Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

“Queue-jumpers”. “Boatpeople”. “Illegals”. We have successfully reduced refugees to abstract aphorisms in Australia through crude political rhetoric. We’re constantly being told that “boat people” are un-Christian, criminal, and threatening. News media is dominated by these unidentified masses skipping the so-termed queue to harm our economy, our livelihood, and even – heaven forbid – our way of life.


Who are the faces behind the 4,000 people who arrive in Australia every year, and what are their stories?


This is precisely the question tackled by Jessie Taylor, creator and producer of the documentary, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea.


“There’s a dehuminisation of asylum seekers, and that was a huge motivation behind making this film,” Taylor told Woroni.


“I do think that Australians are generous and compassionate people, but we’re not good about being generous to people en masse … we need to hear those individual stories for our humanity to kick in.”


The documentary’s subjects are the asylum seekers in detention facilities in Indonesia.


There’s Mehdi, who travelled over two days with 69 other passengers from Iran to Indonesia (“Every time the boat rocked, water gushed in the side”).


Then there’s Zainab, a nine-year-old refugee fleeing Afghanistan’s Taliban, who recalls the Taliban bombing her hometown’s school.


“Watching a nine-year-old girl talk about that is pretty confronting, but that’s why we want people to understand it … there are things that people experience that are just so far beyond our imagining,” Taylor comments.


The documentary highlights the sub-standard services at Indonesia’s detention centres, from inadequate medical facilities to lengthy waiting lists. One refugee, detained for over sixteen months, was still awaiting relocation – months after attaining refugee status from the UNHCR.


Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea took over two years to produce. “Getting inside detention centres, lugging camera equipment in Indonesia for a month, and trying to talk to refugees – those were the main challenges [in making the film],” said Taylor.


The film’s crew screened the 52-minute documentary in Canberra in late March, as part of a nation-wide film screening tour. The tour was crowd-funded, and covered over thirty towns and cities across Australia.


Aside from issues with funding, Taylor has also faced criticism from some politicians for her perceived idealism. Ross Cameron derided Between the Devil on The Drum as a “naïve” project that only appeals to “inner-city urbanites”.


“We’ve proved [these critics] wrong by selling out in even little venues across Australia,” Taylor triumphantly told the crowd at the Spiegel Tent, which hosted the Canberra screening.


David Bates, the owner of the Spiegel Tent, contacted Taylor to screen the film in Canberra. “We heard about Jessie through a radio interview on ABC, and we thought this was an important story to tell,” said Bates.


The film also reached Capital Hill; parliamentarians were invited to a private screening on March 18.


That politicians are incapable of genuine compassion is a typical jibe – but it would be difficult not to feel empathy for Zainab, or Mehdi, or other refugees identified in the film as still missing at sea. Between the Devil should be recommended viewing not only for politicians, but for university students and policy-makers alike.


For more information on the Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, see To listen to the full interview with Jessie Taylor from The Morning After with Woroni on 2XXFM, see The Morning After is on weekdays (except Thursdays) from 8.30am. Tune in to 98.3FM or stream online at

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