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Documentary Review

CLEAN (2022) 

Release Date: SXSW 2022 World Premiere
Runtime: 92 Minutes


"A fly-on-the-wall insight into the world of trauma cleaning through the journey of larger-than-life business owner Sandra Pankhurst and the workers at Melbourne's Specialized Trauma Cleaning Services."


What starts as a fascinating look at the business of trauma cleaners, a group of people who specialise in cleaning up after hoarders, meth-labs and even murder scenes, soon becomes a deeply intimate tale about identity and family in the beautiful crafted and superb Australian documentary, Clean.


Following the story of Sandra Pankhurst, a transgender woman who has owned her trauma cleaning business in Melbourne, Australia for many years after finding solace and purpose in this profession. A supportive pillar in her community, Sandra specialises in helping and employing people who need the work the most, many who would be outcasted in other, for lack of a better word, traditional professions. All the while, also speaking at many women’s empowerment events, Sandra immediately is portrayed and through her actions shows that she has an immense heart and passion for helping people going through incredibly traumatic experiences.


Clean’s director, Lachlan McLeod, pulls no punches in showing the gruesome aspects of Sandra and her company's work. Unafraid to show the aftermath of crime scenes, deaths and hoarded houses, the brutal and gut-wrenching reality of this line of work becomes quickly apparent. The necessity of showing these images, however, assists in helping the audience understand the extreme lengths Sandra goes to in order to provide positivity in a world that, quite sadly, is filled with people living in these situations.


The way Clean captures audience attention with such an interesting concept and subject, soon acts as an on-ramp to a much more personal story about Sandra and the events of her life that led to this point, the moments in her life that formidably made her the pillar of positivity she ended up becoming. Early on in the documentary, the audience is made aware of Sandra’s terminal lung illness, an illness that sidelines her from the physical aspects of her business. 


With more time on her hands not having to run the business directly, and forced to stay indoors due to the pandemic lockdowns in Melbourne, Sandra decides to uncover mysteries from her past, mainly the desire to discover who her birth mother is. Clean then becomes a story about Sandra’s past, which devastatingly was filled with abuse from foster parents, identity struggles with her gender and her life as a sex worker and drag queen.

What follows is a beautiful, poignant and ultimately soul-stirring tale about how one person’s trauma led the way to the construction of a personality that is so much larger-than-laugh, and a person who used their experience to build up those who are broken. Clean is thematically heavy and not always easy to watch, but at its forefront is a life-affirming positivity that makes the audience long for the discovery of more people like Sandra within the world.

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