Don't let the word refugee fool you: review of Journey Beyond Fear

Journey Beyond Fear

Dir: Robyn Hughan

When you think of refugees what do you think of? Perhaps it’s desperate men, women, and children on a boat, buffeted by waves. Perhaps it’s hovering dust, gunfire, fighter jets overhead. Perhaps it’s sprawling tents and improvised huts stretching beyond sight under the scorching sun. 

The synopsis for Journey Beyond Fear starts with - A feature documentary told through the eyes of a teenage girl and her refugee family in pursuit of resettlement. 

But don’t let the word refugee fool you. This isn’t a story about refugees. This is a story about people, a story about family and aspirations. Journey Beyond Fear tells an altogether different story of refugees in the suburbs, waiting. Spirit-crushing waiting. Father and mother, Bismilla and Fatima, and their three daughters, Zahra, Zeinab, and Sakina live in a ghetto community on the fringes of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. They have been granted asylum via the U.N. humanitarian program and are awaiting resettlement in Australia. The threat is behind them but their future is still unknown. 

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First-time feature director, Robyn Hughan, handles the story of Zahra and her family with sensitivity and a giant heart. Ultimately, this is a story of kids wise beyond their years and parents desperate to give their kids the opportunity to thrive. 

Hughan employs traditional observational documentary techniques to allow Zahra to tell her own story. Over many years Hughan visited the family and that commitment and depth of relationship is evident on the screen. We feel that we know every member of the family. 

There are huge shifts in hope and confidence for each member of the family over the course of the film. Towards the start Fatima sits next to her daughter Zahra and tells the camera that she can see no future. She wishes she was dead like her friends that had drowned when their asylum seeker boat sank. The beauty of Hughan's technique is that Fatima is not left in that dark place. We see the whole family go through many experiences and emotions as they wait for news from Australia.

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We particularly feel for Zahra as she gives up school at 14 years old to go to work for $2 an hour in a clothes shop in a large shopping mall. At various times she expresses the hope of becoming a doctor or setting up an orphanage. Zahra has enormous drive and takes on much of the responsibility within the family. This sense of responsibility takes its toll when her hair begins to fall out and the stress causes her to attempt suicide.

The wonderful warmth and humour of the family members overcome their many struggles. The tough parts of their tale are interspersed by beautiful scenes of dancing together and approaching setbacks with jokes and love for each other.

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Ultimately, Journey Beyond Fear is less about whether or not the family is accepted into Australia as refugees and more about the hopes and dreams that every parent has for their children. It's about the desire to provide opportunities and to see their children thrive.

As refugee and migration policy is thrust into the spotlight once again in Australia in the lead up to the next federal election, Journey Beyond Fear provides a balanced and humane insight into Zahra's experience. 


Journey Beyond Fear is on extremely limited release around Australia. To find out if it’s coming to a screen near you hit their Facebook Page.