Review – Between the Devil & the Deep Blue Sea (2011)

Director: David Schmidt

Starring: Jessie Taylor, Ali Reza Sadiqi

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue SeaArguably the biggest political and humanitarian issue facing Australia over the last decade is that of asylum seekers, or “boat people” as they are un-affectionately known. The discourse over this issue is made up of voices from all sides; the left and the right, shock-jocks, politicians, activists and journalists. But the one group of voices that we consistently don’t hear from are the boat people themselves. David Schmidt’s documentary Between the Devil & the Deep Blue Sea seeks to make those voices heard, to humanise this issue and in doing so explore the question of what compels a person to become a boat person.

Young Melbourne lawyer Jessie Taylor and her friend and interpreter Ali Reza Sadiqi, himself a refugee, travel to Indonesia, the doorstep to Australia for asylum seekers, in order to meet with the men, women and children contemplating making the dangerous journey. Their stories expose us to not only the horrifying situations they are fleeing from – situations made all the more horrifying when they are being explained to you by children – and hopeless inefficiency of the official channels they are trying to follow.

Mostly the film is made up of on-location talking-head footage, but we also get to see footage taken inside a detention centre by a concealed camera Taylor wore under her headscarf. For mine though, the most harrowing image of the film is that of a rickety smugglers boat packed with people being pummeled against the rocks by rough seas.

The filming took place over two years, which means that we are able to get an idea of the progress of the journey. The picture finishes by taking us through all of the people we have heard from in the preceding hour with on-screen titles informing us which have since been resettled in Australia, which have had their claims denied, which are now missing and which have drowned at sea.

Schmidt doesn’t do anything too stylistically complex. He doesn’t experiment with the documentary form. But a film like Between the Devil & the Deep Blue Sea doesn’t need to. By far the most powerful way you can present an issue like this is to simply put the faces of the asylum seekers on the screen and let them tell their story. Any artifice would run the risk of detracting from their impact. Schmidt is smart enough to understand this and thus keeps it relatively simple.

Between the Devil & the Deep Blue Sea is not in cinematic release but has been touring around the country. Visit for more information on how you can see this potent, insightful and important documentary.

Rating – ★★★☆

Review by Duncan McLean

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