The Victorian Ombudsmen concluded in their investigation that “The rushed lockdown was not compatible with the residents’ human rights, including their right to humane treatment when deprived of liberty [and] based on the evidence gathered by the investigation, the action appeared to be contrary to the law.”
The very first recommendation The Ombudsman made, was for the Victorian Government to, “Apologise publicly to residents of the Flemington and North Melbourne public housing estates for harm or distress caused by imposition of the immediate lockdown on 4 July 2020.”
As we wrap up August of 2021, over a year after the hard lockdowns of the towers and subsequent human rights abuses outlined in the investigation, the residents of the towers are yet to receive that public apology.
To highlight the depth of some of the injustices and distress experienced by families in the towers, up and coming Australian Muslim film director, Kauthar Abdulalim launched her latest short film The Ninth Tower, this year during the 69th Melbourne International Film Festival.
In the film, “Teenager Hassan, a carer for his ill mother, is pushed to the brink when the state government suddenly imposes a hard lockdown at the nine towers in Flemington and North Melbourne housing estates.”
The film was produced under Kauthar’s own independent production company, Blacksand Pictures. In the weeks after the one-year anniversary of the hard lockdown of the towers, we conducted a virtual interview with director Kauthar Abdulalim.
Film is a powerful way to share a story. What was the inspiration behind your latest short film The Ninth Tower?
When the hard lockdown incident was unfolding and I saw some of the experiences of the tenants being shared on social media, I knew then and there that we needed to capture this and present it in a way that can reach a wider audience. Not many people outside of our community knew what it felt like living under those restrictions and I felt that maybe there was something I could do through film.
What was it like filming The Ninth Tower and is it based on a true story?
Personally for me it was a very transformative experience. It was the first film set I had stepped on post the lockdowns we had in Victoria and it was also the first film under my independent production company, Blacksand Pictures.
The Ninth Tower isn’t entirely based on a single true story, nor does it capture the experiences of all the tower residents, however, there are depictions of true incidents that happened during the hard lockdowns which we have incorporated in the film, and some scenes, characters and plots are fictionalised. This film is an attempt to capture one of the many stories of a diverse range of tenants who all had very different experiences.
During the investigation Ombudsman Deborah Glass said they found that senior health officials agreed on the morning of Saturday, 4 July that the towers should be locked down to control a COVID-19 outbreak, anticipating a next-day start to allow planning for food supplies and other logistics. But at a media conference at 4 pm the Premier announced the lockdown, starting immediately.
The Ninth Tower captures and amplifies the voices and experiences of the residents of the public housing towers during the hard lockdown of 4July 2020.
For to purpose of demonstrating that we are all truly In This Together, that there is no bias or prejudice, particularly based on socio-economic status, it’s important that our leaders publicly apologise and acknowledge that they could’ve done better, as recommended by the Victorian Ombudsman.
The Ninth Tower is now available to stream for free Australia-wide this week only via the 69th Melbourne International Film Festival website.
You can follow the rest of Kauthar’s work via Instagram @kauthh and @blacksandpictures