Audiences bring a lot to the table when we watch movies. Our expectations and emotions have a huge effect on our viewing experience. This is particularly true for The Australian Dream, the highly anticipated documentary focusing on the booing of star footballer Adam Goodes. Because the film tackles a story which is still fresh in Australia’s memory, its success hinges on whether or not its audience walks into the cinema prepared to open their hearts and minds – and not just to Goodes. The film is likely to attract a crowd prepared to empathise with him. But in crafting this documentary, writer Stan Grant and director Daniel Gordon set themselves had higher ambitions. Instead of winning sympathy for Goodes, the aim is to change the way Australians think and talk about race.
The twilight of Goodes’ playing career is defined by his effort to draw attention to racism in sport. The Australian Dream picks up where he left off, bringing the conversation into a new arena. But Goodes’ story shows us exactly how the film may fail. Towards the end of the film, as a chorus of voices rises to deny that booing Goodes was racist, the enormity of the film’s ambitions are obvious. Once the film leaves the relative safety of the festival circuit, there’s every chance it will be greeted with the same chorus that drove Goodes into early retirement.
In spite of this, The Australian Dream is an earnest attempt to open up a conversation about race and cultural differences in this country. It makes room for Eddie Maguire and Andrew Bolt to share their perspectives. Although others have criticised Bolt’s inclusion, his presence sets the backdrop against which Goodes played out the last months of his career. His and Maguire’s interviews also show that some of the loudest voices criticising Goodes at the height of the scandal are still reading from the same script. This is important, because as an audience, we would prefer to believe that things are better now.
It’s easy enough to nod along with Goodes and Grant as they lay out an aboriginal perspective on the infamous booing saga. But The Australian Dream is at its best when it asks us to examine our own decisions, language and mistakes. Maguire’s defence of the comments he made on radio is a speech that many of us have made from time to time.
Some films measure their success in dollars, others in critical acclaim. The Australian Dream is likely to do well by both standards. It will be years before we know how successful it is in reshaping the national discourse. It’s certainly an important film for Australians to watch. It’s a moving and informative portrait, not just of Goodes or even football, but ourselves. It’s certainly worth watching.