The Cinematic Style and Structure
In Letters to Ali, Clara Law definitely uses mostly handheld camera to get the shots. In cinematic techniques, Law adopts direct cinema. It offers natural outcomes because Law suggests the strong relation between the subject and the camera, shooting with available lighting. According to Raschke, this film offers very conventional coverage cinematic techniques, but she still offered beautiful Australian landscapes even though she used a hand-held camera to capture shots (Raschke, 2007). There is nothing special in camera techniques, sound, lights in Letters to Ali. It offers conventional direct cinema approach.
From the beginning until the end of the movie, Ali’s figure and voice are absence on screen due to the ethical issue. But Law changes Ali’s figure with narration, voice over, and blurs of his body. Even so, it is still a good movie with high morality approach. Letters to Ali is a film that tells about Afghanistan boy named ‘Ali’ who leaves his country and arrive in Australia without a visa. He lives in a detention centre in Port Hedland until an Australian family struggle for his bridging visa.
The interesting part of this movie is the way Law drives the narration. She builds beautiful story telling with fully symbolization images and narration. For instance, in the beginning, scene, Law establishes the contrast images between Hongkong and Australia. She presents Hongkong as cold and modern place while Australia as a warm and quiet place. She wants to present her two homes in contradictory situations. Traverso argues that this scene definitely transcultural method because it goes beyond the cultural diversity (Traverso, 2004). As David Macdougall also argues that transcultural cinema “is able to make the viewer recognize that university of being human in the portrayals of people from distant geographies.” (Macdougall cited in Traverso, 2004).
In this scene, Law wants to introduce herself as an individual who always misses home. The correlation between her life stories with Letters to Ali is Law eager to situate herself as if she was Ali who wanted to find and miss the real “home”. Transcultural visual and symbolization also can be seen when the Trish’ children draw and write the surface of their body car with dust in the open air and unbounded landscapes. It is written, “Free the kids”, and this scene is put next to the contrast images of the detention centre, which is surrounded by high walls and camera surveillance means there is now way out. Law simply wants to differentiate life between the free world and isolate world.
Additionally, based on Antonio Traverso, Letters to Ali is more as film letter. Law uses narration text through this film and to understand the movie, the audiences should read the text (Traverso, 2004). The narration text is the unconventional way in telling the story in the documentary genre. Usually, the documentary uses voice over to complete the story telling, it is easier for the audience to get the messages. On the contrary, this film convey of poetic, feeling, and emotions narration text. In one of the scenes, Law gives some topics to Trish and Ali to talk about. The first topic is Ancestor, Trish tells about where she comes from, about her father and her grandfather, but Ali says he had no ancestor. The second topic is the sea. When Trish tells about the sea, she remembers her childhood memory, it is a happiness. Here, Law uses Trish’s voice, and also the warm, calm ocean as if it represents Trish childhood’s feeling. On the contrary, the sea turns stormy and the sky darker, then Ali begins to talk about his fear of dying when he remembers the ocean. Law uses this idea to compare the different feeling between both of them. She connects the images and the text in symbolization ways.
In the end of this film, Law writes: “I saw a mother dragon bringing her child home”. This narration comes along with images the sky with two big clouds appear like dragons seem to follow Law’s journey going back home.
The Qualities in Letters to Ali
Clara Law’s Letters to Ali explores the documentary’s qualities. Law successes in presenting human right issue which is one of the documentaries’ purpose. Based on Rabiger, a documentary should involve building the consciousness of human and social issues (Rabiger, 2004). The factual, truth, and actual approach in documentary help to critic and alarm the society. While the world is celebrating the enforcement of a human right, Letters to Ali bravely stands as an example of human right infringement evidence. The protest’s footage in front of Port Hedland detention center is the most dramatize real moment that caught by Law’s camera. The people in the detention centre are separated from the free world by the high wires and they have become distressed and so emotional to get out from there. The sequence shows the truth of what exactly asylum seekers feel. They run away from their own home because of war or conflict, try to find a place in another part of the world that could make them and their children safe, but because of policy and the world’s politics, they find themselves isolated waiting for unsure life. Law’s capability in choosing the footages and juxtapose the interviews make this movie straight deliver the message.
In addition, Letters to Ali is very concern to the ethical issues. According to Rosenthal, documentary filmmakers should aware to any ethical problems that can appear after showing to public (Rosenthal, 2002). Law realizes that she raises the sensitive issue and brave topic, as a filmmaker she tries to protect Ali from the possibilities of being killed or any other problems. Although Ali is not presented either in real images, photos, nor voice, the audiences still able to feel Ali. That does not decrease the truth and message of this movie at all.