The Oasis

The Oasis


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Digging at the same sorts of stories of Australia’s disenfranchsied youth as last year’s Bra Boys – although rather more successfully – is this documentary, which focuses on a Salvation Army hostel for street kids in Sydney. It’s easy to forget, when we’re faced with a steady stream of factual films about homeless kids in the developing world – We Are Together, The Other Side Of The Country, Angels In The Dust – that the developed world has no shortage of lost children either. In Australia alone, we’re told at the start of this hard-hitting film, 22,000 teenagers are homeless each night.

Run by Captain Paul Moulds – whose capacity for patience is bordering on the saintly – The Oasis is, as its name would suggest, a place where kids looking for a respite from the streets and their fractured lives can come to find at least a modicum of calm. Paul is under no illusions about the challenges he faces each day – challenges that he has been embracing for some 25 years. These kids are almost all from difficult backgrounds, with drug, drink and mental health issues, but Paul maintains: “Just because they’re tough kids doesn’t mean we should put them in the ‘too hard’ basket.”

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It is this sort of attitude that has helped to turn around the lives of many, although failure it seems are as common as success. Paul says: “We try to grab them as they fall over the cliff.” And many of the kids are desperate to hold on, but with their fractured lives it’s not easy. As one heroin-addicted youngster, Haley, who has been on the streets since she was 15, puts it: “I’m slowly disappearing.”

Shot over a period of two years, filmmakers Ian Darling and Sascha Ettinger Epstein should be congratulated on there achievement. Their camerawork is, for the most part, unobtrusive, with no sense of those in the documentary ‘playing for the camera’ except when they have clearly been asked specific questions. They’ve also found an admirable amount of humour in events, particularly in the form of the God-fearing but sombre Ken – an older helper whose role seems to be to give voice to the suffering which seems to roll off Paul’s back.

Praise is also due to the editor Sally Fryer – who along with the directors deservedly won an Australian Film Institute award for her work here. Each of the youngsters in the film is shown with a great degree of careful balance - both at their best and worst - and they find time to weave in the lives of Paul, and his equally selfless wife Robbin and family which helps give an indication of what drives them to continue their work.

Although not overtly political, there is an underlying suggestion that more could be done to help the youngsters, if only those in power would make the effort. As Paul says after visiting one of his troubled teens who has just been locked up for being violent after drinking, it costs $70,000 to keep him behind bars for a year and, with a fraction of that money, places like The Oasis would, most likely, be able to help turn his life around.

If there is a criticism to be made of the film it is only that it is not desperately cinematic – but since it was made for television in the first place, this is hardly fair. In fact, it is perfectly suited to the small screen and deserves to be shown widely across the globe since the issues it deals with affect people a lot further afield than just the small section of Sydney where it was shot.

Reviewed on: 18 Feb 2009
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AFI-winning documentary about a youth refuge in inner-city Sydney.

Director: Sascha Ettinger Epstein, Ian Darling

Year: 2008

Runtime: 88 minutes

Country: Australia


Australia 2009

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