Wednesday, October 31, 2012

73. 678 (2010)




This month I traveled to Tokyo to visit my family in Japan.  Traveling to and from the UK gave me a full day’s worth of movie watching time.  I brought some DVDs of my own as I asked myself pre-departure – would there be any ‘human rights’ movies to watch on the airplane? 

I few years ago I traveled to New York for a staff board meeting when working for Women’s Link Worldwide and had been presently surprised to find the feminist courtroom classic Adam’s Rib as an option. 

Yesterday’s flight didn’t disappoint either.  678 an Egyptian movie directed by Mohamed Diab is a resounding indictment of patriarchal society and the pervasive culture of sexual harassment in Egypt.  The movie is based roughly on a true story and interweaves the lives of three women: the first woman to officially file a case of sexual harassment; a poor woman who begins to use violence to defend herself from ‘the lemon test’ on buses; and an educated woman who turns to activism after being sexually harassed at a football game and rejected by her husband. 

The film skillfully deals with a range of issues including maternal mortality, difference within feminism and solutions to combat sexual violence.  At times, it left me bitterly angry, at not only what women face in Egyptian society, but in all societies.  In Japan, the metro stations are full of posters warning women about ‘chikan’ and women only cars are used at rush hour.  In countries all over the world ‘hollaback’ initiatives have begun with women reporting sexual violence on social networks and voicing their anger at some of the names they have been called.  As demonstrated by Julia Gillard just two weeks ago, women face sexism and sexist comments whether they are on the bus, walking down the street or hold office as Prime Minister. 

But the film is also uplifting.  Nelly (Nahed El Sebai) refuses to cave into pressure to drop the lawsuit and the man who harassed her received 3 years imprisonment.  According to the movie a year later a law against sexual harassment was enacted although admittedly official reporting remains low.  In the film women are also not punished for their bravery.  Instead, the movie demonstrates how men and women can work together.  Nelly’s boyfriend Omar supports her against his parents wishes.  The real losers in the story are the men who let their strong and beautiful wives and girlfriends down – either by abandoning them in their time of need or being caught for sexual harassment. 

678 is a brave film.  It is highly recommended. 

Written somewhere in the sky over Russia. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

72. Machuca (2004)

Life before Pinochet


During my internship at the ICC, I met a fellow human rights lawyer from Chile.   She noted that I had not reviewed any movies about the military dictatorship under Pinochet.  Today's review aims to rectify that, to some extent, by featuring the first (but not last) Chilean film - Machuca

Set in Santiago, Chile, during the presidency of Salvador Allende, the film is a coming of age story of two boys in the run up to the military coup d'etat.  The film directed by Andres Wood is semi-autobiographical and tells the story of a prestigious private school run by a priest, Father McEnroe (based on Father Gerard Whelan).  Father McEnroe carries out a social experiment, inviting boys who live in local, poverty stricken areas to attend the elite, private school.  

Gonzalo Infante, a white, middle class child, bullied by his classmates, befriends one of the new boys, Pedro Machuca.  Through his friendship with Pedro, Gonzalo attends the different demonstrations taking place throughout the city to sell flags.  At these marches, he is made aware for the first time of his privileged position: he witnesses his mother yell abuse at his new friends and the actions of his sister's boyfriend.  

The movie, as one might imagine, has no happy ending.  The military coup results in the repression of el pueblo, directly affecting Pedro's family.  Gonzalo, however, can carry on with his life at the private school, saved by the colour of his skin and his Adidas trainers bought in Buenos Aires. Pedro has no such luck with the army under orders to root out communists and with absolute impunity to act with violence, the beginning of Pinochet's dictatorship begin to unfold.  A dictatorship which resulted in torture as indicted by Garzon and confirmed by the House of Lords in London.  

According to the director, in an interview with Close Up film magazine: 
" We wanted to recreate our own past, you know? We didn't want to tell the official story of Chile . The film is very much a partial vision. So we wanted to recreate our own past. My own past was a mixture of things, you know? So in the movie you have the background of different people, different styles. Pop, hippy, Andean, poor, rich. You hear music from the right and from the left, because in Chile in those days it was very different to be a musician from the right to be a musician from the left. And we mixed everything you know, so that nothing was so clear. I think that gives the movie a sense of reality, more so than to take care of every little detail - which of course we did also!"

During the film, which is excellent and definitely worth watching, I couldn't help thinking how much my experience of the film must differ from those who have a close personal connection to Chile.  As the director states above, the film is very detailed, with great attention paid to the clothes and setting of the movies to re-create the past (for example, the posters of Victor Jarra on the walls of Machuca's house). 

I wanted to ask my friend why she had recommended this movie in particular?  Does it best represent the years leading up to Pinochet's coup?  How does the director's partial vision of history fit in with her own?  Did she recommend the film because cinematically it is good or due to its popularity?  
It is a strength of the film, that it leaves us asking questions about Chile's history, the role of society in Pinochet's dictatorship and its future.  As one mother asks at a parent-teacher meeting:  when are things going to be done differently?

A mixture of the profound with moments of touching comedy, I endorse the recommendation. 

71. I am cuba (1964)

Soy Cuba



Mikhail Kalatozov's Soviet Cuban film was forgotten following its release in the 1960s.  Unpopular both in Cuba and in the USSR the film only gained wide release in the 1990s.  Kalatozov's black and white film combines a number of short stories to give a picture of pre-revoluntionary Cuba.  Maria, a young Cuban woman works as a prostitute, exploited by the rich Americans who use Cuba as a playground of casinos and jazz clubs.  Pedro, a farmer is told that his land has been sold to United Fruit and that he must leave.  He sets his crop alight and dies from the smoke fumes.  The film then moves to Havana where students organise against the tyranny of Batista.  The students are killed by the police forces - summarily executed - in the run up to Castro's landing.  The final scenes deal with the fighting in the Sierra Maestra. 

Soy Cuba is an important work to include within the 'human rights film diary' for a number of reasons.  First, it illustrates some of the conditions which bring about revolution.  The inequality in wealth both within the country and also within the world.  The film therefore raises questions about the role of tourists and their responsibility for the inequalities and human rights abuses which take place.  Secondly, the story of United Fruit is part of a larger story of US imperialism in the region.  Thirdly, as a 'propaganda' piece, financed by the USSR, the film is interesting both in terms of cinematography but also in its depiction of Cuba and 'Cubans'.  Finally, the film talks directly about 'rights' and the abuse thereof.  

In the final scene, a radio transmission calls for all Cubans who have suffered injustice and the violations of their rights to join the revolution. To defend the right to life, the right to health, the right of families to a home, the right to work. The transmission calls to peasants, students and workers to fight for liberty. 


Soy Cuba is a romanticised retrospective on the coming of a revolution. 

Sunday, October 14, 2012

70. Wolf Children (2012)

おおかみこどもの雨と雪」



A few days ago I went to the BFI London film festival currently taking place at a number of locations across London.  I chose to go see Mamoru Hosoda's new film Wolf Children.  I'm a fan of Hosoda's other work (The girl who leapt through time (2006) ; summer wars (2009)) as both an animation director and an artist. 

The animated film tells the story of Hana, a young woman who falls in love with a wolf man.  Together they have two children and live happily until the Wolfman disappears.  Hana is left alone to look after her two children Yuki (snow) and Ame (rain).  Fearing the prying eyes of her neighbours and state interference from social services, Hana decides to move the children to the countryside to allow them to live freely and determine their own personalities - wolf or human?

Wolf children is a beautiful and moving story about the wonders of motherhood, the vulnerability of couples without state recognition of their relationships, the right to freely determine one's personality (established in Europe under Article 8 of the ECHR) and the notion of the 'Other'.  Reminiscent in parts of Studio Ghibli's Totoro, the film combines fantasy with every day parenting issues to make it both touching and funny.  

The director has stated of his motivation to make the film: 
"When you have children, you change dramatically as a human being. Maybe I’m attracted to people who have responsibilities. I was especially dazzled by a friend who became a mother. Until then, ‘mothers’ were unfamiliar people to me, but a friend became one, and child-raising became a more familiar subject to me. I was impressed by her sense of responsibility for raising a child. That’s why I wanted this movie to be a story about a woman through her role as a mother."

A 'human rights' film to share with kids!

69. The Prosecutor (2010)

'The Prosecutor has to be a bit of a salesman, he has to sell the idea of global justice'


The Prosecutor (2010) is a documentary film focusing on the work of the first and former Prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo.  Barry Stevens (Emmy award winning documentary director of Gerrie and Louise (1997)) both wrote and directed the film produced by Peter Raymont.  As an educational tool, the film simply outlines some of the strengths and weaknesses of the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP). 
 Much is made of the Prosecutor's inability to enforce arrest warrants and focus is placed on the enormity of his task in the 'era of no impunity'. 

Spanning a period of at least 5 years, the film provides a snapshot of the different situations under investigation.  The Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic and Sudan are all discussed in the behind the scenes film showcasing some of the OTP staff including: Fatou Bensouda (current Prosecutor),  Florence Olara and Nicola Fletcher (media liaison),  Beatrice Le Fraper (former head of the JCCD) and many others.  In addition, the film presents the main criticisms of the Court: the allegations of neo-colonialism for the unique focus on Africa and also concerning double standards over the alleged war crimes perpetrated by Israel in Palestine.

According to Stevens: "We made an actuality film, but also it's highly critical. This is not a commercial for Moreno-Ocampo or a simple-minded human-rights-in-Africa film. We give a lot of space to the Court's most articulate critics, like Mahmoud Mamdani. There are legitimate questions about spending hundreds of millions of dollars to prosecute a few criminals and maybe making peace less likely when you do it."

The film is certainly more balanced than the documentary 'The Reckoning' made by Skylight Pictures but overall asks what alternative there can be to the new global system proposed by the ICC and the Prosecutor.  The film forms part of the Economist series on film in conjunction with PBS.  

Friday, October 12, 2012

68. The Night of Truth (2004) *

La nuit de la vérité 

Set in an unidentified African country, Fanta Regina Nacro's movie, uses largely unprofessional actors to tell the story of the conflict between two ethnic tribes - the Bonandés and the Nayaks.  A bloody war has left hundreds or thousands dead, children without limbs, women raped and a country torn apart through ethnic hatred.  In the midst of the conflict, a truce is born, brokered by le President and Col. Theo.  We join them at a dinner party, where the wives of the Colonel and le President take centre stage as hostesses of the event.  Whilst celebrations are under way, tensions rise between the factions, thirsty for revenge over the atrocities. 

The film is Shakespearean in its drama and yet original in its subject matter and cinematic form (shot in 8 weeks with a 35 mm camera).  Nacro suggests reconciliation between the tribes through local customs rather than accountability through courts.  The most important thing for all those involved is to end the massacres. Those who dare disturb the fragile peace have become the enemy for both tribes. 

The Night of Truth Poster

Thursday, October 11, 2012

67. Women without Men (2009)




Zanan-e bedun-e mardan

  


Shirin Neshat's film, set against the backdrop of the US and British sponsored coup d'etat in Iran in 1953, is a beautiful art film weaving together the lives of four women.  Munis is 30 years old and kept under virtual house arrest by her brother who refuses to let her out until she married.  Faezeh, in love with Munis' brother is vulnerable in the climate of violence and change, Zarin, a severely underweight prostitute constantly scrubs herself in public baths until her skin bleeds, and Fakhri, an older woman is trapped in a loveless marriage with a General. She has lost the poetry and music which had been at the centre of her life beforehand.  


Suicide, rape and sexual violence, prostitution and a failed marriage, bring the four women - outcast by society - together in the garden of an orchard outside Tehran (the movie was actually shot in Casablanca, Morocco). 

Although the subject matter of the film is 'heavy' the beautiful cinematography and the themes running throughout the film infused with magical realism (the dirt road out of the city, water, music, death) make the film a pleasure to watch.  A short film of 95 minutes, it is definitely worth watching. 

 

The director - artist Shirin Neshat has been exiled from Iran since 1996.   On her first feature film she stated: 'I'm not interested in making a beautiful picture, I'm only interested when beauty is intersecting pain and disturbance and violence'.  An accurate description of this breathtaking film.


Tuesday, September 25, 2012

66. The Trials of Henry Kissinger (2002)*

The Trials of Henry Kissinger Poster



The second documentary I watched last night focused on Christopher Hitchens' charges against Henry Kissinger, namely that he is a war criminal.  Kissinger, a German born American Nobel Peace Prize winner, served as Secretary of State in the administrations of Nixon and Ford.  Kissinger played a prominent role in US foreign policy from 1969-1977 (during which time Robert S. McNamara served as President of the World Bank).  

Eugene Jarecki's film uses archival footage and interviews with Hitchens (1949-2011) to argue that Kissinger was responsible for atrocities in Vietnam, East Timor and also for ousting Allende in Chile, leading to the military dictatorship of General Pinochet.  The documentary paints Kissinger, in Hitchens words, as showing ' callous indifference to human life and human rights'.  

It was interesting to contrast the portrait of McNamara with Kissinger.  Both men were involved in the Vietnam war, had been to Harvard and hugely influenced and continue to influence foreign policy (the first in terms of policy analysis and the second in terms of realpolitik).  But I found myself asking, how much of what we see in these films is true?  Do documentaries tell us the truth and capture life as it is?  Or is this 'a naive belief that screen truth equates with non-mediation' especially when it concerns issues which are highly controversial?  

Some of these questions are raised in Sonia Tascon's article in 2012 Human Rights Quarterly ' Considering Human Rights Films, Representation, and Ethics: Whose Face?'.  Tascon's research focuses on the phenomenon of Human Rights Film Festivals and seeks to explore and examine the use of films for human rights purposes.    She comments that : 

" Although how film has developed historically as a form of communication, media and art might diminish films ability to be viewed as "truth" - unlike photography for example - human rights films circumvent this problem by predominantly using the one type of film form that still holds reader's belief in its reliability and truthfullness: the documentary."  

She goes on to state, however, that Michael Moore movies have displaced this idea somewhat.  In the same way, the Kissinger documentary makes no qualms about pushing a certain ideology or idea in persuading the audience to judge Kissinger and his actions.  

65. The Fog of War (2003)*

Eleven lessons from the life of Robert S. McNamara

A film by Errol Morris 

The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara Poster


Yesterday I watched two documentaries.  This review deals with the first of these documentaries, the Fog of War.  Errol Morris' Oscar-winning film is a fascinating insight into the life of Robert McNamara in his own words and also through archival footage.  McNamara served as the US Secretary of State for 7 years under Johnson and Kennedy.  He subsequently became the President of Ford motor company and the President of the World Bank.  He is credited for developing statistical policy analysis, introducing seat belts and airbags into cars and increasing efficiency in aerial bombing operations.  

In the film McNamara provides lessons he has learned in his life and speaks candidly about his involvement in major political controversies including the Cuban missile crisis, the Tokyo Bombing, the Vietnam war, and other political events within the US.  

One of the eleven lessons in the film relates to the laws of war.  McNamara states that the human race needs to think more about killing and conflict.  He admits that the Tokyo Bombings resulted in the deaths of 100,000 in one night and that many other cities in Japan were destroyed in whole or in part.  These attacks were not proportionate to their objective and therefore if the US had lost the war, he would most probably have been prosecuted as a war criminal.  

The film is a fascinating portrait stretching from 1918 to McNamara's interview before his death.  The film feels like being at a lecture given by McNamara or a mini-film episode of the West Wing.  The film can be watched online in its entirety.  

Monday, September 24, 2012

64. If the mango tree could speak (1992)*

 

If the mango tree could speak is a short documentary (58 minutes) by US film maker Pat Goudvis.  The director has stated that she wanted to make the film to 'to present the situation of children in a part of the world where the US has exerted great influence and to help US audiences be aware of that historical connection'.  

The film focuses on the lives of ten children in Guatemala and El Salvador.  Focusing mainly on the children in Guatemala, the children share their stories about the genocide (see Granito and When the Mountains Tremble) and their hopes and dreams for the future.  

I was rather disappointed with the documentary and felt that it was rather basic.  However, there are some great scenes.  My personal favourite was watching one of the girls featured dancing to Dr. Psiquiatra by Gloria Trevi. 

63. Warchild (2008)*



'I'm a war child/I believe I've survived for a reason/To tell my story, to touch lives' 

War child (2008) tells the story of Emmanuel Jal, a former child soldier from Sudan.  Jal was born in the village of Tonj in Southern Sudan.  When he was seven years old his mother was killed in the Second Sudanese Civil War.  He then traveled with thousands of children to a UN refugee camp in Ethiopia where he was recruited by the Sudan People's Liberation Army as a child soldier. 

Jal is now a hip hop star.  He uses music to tell the story of war and his experiences of being a child soldier in Ethiopia and Southern Sudan. 

Made by Karim C. Chrobog, the documentary illustrates the power of music and Jal's passion to alleviate poverty and bring peace to Sudan.  Enjoy.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

62. Under the Bombs (2007) *

Under the Bombs Poster


Phillipe Aractingi's movie Sous les bombes (original title) follows a woman called Zeina (Nada Abou Farhat) on her journey to find her sister, Maha, and son in Southern Lebanon after the Israeli bombardment in 2006.  Zeina had sent her son to her sister in order to save her son from the breakdown of her marriage.  Back from Dubai, she hires a taxi driver Tony (George Khabbaz) to drive her around the refugee camps and other shelters in search of her family.  

Under the Bombs won a number of prizes including the Premio EIUC Human Rights Film Award in the Venice Film Festival 2007.  The European Inter-University Centre for Human Rights and Democratisation used to run a summer school on cinema and human rights.  In 2007 students of this course were about to discuss the film with director Phillipe Aractingi.  

The aims and objectives of the course were to:  analyse the use of film as an instrument for enhancing human rights awareness on critical social, political and environmental issues. In particular,  the school aims to provide participants with a framework of understanding of what are human rights, how they can be transposed into film and what is the impact of  human rights related films on the promotion and protection of human rights in the world today.

The school's aims include:
- Raising Awareness on sensitive human rights issues analysed through the camera lenses;
- Networking: bringing participants and professional practitioners together from all over the world;
- Informing: professionals from both the human rights sector and the cinema industry facilitate modules and workshops;
Facilitating privileged access: participants meet privately with film directors, producers and cinematographers at the Venice Film Festival;
- Pitching: participants learn how to develop their ideas into projects and how to pitch them.

Although the school no longer runs the course, a summer school course is available in NUI Galway on Cinema, Human Rights and Advocacy

61. The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler (2009)*

The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler Poster


Irena Sendler (Anna Pauquin) is a social worker in Poland during the Nazi occupation.  Sendler is a brave young woman working in the Warsaw Ghetto.  Aware of the spreading rumours of the extermination of Jewish people by the Nazis, Irena feels like she must do more to help her Jewish friends and others living inside the ghetto.  Irena realises that her friend Stefan (Goran Visnjic) has found a way to smuggle potatoes in and out of the ghetto through a number of routes.  Along with her dedicated team of social workers and nurses, Irena begins to smuggle children out of the ghetto and places them with Polish families willing to hide the children.  Irena is aided by the Polish underground but is ultimately apprehended by the Nazis for her activities.  

Irena Sendler was saved from execution and went on to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.  It is believed that she saved the lives of 2,500 children.  At the end of the film, Irena, dedicates the story to the Jewish mothers, so pained at having to give away their children and also to the Polish mothers, who took the Jewish children and brought them up as their own.  

Directed by John Kent Harrison, a director of many TV movies, the film brings to light the role played by courageous women in Poland during the Holocaust.  

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

60. The Dictator Hunter (2007)


Hissene Habré ruled Chad between 1982-1990.  He is accused of committing serious crimes during his time in Office, including torture and the massacre of 40,000 people.  According to Reed Brody, the star of the documentary and 'dictator hunter', the Chadian victims contacted Human Rights Watch (HRW) in order to hold Habré accountable.  The precedent established in the Pinochet case resulted in HRW filing charges  on behalf of the victims against Habré in Senegal in 2000.  However, Senegal stalled the case against Habré and therefore, Brody filed a case in Belgium under the principle of universal jurisdiction.  Belgium subsequently applied to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) requesting the Court to order Senegal to prosecute him immediately or to extradite.  

The film follows Brody around Senegal, his home in the United States, and Belgium.  It shows him rejecting job offers from Louise Arbour and talking to victims of Habré.  The film also includes interviews with Habré's lawyer in Senegal.  



In Questions Relating to the Obligation to Prosecute or Extradite (Belgium v Senegal) decided by the ICJ this year, the Court found that under Convention against Torture and the Genocide Conviction, there is a common interest to comply with the conventions and that 'extradition and prosecution are alternative ways to combat impunity'. The Court consequently found Senegal in breach of two provisions of the CAT.  The ICJ stated that Senegal “must, without further delay, submit the case of Mr. Hissène Habré to its competent authorities for the purpose of prosecution, if it does not extradite him.”  For a more detailed discussion of the judgment see Johanna Harrington's blog post on EJIL talk here.

You can see Reed Brody's wanted list here: 9 former autocrats and bad guys that should be made to pay for there crimes.  The film provides an interesting background to the ICJ case and current attempts to prosecute.  The search for accountability continues. 

59. Saddam's Killing Fields (1992)




British historian and documentary filmmaker Michael Wood brought the story of the Shia Marsh Arabs to attention in 1993.  The Marsh Arabs had their ancient culture destroyed by Saddam who poisoned the marshes, resulting in the putrification of fish and the displacement of the community.  

The film tells the story of Saddam's killing fields for a Western audience.  Highlighting the complicity of European businesses selling arms to Iraq and also of Western forces which encouraged the Kurds in northern Iraq and Shia Muslims in the South to rise up against Saddam, the film takes a historical approach in order to explain the massacre of an estimated 300000 Shia muslims by the Ba'athist regime. Wood interviews locals and international actors in order to develop a picture of Saddam's responsibility for crimes.  

In 2003, Saddam Hussein was prosecuted for crimes against humanity by the Iraqi Special Tribunal.  The trial was set up under the US-UK occupation by the Iraqi governing council with jurisdiction to prosecute crimes between 1968-2003.  The trial forced on the purging of Dujail after rebels made an attempt to assassinate Saddam in 1982.  Saddam's forces imprisoned and tortured residents and executed 143 of them at Abu Ghraib jail.  Saddam was executed following the trial, which was considered by many (including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch) to be flawed.  

This documentary shows one aspect of the crimes perpetrated by Saddam. Check out the video on PBS. 

58. Justice for Sale


When the system fails, everyone is a victim 



Justice for Sale forms part of a trilogy made by Dutch filmmakers Ilse and Femke Van Velzen. The film focuses on Claudia, a Congolese human rights lawyer, who decides to investigate the prosecution and conviction of Masamba for rape by a local court in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  Masamba was imprisoned after allegations were made that he drugged and raped a 25 year old woman.  However, Claudine believes that the evidence is flawed.  During the course of 90 minutes, she travels around interviewing those who had been involved in the case: the alleged victim, Masamba, the husband of the alleged victim; his lawyer; other lawyers and judges in order to determine whether Masamba has been wrongfully imprisoned.  

According to the film, Masamba's trial raises questions about the financial support that international organisations offer to the Congolese judicial system since the trial was supported by an NGO.  Does this result in a justice that's for sale?  The film also questions whether Masamba's trial is compliant with international legal standards of due process, important in an era of complementarity. 

The film finishes by stating that 'after seeing this film the Congolese Ministry of Justice is willing to consider reviewing Masamba's case under a special appeal procedure at the High Military Court in Congo's Capital, Kinshasa'.   The MoJ has seen the film and funds are currently being raised by Dutch NGOs to appeal the decision. The film makers have said in an interview with the Peace Palace that 'based on the new evidence that will be presented, I believe the chances are high that he will be released'.  

It will be interesting to see what influence the film will have in this case.  

Monday, September 3, 2012

57. God Sleeps in Rwanda (2005)


Rape and the Rwandan genocide 

 
God Sleeps in Rwanda is a short documentary film on the aftermath of the genocide.  Following the genocide women make up seventy percent of the population resulting in  an incredible burden and unprecedented opportunity for women.  Many girls have become the head of a household and Rwanda has changed legislation to grant women inheritance rights and other rights.Women have also become leaders in developing the country in terms of health and trade. 
Through interviews with survivors, the documentary tells the stories of five different women in the aftermath of genocide.  It highlights that women were raped by militia and of the hardships faced by women today.  At least 250,000 women and girls are estimated to have been raped during the genocide with many women contracting HIV. 
One of the stories focuses on a police woman, who has contracted HIV from her husband, cannot afford to buy anti retro-viral drugs for herself or her children.  The documentary is therefore a reminder that beyond providing peace and security, international organisations and national governments must work harder to provide medical care and health services following mass atrocity. The death toll of the genocide continues to rise because of HIV infection and the government have now ordered every pregnant woman to be tested for HIV. 

The documentary highlights the responsibility of Pauline Nyiramasuhuko and her son, for the instigation for the rape, torture and murder of women and girls.  Although the subject matter of the film is the Rwandan genocide, the film shows the strength and perseverance of the women interviewed and their new roles in the country. 

The film was nominated for an Academy Award.   Directed by Kimberlee Acquaro and Stacy Sherman, the film was made by 'Women Make Movies' a company started 30 years ago to address to under representation and misrepresentation of women in the media.  WMM have made a number of movies and have themed collections including a 'HUMAN RIGHTS: International Collection'.  Movies in this category include Africa Rising, After the Rape, Mrs. Goundo's Daughter, The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo and God Sleeps in Rwanda. 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

56. The Battle of Algiers (1966) *


Gillo Pontecorvo's film focuses on the guerrilla warfare tactics used by Algerians in the years 1954-1957.  Struggling against colonial rule, the National Liberation Front (FLN) - based in the Casbah in Algiers - became increasingly violent in their endeavour to free Algeria in the War of Independence.  The film begins and ends with the focus on Ali la Pointe, who is recruited by the FLN leadership.  

The film was loosely based on the book Souvenirs de la Bataille d'Alger, by Saadi Yacef (who plays El-hadi Jafar in the movie). It was shot in black and white and in documentary style, although much of the action is highly dramatised.  The film shows the subversive techniques used by the FLN:  how bombs were transported and made, the command structure of the guerilla organisation, the role of women and the response of French paratroopers. 

Nominated for three Oscars and winner of the UN Bafta Award, the film is a classic war movie and highly recommended. 

55. Born into Brothels (2004) *

Calcutta's Red Light Kids



Sonagachi, Calcutta.  The Red light district.  

Photographer Zana Briski lives in the area for two years in order to photograph the women of Calcutta.  During this time 'Auntie Zana' teaches the children the art of photography forming a particularly close bond with some of the kids.  Kochi, Avijit, Shanti, Manik, Puja, Gour, Suchitra, Tapasi and Mamuni star in this film about the children of Calcutta. 

The filmmakers decide to try help the children get an education.  Gour, one of the young boys, expresses the fear that the girls will become prostitutes, drug addicts and thieves.  Without opportunities, the children face being sold, forced into prostitution or married off at a young age.  Already two of Zana's children were forced into prostitution and married at 11 years old and Avijit's mother was burned to death by her pimp. 

A rare glimpse into the red light distinct of the emerging global power.  The film won an Oscar for best documentary and is worth watching.  

More information about the project and the children can be found here.  The website provides updates about the children featured in the documentary and supports the children (who chose to be supported) in their education. 

54. Heart of Jenin (2008) *


November, 2005, Ahmed Khatib, an eleven year old child was shot dead by the Israeli Defence Forces whilst playing with a toy gun in Jenin, Palestine.  His father decided to donate the boy's organs to other children in need of transplants in Israel.  The documentary tells the story of Ahmed's father as he goes to Israel to meet the children.  One child is a Bedouin Arab, another child is from an Orthodox Jewish family.  Through the unselfish actions of one man, we are shown a glimpse of humanity, kindness and suffering of the everyday people of Palestine and Israel as the search for peace remains illusive. 

Directed by Lior Geller and Marcus Vetter. 

Thursday, August 23, 2012

53. April Capitains (2000) *

Capitaes de Abril




On the 25 April 1974, a Portuguese radio played the 'Grandola' a song banned by the New State Dictatorship in power since 1926.  The song was a signal to revolutionaries, sick of the colonial wars in Angola, Mozambique and Guinea Bissau, to begin the 'Carnation Revolution'.  The military coup and the ensuring civilian resistance campaign toppled the dictatorship in Portugal and led to democracy without a single shot being fired.

Maria de Medeiros (Pulp Fiction), who stars and directs the movie, plays the role of a female activist married to the career soldier fighting in Africa.  She fights against the colonial wars through resistance with her students and others.  The movie tells the story of the civilian resistance and military coup in the run up to the 25th April.  In particular, the movie focuses on the story of Captain Salguiero Maia (Steffano Acorsi) one of the heroes of the Revolution.


An interesting film highlighting the history of Portugal with which English and American law students may not be familar.  Some of the scenes call to mind the regimes of Franco and the dictatorships in Latin America, which used censorship and torture to control and repress civilian populations. My favourite bit was when the civilian population start to cry out 'libertad sexual'!

Random Fact:
In addition to the Grandola, the 1974 Eurovision entry 'E Depois do Adeus' was played as a signal to begin the revolution.

52. The Apple (1998) *


Samira Makhmalbaf's directorial debut was met with critical acclaim and screened at film festival around the world.  Made when she was only 17 years old, the Apple, tells the real life story of two 12 year old girls who were locked up by their father and blind mother.  The two girls cannot speak and have not been let out for 11 years.  The neighbours therefore write to social welfare who take the girls and wash them.  The social worker returns to find the girls locked up again and, so in turn, locks the father up in place of the girls.  During this time the girls go out to play in the streets.  

The characters in the film are played by the real family involved in the case and by members of the Director's family.  The director Samira has stated on the family's official website:

The Apple,  which was originally conceived as a documentary picture, provided me with the pretext to carry out research on the issue of how much playing in the alleys and streets, which is the much exclusive prerogative of boys, helps men become more social than these women who do not have the chance of playing in the alleys and streets.  The film was also a means of discovering parent's motives when they act as their children's prison guards.  I also wanted to know how it is possible that the people in the neighbourhood can remain unaware of a virtual prison in their vicinity, or how they could remain indifferent when they became aware of the catastrophe.  and frankly I haven't found the answer to this last question. 

A part of the Iranian new wave movement, the Director similarly to her  sister and mother takes children as the focus to explore questions of social exclusion and gender. An interesting and promising film about horrific excesses of gender discrimination gone mad.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

51. Notorious (1946)


Last week I went to the BFI Southbank to see Notorious (1946) by Alfred Hitchhock.  The British Film Institute (BFI) is currently celebrating the 'Genius of Hitchcock festival' showcasing some of the Master of Suspense's work.  For those unfamiliar with Hitchcock his most famous movies include, Psycho, The Birds, Marine, Rear Window and Vertigo.  He has many other amazing films, mixing suspense and humour, such as, Strangers on a Train (1951) - remade by Danny DiVitto as Throw mamma from the train (1987), The Trouble with Harry (1955) and the Rope (1948).  Hitchcock is considered to be one of the movie greats, having moved from silent film to modern cinema, influencing directors and filmmakers around the world.  I've been looking for an opportunity to include a Hitchcock movie and Notorious seemed like an opportune movie.  


The movie is a film noir thriller, combining suspense with romance.  The film begins with the trial and conviction of Mr Huberman for treason (a law connection).  Alicia Huberman (Ingrid Bergman), his daughter, is contacted by Devlin (Cary Grant) and asked to go to Brazil to spy on Nazi friends of her father's.  US secret agents want to know what the Nazis are doing in Rio.  Alicia agrees to fly to Rio and soon Devlin and Alicia begin a passionate affair unaware of the details of the task.  However, Alicia must use her female charms to get herself into the close circle of Alexander Sebastian placing her love and her life at risk.

According to the BFI website Hitchcock was often demanding and cruel to his actresses.  His on screen portrayal of women and the brutal treatment of females led to charges of misogyny.  Ingrid Bergman, remembered most famously for her role in Casablanca, acted for Hitchcock three times (in Spellbound (1945) and Under Capricorn (1949).  However, due to an affair with Rossellini, Bergman was effectively banned from Hollywood for a number of years.  

A number of Americans were prosecuted following the end of the Second World War for treason following their participation in the Third Reich.  For example, Mildred Gillars and Rita Zucca, known as Axis Sallys, were American broadcasters were employed to disseminate Nazi propaganda.  They were arrested and prosecuted for treason. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

50. Princesas (2005)

yo se que un dia
vendra mi suerte
un dia me vendrá a buscar
a la salida un hombre bueno
dando la vida y sin pagar
mi corazon no es de alquilar
me llaman calle


Fernando Leon de Aranoa's movie about prostitution in Madrid is a realistic and hard-hitting insight into the world of sex workers in the capital.  Caye (Candela Peña) a young Spanish woman is a prostitute, working to save up money for breast implants.  She befriends the beautiful Zulema (Micaela Nevarez), an undocumented migrant from the Dominican Republic, working to send money home to her family.  Through their friendship Caye soon learns the vulnerable position of those without papers in Spain.  Zulema is tricked by men offering her false documents for sex, beaten up, has no protection from police officers who will deport her, and works at night in Casa de Campo, Madrid.  As a migrant without documentation, Zulema must offer sex for less and without protection, she ultimately pays a high price.  

The Director wished to shed light on the 'invisible women' of Madrid who are have a triple quota of persecution and pain, because they are women, because they are illegal, and because they work as prostitutes.  He wanted to show the risks of their profession and also call attention to the lack of their voice.  The film is about these women and their dreams and expressions of hope. 

Manu Chao's song 'Me llaman calle' is played throughout the film.  It won the film, best original song, at the Goyas.  He has other songs about prostitution in Spain including Malegria about la Calle del desengaño located just behind Gran Via on the way to Malasaña.  

From a human rights perspective, the film deals with multiple issues including, discrimination, race, HIV, gender based violence, intersectional discrimination and migrant worker's rights.   Recommended.

Monday, August 20, 2012

49. 13 Rosas (2007)

¡No pasarán!



It has been two days since the three Russian women, known as the punk band 'Pussy Rioters', were sentenced to two years imprisonment for hooliganism motivated by religious hatred.  In a trial which has captured global media attention, provoking protests around the world (including the arrests of protestors in Marseille, France for wearing Balaclavas and breaking French law for having their faces covered in a public place), the right to freedom of expression and female political activism have taken centre-stage.  The woman, who carried out their protests in coloured balaclavas, faced the judge in every day clothes.  Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, the 22 year old philosophy student pictured above, wore a T-Shirt with the slogan 'No Pasasran!' throughout her trial and during her closing speech.  

This slogan recalled a movie I had seen a few months back about 13 young women in Spain who were prosecuted and convicted without evidence for political activism in the aftermath of the civil war (1933-1936).  The women were politically active before Franco came to power, protesting  through the dissemination of leaflets and through advocacy.  They were arrested, interrogated, and jailed in las Ventas prison, until their execution in August 5, 1939.  The film directed by Emilio Martinez Lazaro follows the stories of seven of these young women, who sing and play in the jails until their show trial and subsequent deaths by firing squad. 

The reason I linked Pussy Riot to the women was due to the 'No Pasaran' slogan.  During the Spanish Civil War, one of the leaders, Dolores Ibarruri Gomez, also known as 'la Pasionaria', used it in her famous speech during the Siege of Madrid as a rallying call to resist Franco's forces. 

Women are often depicted as the victims of war, raped and forcibly displaced, with little room for politically agency.  The Pussy Riot band and women in history such as la Pasionaria and 13 Rosas demonstrate the fundamental roles young women have played in calling for a more just and free society. 

Television Lawyers

 Who inspired you?


Today the Guardian Newspaper has a feature on lawyers on the television screen.  The article lists twelve top lawyers from programmes including: Silk, North Square, Kavanagh QC, The Good Wife, Rumpole of the Bailey, Perry Mason, Ally McBeal, The West Wing, The Wire, Breaking Bad and Engrenages.  The authors argue that 'Lawyers don't only join the profession for the intellectual challenge, the chance to right wrongs, and the money. They also do it because it looks good on TV'.  

The Guardian published a similar article in 2008 - Take 10: TV lawyers - featuring mainly the same lawyers and programmes.  The list included Barry Zuckerkorn from Arrested Development, Petty Hewes (Glenn Close) from Damages and a couple of other lawyers from Boston Legal and Law and Order.  

The list contains a healthy number of lead female lawyers.  It would be nice to see more Chinese, Korean, Japanese and Asian lawyers on the list as Lucy Liu seems a little lonely as the lawyer and ferocious judge in Ally McBeal. 

Representation on screen matters since fictional legal systems and worlds often shape our notions of the law before we become law students and practionners.   According to Orit Kamir, in her book, Framed:  Women in Law and film, films (and television): 

create on-screen fictional legal systems that execute judgment, pursue justice and construct social subjects and communities both on and off-screen.  At the same time, such law films may pass cinematic judgment on these “legally constructed” individuals and communities and on the judgment and justice their fictional legal systems demonstrate and execute.  A film can be read as passing such cinematic judgment when, in addition to portraying an on-screen fictional legal system, it offers alternative cinematic constructions of subjects and societies, of justice and judgment.  In its cinematic judgment, a law film may echo the worldview encoded in its fictional legal system, allowing legal and cinematic mechanisms to reinforce each other in the creation of a community and worldview.  Alternatively, a law film may constitute a community and value system that criticizes or undercuts those supported by its fictional legal system.  Moreover, as a rich, multilayered text, a law film can perform both these functions concomitantly, through different means and on different levels, evoking complex and even contradictory responses toward social and legal issues presented on screen.

Law films and the depiction of the law on screen are therefore of import to lawyers interested in the interplay between popular culture, images and the law.  But representation on screen not only relates to fictional legal systems but also to social categories such as gender and race.  This has been a key focus of feminist film studies, and in the works of authors such as bell Hooks.  Films and televised depictions of female lawyers help to construct this category.  The absence of certain men and women from these programmes is therefore problematic, meaning young people may not be able to envision themselves in those positions. 

Sunday, August 19, 2012

48. The Night of the Pencils (1986)

La Noche de los Lapices



During the Argentine 'Dirty War' from 1976-1983 the military forces carried out a systematic campaign against certain parts of the civilian population.  As a part of this systematic attack, on the 16 September, 1976, ten students aged between 16 and 17 years old were kidnapped in La Plata.  This event is known as the 'night of the pencils'.  The the students were tortured, raped and subsequently 'disappeared' comprising the estimated 30,000 persons disappeared by the military.  

Hector Olivera's 1986 film is based on the testimony of Pablo Diaz, one of the two student survivors.  In 1985 Diaz gave his testimony during the Trial of the Junta in Buenos Aires.  This trial prosecuted those most responsible for crimes committed by the Junta (including Videla recently prosecuted and convicted of crimes against humanity).  Diaz's testimony was then turned into a book, which formed the basis of the movie. 

The movie tells the story of Diaz and three other students held in illegal detention centres by the military.  The film graphically depicts their plight (including the rape as torture of one of the female students).  An important movie which forms part of the collective memory of the Dirty War in Argentina.  Recommended. 



Friday, August 17, 2012

47. In my country (2004) *

A South African Story of Truth, Love and Reconciliation 



How does a country deal with mass atrocity?  How does it transition from military dictatorships or apartheid to a democracy?  How do victims receive justice for the crimes committed by regimes of terror?  In South Africa, a Truth and Reconciliation Commission was set up so that victims could tell their stories and that the perpetrators could ask for forgiveness in return for amnesty.  Perpetrators had to fully disclose their crimes which had to be committed under superior orders and for a political motive.  

In my country, gives the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings the Hollywood treatment. Starring an international cast including, Samuel L Jackson (as Langston Hughes the Washington Post reporter), Juliette Binoche (as Anna Malan, an Afrikans poet), and Brenden Gleeson (as De Jager, a perpetrator) the film was directed by Englishman, John Boorman.  Adapted from the book of the same name by Antjie Krog, the movie is based on some of the stories of the 21,800 victims who testified during the hearings.  

Using the relationship between Hughes and Langston as a vehicle to explore different aspects of the trials and the idea of 'truth' following their affair, the movie provides outsiders with an introduction to Ubuntu, the hearings and some of the horrendous crimes perpetrated during apartheid.  

Thursday, August 16, 2012

46. Alexandra (2007) *


Alexandra is a slow moving Russian film about a grandmother (Galina Vishnevskaya) who travels to visit her grandson, posted in Chechnya.  Denis, an officer in the Russian army, has been engaged in fighting for the past seven years.  Through the old woman's wise and discerning eyes, the film illustrates the youth, loneliness and futility of war.  Young boys become men, in masculine, dirty and violent environments devoid of love or comfort.  At one point, Alexandra leaves the stifling heat of the barracks to visit a local market and befriends some Chechynian women. A woman called Malika invites Alexandra to her house to rest.  She states that whilst men can be enemies, women when they meet are immediately like sisters.  The two women become friends in the short period.  

The film is touching and the barren landscape is strangely beautiful.  Highly recommended.  

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

45. Divine Intervention (2002) *


Yadon Ilayeyya



Life in Palestine is not all martyrdom, gunfire and poverty.  Elia Sulieman's Divine Intervention provides us with an insight into everyday life in Palestine in an ironic and comic manner.  Santa Claus runs up mountains, a man waits for a bus that he knows will never come, lovers meet at the Israeli checkpoint for dates, a female assassin combats and defeats a host of soldiers in a ninja-esque scene (awesome), neighbours throw garbage into each others lawns and so on.  These are just some of the snippets of life Sulieman (who stars in the film) presents to us for contemplation and amusement.

An art film, silent in parts, sad and funny, this cinematic depiction of Palestine is unique.  

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

44. Death in Gaza (2004) *



Death in Gaza tells two stories.  The documentary opens with the tragic death of the director and cameraman  James Miller.  In the final days of shooting in Rafah - on the southern strip of Gaza - Miller was shot and killed by the IDF.  The film ends with the footage of the killing taken by a local TV crew.  At first the IDF claimed that the journalist had been caught in cross fire, however, they retracted their statements following clear video footage showing that there was no gunfire coming from the Palestinians.  Waving a white flag, with TV clearly marked on his vest and helmet, Miller died in his attempt to bring the stories of the children of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.  

The second story and the objective of the documentary is about the effects of the conflict on children.  Miller never got the chance to interview Israeli children, however, through interactions with children in the West Bank and Gaza, the film provides an account of the everyday lives of some of the poorest children caught in the conflict.  Some of the children have lost many members of their family, whilst others have a desire to be martyred for the cause. 

A sensitive film on the effects of war on the children of Palestine. An Emmy award winning documentary running 80 minutes the film is worth watching.  

Friday, August 10, 2012

43. West Beyrouth (1998) *


Tarek (played by the Director's brother Rami Doueriri) is a young guy attending the French School in Beirut.  After giving the teacher cheek he is sent out of class and witnesses a massacre.  Its 1975 and Beirut is divided into two parts - East for Christians and West for Muslims - as a war begins.  

Ziad Doueiri's movie is a story about growing up, its a love story to the city and to super 8 film.  Its funny, touching and the characters Tarek, Omar and May are very likeable.    This fictionalised account based on Ziad's own experiences of the war illustrates how cinema can be a much more effective way of conveying a message than a documentary.  A movie to watch over and over again.  

I end with this quotation from Doueiri:
“My advice to other filmmakers is if you want to replicate a war, do it in Beirut. The army supplied me with troops and even a helicopter to shoot scenes. Sometimes, I would be risking my life hanging out of the copter with a camera and Beirutis would climb onto their roofs and wave. We would frantically radio to the crew below to ask residents not to be so hospitable and stay inside.” 
Doueiri


Thursday, August 9, 2012

42. The Relief of Belsen (2008) *







Elie Wiesel has stated that 'Auschwitz cannot be explained nor can it be visualised' (1978).  Certain philosophers and scholars believe that the Holocaust is unrepresentable and cannot be screened or captured by film (to simplify drastically the idea of ineffability).  According to Libby Saxton in her work Haunted Images scholars have more recently come to discuss representation, not in terms of prohibition, but rather in terms of challenges and obstacles.  Agamben for example argues that to state that the Holocaust is 'unspeakable' may result in victory for the perpetrators, stripping witnesses of credibility and rendering them speechless.  

Whilst the debate about representation of the Holocaust continues numerous movies have been made about the Holocaust and the different concentration camps.  Some of these movies, The Relief of Belsen, uses footage taken by the British when the camp was liberated in April 1945.  The camp was liberated before the war ended due to an outbreak of typhus which threatened to kill the 40,000 or so inmates still alive in the camp.  Roughly three-quarters of the survivors were women and children, dying from starvation and disease.  The movie tells the story of 20 doctors who set out to save the lives of people in the camp.  Through first hand accounts left in diaries and medical reports, the film narrates the struggle of British army doctors, personnel and former camp survivors like Dr Bimko, who set up a make shift hospital in order to contain typhus.  The film therefore highlights the aftermath of the liberation and the continued struggle to ensure survival of those who were not exterminated by the Nazis.  



Perhaps the Holocaust cannot be adequately represented, however, movies like Belsen cast light on some of the experiences of those who witnessed the horrors first hand. Written by Peter Guinness and Justin Hardy, the film emphasises the need for medical care in the field to be humane.  Doctors and nurses must treat their patients with humanity for patients to survive.  The film notes the difference made by adding paprika to Bengal famine mixture at the request of the Rabbi, holding people's hands throughout the night, not using syringes without explanation.  It also alerts us to the many young men and women who volunteered to work as medics and nurses after the liberation of the camps.  A well made docu-drama worth watching.