at the Oscars: animated shorts. This week, we preview the second such sub-category, documentary shorts. Though as it would happen, two of the four documentaries we’re looking at today also feature animated portions.


The first of these is Alex Walton’s Above Water, which considers the harrowing period during COVID when seafarers — those employed on marine vessels, usually to ship cargo from one port to another — were stranded on their boats, awaiting any possible next course of action. Although COVID created unique circumstances for these labourers, we learn through interviews that being stranded at sea can occur for any number of other reasons, including the insolvency or changing hands of some other part of the complex supply chain that employs these workers.

Walton dives into the subject, as it were, both with the interview subjects, who include experts and the seafarers themselves, as well as animated recreations that create an impression what it was like to be on board one of these anchored ships for untold months, when the seafarers gradually lost their grip on their sanity, to say nothing of how they missed their families back at home. There’s a sickly green or yellow pallor to this increasingly grimy dungeon in which these men — mostly men, anyway — found themselves for sentences of unknown duration, sometimes with no ability to even contact home.


The animation also assumes the form of flashback, but to a more distant past, in Forgiveness Day, Derek Ho’s autobiographical quest for forgiveness that has had a showcase on the New York Times website. His transgression? He outed his brother to their father when they were teenagers. Ho discovered gay pornographic magazines in his brother Jeremiah’s underwear drawer, and in part to cover his shame over being excited by them himself, he told his father about them, tearing their family apart.

Jeremiah now volunteers as a tutor for his local church in Singapore, and the 12-minute film considers how Derek is seeking his own sort of forgiveness on the international day devoted to that gesture. Forgiveness Day touches on difficult questions of how homosexuality is viewed in traditional families and in the church, and it doesn’t always find easy answers, but does find an abundance of grace in its presentation.


The third film finds a man on the far side and beyond of accepting his homosexuality: after his long-time partner has died. In Acts for the Invisible, director Kate Vinen gives a portrait of Australian fashion icon Alistair Trung at a moment of great personal and professional change. His partner has died, and Alistair acknowledges he is not coping particularly well — in fact, we may be witnessing sort of a mini breakdown. Alistair has also had professional troubles, as his shop is closing and he is writing inscrutable slogans on paper and taping them to the windows.

However, art may be his salvation. A clothing designer, Alistair is throwing his energies into visual art composed of salvaged materials, and it may just be key to getting through this. Vinen uses beautiful cinematography to capture snapshots of the man in a state without personal or professional precedent, and we just hope we are seeing a phoenix rising from the ashes rather than a man on his final descent.


The last film today digs deep into Australian history, exploring the internment of Japanese Australians during World War II. Gabriel Murphy’s Enemy Alien depicts the memories of Broome native Joseph Marukami, whose family was detained shortly after the Japanese attacked Darwin. Marukami documented these memories in a 1988 letter, and Murphy recreates them by casting a real family to play the Marukami family, with Joseph’s very words providing the narration.

The film looks at the disorientation and dislocation from the perspective of a child who never consider himself anything but a native of the country in which he was born, and we see over the course of the 12 minutes a picture of a man who suffered a life-long alienation from that country through its prejudiced and fear-based wartime acts. We won’t spoil what became of the man, but it provokes the sort of contemplation we all should be undertaking especially at a moment of heightened danger for those who society deems to be “other.”

Tickets for Saturday’s ReelGood Film Festival, which kicks off promptly at 10 a.m. at Lido Cinemas in Hawthorn, can be purchased here. Stay tuned for our final festival preview on Friday as we consider the dramatic shorts.