I have a great deal of sympathy for documentarians. To set out to make a film – with all the time, energy and money that entails – without a script, without a clear sense of what’s going to happen … it must be terrifying. That surely must have been the experience of Hotel Coolgardie director Pete Gleeson, who travelled out into the Australian outback to document the experiences of two Finnish women lined up for a six month stint at a tiny pub to supplement their travel income.
The mission statement of the film is clear from its opening minutes: to chronicle the backwards, often misogynistic culture of remote Australia. A true-to-life Wake in Fright. That’s not quite what eventuates. Despite the toxic bullying of the girls’ boss and the drunken overtures of the local clientele, the main message of Hotel Coolgardie turns out to be the oppressive boredom of living in the middle of nowhere.
The resultant film is interesting, if unfocused; a depressing look at the monotony of (very, very) small town life. It’s a good documentary, but never great, because Gleeson’s unable to connect Coolgardie life to a wider story: whether societal misogyny or the economic encroachment of mega-mines.