- Colin Fraser
FOUR STARS Bob Brown: politician, author, activist, environmentalist, optimist.
DOCUMENTARY AUSTRALIA English #THEGIANTS
Starring Dr Bob Brown
One of the more interesting questions raised by this unassuming documentary about one of our most unassuming politicians / activists / environmentalists is how Dr Bob Brown ever became the leader he unquestionably was. The quietly spoken, somewhat awkward individual first changed the way Australia viewed the environmental movement and secondly, spearheaded a political movement that saw him share the balance of power in Canberra. The party he found still enjoys influence that far outweighs their direct representation at the ballot box. Significant achievements all without what most would call an ‘it’ factor. He’s no Barack Obama on the charisma scale. So what is it about Bob Brown that makes him protector of THE GIANTS, and a giant among men himself? Rachel Antony and Laurence Billiet’s compelling documentary goes a long way following that question even if the answer remains elusive.
THE GIANTS follows a linear path in relating Brown’s life from student to doctor to environmental activist to Green politician then retiree and author. What raises their work well beyond a run-of-the-mill bio-doc of talking heads and news footage are three significant production choices. The first is keeping all those talking heads off camera. There’s a substantial amount of commentary underlined by complimentary footage (being Australia’s best known elder activist, there’s a lot of footage to choose from), but not seeing them keeps the focus on Brown. As a result it’s much more powerful.
Underpinning this are micro-documentaries that pepper the through-line. Voiced by field experts they help explain what Brown is fighting for, and why his causes matter. We learn about the vital importance of forest fungi and environmental diversification, or how the battle for canopy dominance affects the country’s entire eco-system. They’re enlightening, educational and give the overall documentary incredible weight because we get to see the world from Bob’s perspective.
And while Brown appears throughout, he says little, letting others do the talking for him. They turn the story personal and help broaden THE GIANTS beyond activism and politics. There’s Bob the friend, Bob the brother, Bob the introvert, Bob the reluctant gay icon, and, ahem, Bob the builder. All these threads combine to create a winning portrait of Bob the statesman, even if that pesky ‘it’ factor still remains elusive. Perhaps it’s integrity, his optimism or bloody-minded determination. For here’s a man, well into his 70’s, who can still be found fighting the fight, and on occasion, landing back in jail. These days of course Bob can now phone his husband and let him know he’ll be late for dinner.