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Go Back To Where You Came From. Discuss.

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UPDATE, WEDNESDAY: Part Two airs tonight at 8.30pm. Don’t forget to tune in and check back here to continue the conversation, ask more questions.

UPDATE: So you’ve just watched the first episode of ‘Go Back to Where you Came From’ on SBS and, it was stunning right? It doesn’t matter which side of the debate you’re on. Fascinating stuff. The show’s Twitter hashtag #gobacksbs was trending worldwide which is an amazing achievement. So, what did you think? Tell us below. We’ll keep this post on the main page for the final two episodes tomorrow and Thursday night. Let’s try, like the show does, and keep the judgment to a minimum…what are your hopes for the characters? Do you agree with them, recognise them in any people you know?

Also, if you have any more questions for series director Ivan, I will be chatting to him again so pop them in the comments and I’ll do my best to ask them.

“I need to touch your heart … if we do not touch your heart, you do not see us. We are not animals. It is a problem for the world. It is a problem..”

These are the words spoken by an African man living in a squalid refugee camp in one of the pivotal scenes of ‘Go Back to Where you Came From’, a triumph of documentary film making that airs on SBS tonight at  8.30pm. It’s compelling. It’s a must watch.

It’s compulsive viewing for the same reasons the national debate on refugees is: there are no easy answers. And the search for what scraps of truth and meaning in the debate is never predictable.

Here is a television show that mixes documentary insights into the life of refugees with the character drama of the best shows going around. The only difference is, it’s not scripted. Certainly not forced. Go Back to Where You Came From takes six ordinary Australians – a life guard, a horsewoman, a country music singer, an unemployed woman and so on – and asks them to go on a confronting journey in reverse. From meeting refugee families that have settled here in Australia, by boat and otherwise, and then tracing the steps back to Africa, Jordan and Iraq, through Malaysia.

Most of all, it’s a program that does not judge. We shouldn’t either, though may be tempted with episode one tonight as one volunteer proclaims: “I don’t like Africans. You go to Blacktown … and now it really is Blacktown.”

Another says she cheered when the boat crashed on Christmas Island earlier this year, killing more than 50 asylum seekers. She says: ‘serves you bastards right’. This volunteer lives next door to a detention centre.

Raquel, a volunteer on the show. From Western Sydney.

“I could go over there right now with a gun and shoot the lot of them. I don’t care how hard it is where they came from, I don’t think they have the right to come here and demand – demand – all this freedom,” she says.

But these are people who deserve credit for being curious enough to search for answers in tough conditions, and on national television no less. The three part series (which continues tomorrow night and finishes on Thursday) will develop character arcs that will astonish you. Importantly for the credibility of the show, not everybody will change their minds.

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But they do change their perspective.

Volunteers start the show visiting settled refugees in Australia, on their couches and in their homes. It’s an easy transition into what is to come: a leaky boat journey from Darwin, witnessing an asylum seeker raid in Malaysia and navigating the vast refugee camps of Africa and the horrid injuries of bomb survivors in Jordan, where many Iraqi refugees have fled.

There are real moments of tears, for the volunteers and likely for most of you watching at home.

Mamamia spoke with series director Ivan O’Mahoney from Cordell Jigsaw Productions, who oversaw production for SBS.

Q: The volunteers on this show, these are people many of us would know. This was clearly intentional?

A: “We spent four months on finding the right people alone and spoke to 700 altogether. But we didn’t want to put an open call out. So we went to town hall meetings debating refugee issues and spoke to people, and we went to Cronulla beach where the race riots happened and spoke to the lifeguards there. We walked up to people and said: how do you feel about this issue? We needed to find people who had strong views but whom were willing to challenge their own views.”

Q: What’s noticeable about the show is the lack of judgment. Was that important to you?

“Critical. Look, it’s very easy to criticise from the anonymity of a laptop screen. Part of me wondered why our volunteers would ever say yes to this show because of the reactions from people out there when it airs. But it takes a lot of guts to back yourself and your opinion and we owe it to those on the show to listen to them as they discover the context they are looking for.”

Q: What are you trying to achieve with Go Back?

“A debate without the vitriol from either side. We went into this with the intention of talking about a completely polarising issue without actually using polarising people. Both sides of this debate are very unforgiving with each other, very black and white, and what we know is that it isn’t this way at all. It’s grey from top to toe. Yes, we were searching for empathy but the bigger thing we needed to find, and I think we have, is nuance.”

And the nuance changes people. This moment in the documentary makes it worth watching alone:

“I would do anything to improve the life of my own children and I think if that meant getting on a boat I would probably go ahead and do it. If it means taking a risk, their whole life is a risk, so what’s one more if it means freedom? I honestly never thought I would say this. I never imagined how bad life could really be. It’s degrading. The sun comes up and goes down and nothing else happens. They just have to survive and that is all they are doing because it certainly isn’t living.”

Powerful stuff. Tonight, 8.30pm. SBS.

Will you watch? What do you think of the concept? Where should we take the debate from here?

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