Directed by Pete Gleeson
Produced by Melissa Hayward and Kate Neylon
“One of the most captivating Australian documentaries in recent memory. It’s humorous, absorbing, uneasy and often disturbing.”
Hotel Coolgardie is one of the most captivating Australian documentaries in recent memory. It’s a humorous, absorbing, uneasy and often disturbing account of life inside a Coolgardie pub, as experienced by two Finnish travellers, Lina and Steph.
Desperate to save some cash so they can continue travelling around Australia the two steely backpackers take up residence in the outback town’s only tavern. It’s here they’ll be working for the next three months.
The moment the girls are put to work behind the bar we’re immediately introduced to a large chunk of the town’s residents, most of who are far more interesting than the doco’s perceived subjects.
Most of the tavern’s patrons, like the paternal Canman, are harmless while others range from alcoholic to batshit crazy to flat-out sexist – some of the blokes have a running bet to see who can tag one of the women first. But it’s the publican, Coffey, who is the film’s most worrying. He speaks to his new employees as if they’re animals.
These actions might come as a shock to most viewers, but the truth is this pub could easily be one of hundreds dotted throughout rural Australia. There are plenty of Wake in Fright moments here.
The only downfall to an otherwise brilliant documentary is that the two leads lack some serious character, which could be put down to the language barrier. Most replies are ‘huh?’, ‘yes’, or ‘pardon?’. Even when put into difficult situations with some of the male patrons the two never unleash emotionally.
Thankfully there are plenty of interesting characters laden throughout and the film plays like a therapy session for some of them, who I’m sure would still be bottling up their stories if the cameras hadn’t been there. One guy’s tale of his daughter’s near death is heartbreaking, but some cynics may see it as a desperate attempt to get into Lina’s pants.
Hotel Coolgardie packs an emotional wallop. We’ll be hearing a lot more of director Pete Gleeson’s name once this is put in front of a wider audience, perhaps through a TV broadcaster like ABC or SBS. Controversy is sure to follow though, as is often the case when a mirror is held up to the seedy parts of Australian culture – Kalgoorlie Cops and Struggle Street come to mind.
by Matthew Eeles