“My father tells me stories. Not … always … the … truth.” says Su Goldfish of her father Manfred in the fascinating documentary THE LAST GOLDFISH.
As far as Su had been told she was an only child of two parents who were orphans. Su grew up inside a tropical idyll in Trinidad where Manfred, who was German, met an English adventurer, Phyllis. The early part of the film speaks longingly of that time in the filmmaker’s life. When race tensions arose as part of the post-colonial struggle for indigenous rights, that life was shattered and when Su was 12, the Goldfish family headed here. When applying for entry to Australia, Phyllis was asked what colour her husband is. This is the time of the White Australia policy.
Su settles eventually into her new life but at 15, a budding lefty, queer greenie, she happens upon a yellowing marriage certificate. It is then that she understands that there is more to her story than just the 3 of them. She begins a search through the past which will lead her to the making of this film in 2017 and beyond. And it is a powerful story … coloured by the holocaust, tinted with the light of loss and replete with the chiaroscuro of memory.
Black and white photos from a man who loved cameras. These are blended seamlessly with other home footage, archival images and recent video of Su’s search for answers. It is self-narrated and there is a refreshing Dyke straightforwardness to the film which elevates the material. This is not like any mawkish, overly sentimental find-my-family documentary that we might be used to from television.
Beautifully paced, with images cut or faded together without excessive fancy elisions, she relates her family secrets as far as the recent past. After that, Su chronicles her real-time exploration of a history that her father could barely speak of. Her occasional frustration with his reticence evident, “He always does this!” the maker is honest in her emotional responses as the viewer becomes absorbed in her story. There is some music, chosen to enrich both narrative travelling and enhance the setting, but the steady voiceover is raw and replete with a desire to touch the trauma of a past from which she had been paternally protected.
Su will travel the world and encounter fascinating people both close to and adjacent to her family history. People as diverse as a surviving Calypso Jew and a Lebanon-born Turkish German bar owner. The journey will take her home to Trinidad, to Germany, the USA and to Canada.
The poignancy of the title and alternative purpose to the film might not be evident until the ending of the documentary but THE LAST GOLDFISH is a film which exemplifies the power of the personal.
For more information about Queer Screen’s Mardi Gras Film Festival visit: http://queerscreen.org.au/mardi-gras-film-festival-2018