"Cunnamulla": What lies beneath? Another story?

Essay by serpzCollege, UndergraduateB+, September 2007

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“Cunnamulla” – a documentary about a small, sunburnt town of inland Australia is Dennis O’Rourke’s most powerful and subversive work to date. Subverting the conventional ideologies of small, rural towns, this Cinéma-vérité style documentary positions the audience to draw negative, biased and fallacious conclusions about this ‘end of the tracks’, Aussie outback town. Hiding nothing but veracity, “Cunnamulla” paints a picture so tarnished that one can not help but perceive Cunnamulla as an unambitious and corrupt town inhabited by feebleminded, violent and trivial townsfolk.

This picture of corruption, inertness and downright negativity has been painted by use of certain film techniques, technical codes and critical literacy conventions that misrepresent Cunnamulla, suppressing the truth in its entirety. One of the major conventions apparent throughout the documentary is the withholding of particular facts about Cunnamulla and the highlighting of those that reinforce the position that O’Rourke wants the viewers to conclude to.

Dennis fails to highlight the positive aspects of Cunnamulla, near totally avoiding the ambitious, productive and established people and areas of the town. Instead he concentrates on the corrupt and socially unjust aspect of town, shedding light on the poor, uneducated and downbeat townsfolk who are often shown smoking, drinking and taking drugs. This partial and prejudiced representation of Cunnamulla creates a transformed, bias adaptation of reality, misleading viewers into believing the entire 1600 strong population can be represented by the 20 odd, ill fated people portrayed throughout the documentary.

Denial of facts in their entirety is not the only convention employed to misrepresent Cunnamulla as a whole. Most, if not all the footage in “Cunnamulla” has been purposely selected by O’Rourke to underpin the ideologies and beliefs he wants the viewer to draw conclusion to. One of the major ideologies Dennis...