Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Zacharia dreams of building a school in the South Sudan village he left as a refugee long ago. His English language teacher in Australia thinks it’s a great idea, and so do some of her friends, who rally round to raise funds. He flies back to South Sudan and is reunited with relatives, friends and neighbours, all of whom are keen for the project to happen. What could possibly go wrong?

Plenty, as it turns out. A fundraising project takes Zacharia on a long walk from Tweed Heads to Sydney. He meets the locals on the way, and some people donate: so far, so heartwarming. But the fundraising efforts falter, while back in the village, there are unforeseen issues.

This film, shot over a five-year period in South Sudan and Australia, raises important questions about the nature of community development projects, and to whom they belong. The project begins with ‘by the book’ development practice – involving the local community in decision making, ensuring they invest in the project through contributing their own labour, and building the local economy by paying for bricks to be made on-site.

As events pan out, however, we find that ‘good development’ cannot take place separately from its environment, and the ongoing war and local politics present some unforeseen twists and turns in Hope Road. The project shape-shifts in response to changes in its environment, while its supporters in Australia struggle to work out what comes next.

Film maker Tom Zubrycki resists offering any easy conclusions, while implicitly raising the question of who ‘really’ owns the development project. Is it Zacharia, who conceived of it, those who donated money to it, or its supposed beneficiaries? The coda presents another layer of complexity as Zacharia encounters problems in his family life that may or may not be related to his commitment to the project.

There is much to ponder in this provocative movie, which reminds us of the power of diaspora communities to make changes both in their countries of origin and their new countries of settlement, while also offering a view of human vulnerabilities. – Delia Paul

  • Hope Road will screen at Armagh in Melbourne on Frday 21 June at 7 pm. For more information, see there event post here or contact Delia Paul