Tuesday, July 31, 2012

36. Offside (2006) *




The London Olympics 2012 are here.  At the weekend I went to see women's indoor volleyball at Earl's Court cheering on team GB v Russia and the Dominican Republic v Italy.  Rather than cheering on a particular team, it was great to celebrate the first time that all teams participating have a women's team!  

Upon my return to the Hague I wanted to watch a movie in the spirit of women's equality and empowerment through sport.  Off to the ICC library I went to find.. Offside (2006) by Jafar Panahi.  The movie is a brilliant comedy about a bunch of young girls who want to watch a world qualifier football match between Iran v. Bahrain.  However, since Irani women are not allowed in the stadium, the girls disguise themselves as boys and attempt to get past the soldiers and stewards at the event.  

Entertaining and intelligent, the film is based on Panahi's daughter who attempted to get into a football stadium in Iran.  The film won the Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival in 2006 but was banned in Iran.  A fantastic mix of sport and equal rights rhetoric.  Watch it.  

This post is dedicated to my friend Caitlin Fisher, Fullbright scholar and co-founder of the Guerreiras Project .  More information on this project can be found here


35. Eichmann's End (2010) *

Love, Treachery and Death



Eichamann's Ende is a German made for television film on the events leading to the capture of Adolf Eichmann.  Made by Raymond Ley, the film stars Herbert Knaup, Ulrich Tukur (The Lives of Others, John Rabe) and Alex Milberg.  

The movie is told through the prism of a love story between Silvia Hermann, a young German emigre in Buenos Aires and Nick Eichmann, the son of Adolf Eichmann.  When Silvia's father realises who Nick's father is he asks his daughter to play detective, gathering evidence which he sends to Germany.  This information in turn is passed onto the Mossad. 

Through the interviews with Dutch Fascist William Sassen, we hear the tapes of conversation between the journalist and Adolf Eichmann on topics such as Hilter, the Holocaust and Eichmann's role in organizing the transport of Jews to concentration camps.  These tapes would become important evidence against him in his trial in Israel.  

A short film portraying Eichmann as less banal and more evil.  


Monday, July 30, 2012

34. John Rabe (2009) *

City of War: The Story of John Rabe 




Nanking, China 1937




Based on the true story of the life of John Rabe, a 'jolly good fellow' and Nazi chairman of Siemens, Nanking, this film provides a fictionalised account of the Rape of Nanking by the Japanese. Focusing on the international community remaining in the city it outlines how Rabe and his friends set up an international safe zone saving the lives of 200,000 Chinese men, women and children. 


The film is pretty long, over two hours, but its high production value keeps it interesting.  The film does feel sanitised in parts.  Despite the rape of over 20,000 Chinese women in the first three days in Nanking, no woman is raped in the movie.  Why did the director decide not to show the graphic sexual violence?  Would it have made the movie unwatchable?  Worse than the execution of thousands of Chinese soldiers?  What does it mean not to show the sexual violence?



Apart from issues of representing sexual violence, the film also raised an issue on individual criminal responsibility.  It firmly places the blame of the Nanking massacre on Prince Asaka leaving Matsui Iwane with a minor role.  However, Iwane was the general prosecuted in the Tokyo War Crimes Trial for his role on war crimes in Nanking and the only one to be prosecuted separately for the plight of comfort women (well woman and Dutch). 

Made by Florian Gallenberger, the boasts an international cast including, Ulrich Tukur (The Lives of Others), Daniel Bruhl (Goodbye Lenin (2003), The Edukators (2007), Steve Buscemi (Fargo (1996), Reservoir Dogs (1992), The Big Lebowski (1998)), Jingchu Zhang (Rush Hour 3 (2007)) and Akira Emoto (Zatoichi). 



33. Shake Hands with the Devil (2007) *

The Journey of Romeo Dallaire 



Ten years after the Rwandan genocide in 1994, Peter Raymont accompanies Romeo Dallaire to Rwanda for the first time since his departure.  Dallaire was the General in charge of the UN peacekeeping forces in Rwanda.  The film is a critical and reflective journey in which the many failures of the UN and international community in the lead up to the genocide claiming 800,000 lives are explored.  

So why did the UN peacekeepers not do more to prevent the genocide?  Why did the international community not respond?  How did Dallaire attempt to draw international attention to Rwanda?  These are all questions which Dallaire grapples with every day since 1994.  

One of the interesting things Dallaire mentions is the trial of OJ Simpson, he notes that most people in the world were fascinated by OJ Simpson's gloves and that they saw images of Rwanda and then moved onto other things.  Therefore, Dallaire courted the press, speaking candidly to CBC and inviting Mark Doyle of the BCC to cover the impending atrocities.  

A great accompaniment to the book of the same name.  I dedicate this post to Liam Tracey Raymont who told me about this movie. 




Thursday, July 26, 2012

32. Carte Blanche (2011) *



The Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) has its own Public Information Officer (PIO).  The PIO deals with external media relations and liaises with external actors interested in the work of the Prosecutor.  The PIO is also responsible for relations with filmmakers who wish to make documentaries on the work of the OTP.  During the first ten years of the Court and under the former Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo a number of documentaries have been made which required participation of the OTP.  The Reckoning mentioned in an earlier post involved a film crew following Moreno Campo around for three years.  Other films which will be covered soon include The Prosecutor, a film by Peter Raymont focusing on Moreno Ocampo, Darfur Now (2007) and Carte Blanche (2011).

Carte Blanche, a film by Heidi Specogna, is set in the locations of the Hague, the Netherlands and Bangui, Central African Republic.  The film examines the work of the ICC and Office of the Prosecutor concerning the Jean Pierre Bemba case.  Bemba, the former Vice President of the DRC and leader of the Congo Liberation Movement is currently on trial in the ICC on 8 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during 2002/2003 in the CAR.

The film takes us through the confirmation hearings (the purpose of which is to act as a filter distinguishing case which should or should not go to trial depending on whether there is sufficient evidence) set in the Hague.  It also takes us to Bangui, on mission with Gloria Atiba Davies, the victims expert and Dr Eric Baccard, the forensic pathologist.  In this way, we are given a more holistic snapshot of the workings of the Prosecution.  The trial stage thus plays a minor part in the film with investigations the main focus.

The filmmakers also interview some of the witnesses and survivors of the attacks on Bangui, with special focus on the sexual violence and rapes suffered by men, women and girls.  Bemba is charged with these acts as both war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Aesthetically, the film is pleasing, with beautiful landscape shots interspersed with black and white photographs of the victims.  Water and the rain also play important roles in the beginning and end of the documentary.

Worth watching.   The official film site can be accessed here.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

31. Nanking (2007) *



Made in the same year as the Iris Chang film mentioned in an earlier post, Nanking (2007) is a movie based on Chang's bestseller The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust.  Directed by Bill Guttentag and Dan Sturman, the movie tells the story of the atrocities perpetrated by the Japanese military in Nanking, China. 

The documentary details the evacuation of Nanking by wealthy Chinese and by foreigners living in Nanking.  Some Westerners decided not to leave, just as some Chinese stayed in the town unable to leave their elderly parents and sick children.  Despite Japanese refusal, a two mile Safety Zone was established by an international committee comprised of Americans and Nazis.  The Americans and Germans housed the Chinese and helped to protect them. However this safety zone was unable to prevent the massacre, pillaging and rape which took place in 1937. 

The film contains a mix of footage from the time, interviews with survivors of the Rape of Nanking (some survivors also appear in the Iris Chang documentary) and fictionalised accounts of the atrocities in mockumentary style by actors narrating the story.  The  actors playing the role of real life persons include Woody Harrelson (mentioned in the post on Welcome to Sarajevo) as Bob Wilson and the German actor Jurgen Prochnow as John Rabe.  Chinese American actors include Rosalind Chao, Michelle Krusiec and Robert Wu.  


In the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, General Iwane Matsui was indicted and convicted for war crimes committed during the Rape of Nanking.  In the Nanjing War Crimes Tribunal set up by the government of Chiang Kai-Shek in 1946, General Hisano Tani and three others were prosecuted and sentenced to death for their roles in the Rape of Nanking. Despite these prosecutions at the time, Nanking was a 'forgotten'  massacre until the publication of Chang's book.  It is hoped that these documentaries and renewed interest will ensure that Nanking gets the prominence it deserves in the study of international criminal justice. 


Monday, July 23, 2012

30. Iris Chang: Rape of Nanking (2007) *

The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II



Why did it need a child of the community to write this story? And second, why had it disappeared from history?

The documentary focuses on the life of Iris Chang (1968-2004) a Chinese American writer and journalist.  In 1997 she published 'The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II' the first non-fiction account of the massacre in the English language.  Through interviews with her friends, family and survivors in Nanking, the documentary pieces together Chang's journey in researching and writing the book before her suicide.  

Co-directed by Bill Spahic and Anne Pick, written by Michael Betcherman, the film aims to cast light upon the often forgotten atrocities perpetrated during World War II against the Chinese and Asians by the Japanese. For example, Chang details the rapes of between 20,000 to 80,000 girls and women by the Japanese soldiers.  The survivors give devastating accounts of the brutality of the massacre.  They remain in Nanking deeply affected by the personal and societal tragedy they survived.  

The films intersects the testimonies of Chang, her family and survivors with fictionalised depictions of her breakdown before her suicide.  The film shows Chang's 'vicarious traumatization' (to use the words of the psychiatrist Hoffman) in researching the Nanking massacre.  Although the documentary is interesting it has some shortcomings.  Chang had strong ties with her community and this is lacking from the Canadian film.  The choice of music in the film is poor.  Intelligent editing (it could be much shorter) and greater focus on the words of the survivors would have made for a much better documentary.  More information on the film can be found on the official film website here.


Sunday, July 22, 2012

29. The Killing Fields (1984) *




The Killing Fields (1984) is set in 'year zero' of Pol Pot's cleansing campaign in Cambodia.  The movie tells the story of an American reporter for the New York Times, Sydney Schanberg, (Sam Waterson) who goes to Cambodia to report on the effects of the Vietnam War and US military action.  In Phnom Penh he works with Cambodian journalist, Dith Pran (Haing S. Ngor). The journalists realise too late that Cambodia is on the brink of a 'bloodbath'.  The first half of the movie (its very long) centres on the build-up to the Khmer Rouge arrival in the capital and the evacuation of civilians.  During this time, Sydney ensures that Pran's family are flown to safety by the US military but convinces Pran to stay.  Pran however is not allowed to remain with the foreign journalists.  

The second half the movie revolves around Pran's resolve to escape from the Khmer labour camp.  After Pran escapes, he literally stumbles upon the killing fields of Cambodia.  Surrounded by the skeletons and dead bodies, Pran continues on his journey in an attempt to escape the atrocity.  Through Pran's experience we witness the 'reeducation' of the Cambodian people much like under the Cultural Revolution in China.  Child soldiers are used as look outs and killers.  We see their indoctrination in classes where they are taught  that children are separate from their parents and that their only loyalty is to the party. 

Directed by Roland Joffe, the British film won three Academy Awards.  The film had been nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Director, Actor, Supporting Actor, Adapted Screenplay, Film Editing and Cinematography.  It won for Best supporting actor (Haing Ngor), Best Editing and Best Cinematography.  Haing Ngor, a doctor, had been held in labour camps for four years in parallel time to his character.  It was his first film.  

An informative film on the run up to the Cambodian genocide which resulted in 1.5 to 2 million deaths.  The movie clearly highlights US involvement in the region and Nixon's role in bombing Cambodia and causing civilian casualties. 




Saturday, July 21, 2012

28. The Debt (2010) *



 The Debt Poster

Based on the Israeli movie Ha Hov (2007), The Debt (2010) is a Hollywood adaptation by John Madden of an espionage thriller.  In 1965 three young mossad agents go undercover to East Berlin to apprehend the notorious Surgeon of Birkenau. Their mission is to capture the doctor (working as a gynecologist) and bring him to Israel to stand trial for his crimes.  Rachel Singer is sent to the doctor to undergo tests under the pretense that she cannot get pregnant.  She lives with her two fellow agents, David and Stefan.  The traumatic experience of the gynecological examinations lead her into the arms of Stefan.  However, it is David and Rachel that are in love. 

After capturing the Doctor their mission takes a turn for the worse.  The Doctor escapes and the three agents decide to return to Israel and tell the nation that they have killed their prisoner.  Justice is therefore seen to be done.  However, the truth (or lack thereof) haunts the three adults thirty years later. 

Hollywood being Hollywood there are a number of differences between the Israeli original and Madden's movie.  The Debt places far greater weight on the love triangle between the characters.  In The Debt the young Rachel becomes pregnant after sleeping with Stefan and they get married. This story line is absent in the Israeli film. 

Starring Helen Mirren, Sam Worthington and Tom Wilkinson, the film flits between East Berlin in 1965 and Tel Aviv in 1997. I was interested to find it in the ICC library but I wouldn't watch it again.

Friday, July 20, 2012

27. Whistleblower (2010)



Human trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation must be one of the most abhorrent abuses suffered by people (mainly women and children) today.  A modern form of slavery, women and girls are kidnapped, beaten and raped by traffickers who make huge profits exploiting women to men who pay for sex (whether it is consensual or not).  The Protocol on human trafficking to prevent, suppress and punish human trafficking forms part of the Convention against Transnational Organised Crime.  But what happens if this organized crime is being perpetrated by those working in international organisations?  What happens if those involved in exploiting and raping women are UN peacekeepers with immunity?  And what happens to the person brave enough to report what's going on? 

Whistleblower (2010) directed by Canadian Larysa Kondrachi tells the fictionalised story of Kathyrn Bolkovac (played by Rachel Weisz).  Bolkovac was an American police officer sent to Bosnia under a contract with Dyncorp, a private contractor.    When in Bosnia, she uncovered the involvement of UN peacekeepers in the trafficking and sexual exploitation of women post conflict in the Balkans.  The film dramatises the protection that the UN gave the soldiers and police men involved in the exploitation of the women.  These men enjoyed the privileges of immunity.  Balkovac however was fired by the company in what the UK employment tribunal determined to be an unfair dismissal on account of her investigation and reporting of human trafficking.  

An excellent and hard hitting movie with big name actors including Vanessa Redgrave and Monica Belluci the film is a must see for those interested in gender issues in post conflict situations and UN accountability (or lack thereof) for the criminal actions of personnel.  

For a follow up on the real life events since the film was released (including an apology from Ban Ki Moon and a screening by the UN) see the guardian article here.

26. Lilya-4-ever (2002)


Lilya 4 ever is a powerful and realistic film about human trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation. Written and directed by Swedish filmmaker Lukas Moodysson the story is based loosely on the life of a young Lithuanian girl who made the headlines in Sweden in 2000.  As the director states in an interview:  


When we made the film, we received so many letters from organisations who were touched by the film and wanted to open a discussion because they were working with similar issues. Everyone - from someone at an orphanage in Chile to the Swedish foreign minister - got in touch. I am now learning a lot about trafficking and prostitution but when I started to write the script I knew exactly what I wanted to write. It was thrown into my head. Somewhere in the back of my mind I had heard about lots of things that had happened in Sweden like this. There was a girl in Malmo, which is where I am from, who threw herself off a bridge after she escaped from being locked up in an apartment in circumstances not completely dissimilar to those of Lilya. It is not a film about her but it is partly inspired by her. In the back of my mind I did have a lot of things that I had heard from people and read about.


Lilya is a 16 year old girl who lives in an unnamed town in the former Soviet Union (the film is shot in Estonia).  Abandoned by her mother who moves to the US with her boyfriend Lilya is left to fend for herself.  After her aunt takes her apartment Lilya is left destitute with no option but to prostitute herself.  But then, one evening, Lilya meets Andrei at a bar.  Andrei becomes her boyfriend and offers her a job in Sweden.  In Sweden, Lilya's passport is taken from her and she is taken to an apartment and raped by her future employer....  

An excellent film about human trafficking.  Brutal and unrelenting.  The smart camera work forces the audience to experience the sexual abuse from Lilya's point of view.  An important movie.  

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

25. Srebenica: Triumph of Evil (2001) *

The trial of Radislav Krstic


The phrase 'triumph of evil' comes from the opening speech by Prosecutor Mark Harmon in the trial of Radislav Krstic at the International Criminal Tribunal of the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY).  Krstic was charged with 8 counts by the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP).   One count of genocide, one count of complicity to commit genocide, one count of violations of the laws and customs of war and five of crimes against humanity.  All acts relate to the events during and after the fall of the UN area of Srebenica enclave.  Krstic was the first person to be found guilty of genocide by the Tribunal and sentenced to 46 years imprisonment.

The documentary is comprised of news footage taken by Serbian television crews and footage from ICTY TV featuring the testimony of witnesses and prosecution statements. Divided into five sections, the documentary takes us through the trial.  First, presenting the Prosecution arguments on the deportation and executions.  Secondly, guiding the viewers through the forensic evidence on mass graves and the secondary mass graves in Bosnia.  Thirdly, highlighting some of the defence arguments put forward by Krstic and his defence team and finally, a summary of the closing arguments.  

The documentary is interesting as it gives an in depth account of the trial and shows how the Prosecution presented its evidence.  The use of maps, video footage in which Mladic was both the 'lead actor and show host', and witness testimony are all an insight into how international trials work.

However, the film is very dry.  The voice over is monotone and the narrator speaks too fast.    This means that some of the important aspects of the evidence get lot.  Moreover, by focusing on technical aspects, the scale of atrocity fails to come across.  Another aspect of the trial is also absent from the documentary.  The Krstic case is concerned to be one of the six landmark cases on sexual violence decided by the Tribunal.  According to the website at http://www.icty.org/sid/10314:

"Whereas the Kunarac et al. judgement clearly defined rape as a tool of war, the case of Radislav Krstić established a link between rape and ethnic cleansing, which, in the context of Srebrenica crimes in July 1995, was closely associated with genocide. 

Krstić was a General Major in the Bosnian Serb Army and commander of the Drina Corps during the operation which resulted in the execution of more than seven thousand Bosnian Muslim boys and men from Srebrenica in July 1995. 

As Srebrenica fell under Bosnian Serb army control, about 20-30,000 of its Muslim residents, mostly women, children and the elderly, fled to the nearby village of Potočari. Several thousand sought protection inside the UN military camp. Serb soldiers entered the compound, mingled in the crowd and threatened, beat and killed people. The soldiers also committed many acts of rape. 

The Trial Chamber found Krstić responsible for the crimes committed in Potočari, including the rapes, which were deemed as “natural and foreseeable consequences of the ethnic cleansing campaign”. The Judges noted that, although “ethnic cleansing” was not a legal term, it had been used in various legal analyses before. The Trial Chamber concluded that there were “obvious similarities between a genocidal policy and the policy commonly known as ''ethnic cleansing”., The rapes in Potočari did not form part of Krstić’s conviction for aiding and abetting genocide, as the events in Potočari were a prelude to the subsequent genocide. In 2004 the Appeals Chamber upheld the sexual violence convictions. Krstić was sentenced to 35 years’ imprisonment."


Its a pity that this aspect of the trial was not covered in the film.  

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

24. When the Mountains Tremble (1983) *


In an earlier post I featured the documentary Granito: How to Nail a dictator the sequel to When the Mountains Tremble, a documentary about the war on the Mayan population of Guatemala, narrated by the Nobel Peace Prize Winner, Rigoberta Menchu.  Both films made by Skylight Pictures and Pamela Yates tell stories of the State repression of indigenous populations in Guatemala during the 1980s under the leadership of General Efrain Rios Montt. 

When the Mountains Tremble is an incredible documentary.  It bravely uncovers the role of the United States in facilitating military rule in Guatemala for its own trade purposes.  Liberal capitalism and free trade promoted by the United States led to the dispossession of local populations and their exploitation.  The film contains footage from both Guatemalan and US television including the statement of former President Ronald Reagan before Congress in which he calls on businesses to "be bold and spread American enterprise throughout the hemisphere".  Beyond US responsibility in providing finance and weapons to the Guatemalan military, the film also looks at the complicity of religious organizations in the massacre. Following repression of some priests within the Catholic Church, evangelical groups from the US begin to take their place. 

Throughout the story told by Rigoberta Menchu we witness the organization of el pueblo guatemalteco. It is the people of Guatemala who star in this film, risking their lives to tell the stories of repression and mass human rights violations. We see training exercises of the guerrillas, the activism of young men and young men who wish to protect their people and who strive for equality.

The documentary can be streamed online at PBS : http://www.pbs.org/pov/granito/when-the-mountains-tremble.php

An incredibly powerful documentary exploring the multifaceted factors which lead to genocide and human rights violations.  Every bit as relevant today as the 'war on drugs' ravages countries in Central America. 

23. Stray Dogs (2004) *


In a previous post, I reviewed Buddha collapsed out of shame, directed by the young Irani film maker, Hana Makhmalbaf.  The film script about a young girl's attempts to go to school in Afghanistan were developed with her mother, Marzieh Meshkini.  It is by coincidence that I selected the two films to watch on the same day without knowing their relationship at the time.   

Stray Dogs (2004) made three years prior to her daughter's movie also focuses on the plight of children in post-Taliban Afghanistan. There are similarities in the movies which alerted me to a possible relationship.  The cruelty of the young boys as they endeavour to burn a dog to death.  The touching portrait of children, stoic and self-sufficient against the indifference of adults. 

Stray Dogs tells the story of two children and the dog they rescue.  Calling themselves 'night prisoners' the children visit their mother at night and sleep with her in jail.  The father of the children fought against the Americans and was presumed dead during five years in which time the mother remarried.  The mother then found herself in prison for 'adultery'.  Their father is also in prison and is subsequently moved to Guantanamo Bay leaving the children homeless.  One evening a new guard informs them that the rules have changed and they can no longer sleep in the prison.  The children therefore decide to steal something so that they can sleep in prison with their mother... 

When asked why she made a movie about Afghanistan, Meshkini stated: 
I was born in Iran, but the entire world is my home. I have learnt that filmmaking is a way of alleviating the sufferings of human beings. Just as we have doctors without frontiers, we also have artists without frontiers. My compassion is aroused whenever there is suffering. Saadi, one of the greatest Persian poets, has a poem which expresses the same sentiment and has been posted on the United Nations’ portal:
Human beings are members of one another.
As they have been created from one essence.
When one member suffers pain.
The other members become restless.
You don’t deserve to be called a human being.
If you are indifferent to other people’s woes.

Food for thought. 

Sunday, July 15, 2012

22. Buddha Collapsed Out of Shame (2007) *

Buda as sharm foru rikht



"A man was sleeping under a tree.  A walnut feel on his head.  He got up and said: Lucky it wasn't a pumpkin or I'd be dead..." 

So begins this story shot in Bamian, Afghanistan, a town blown up by the Taliban in 2001.  Critically acclaimed in film festivals around the world, the movie tells the story of a six year old girl, Bakhtay, who desperately wants to go to school.  In the 77 minutes of film we witness the obstacles she faces every day in her quest to learn:  the need to buy a notebook and a pen, to find a school for girls and escape from a group of young boys playing at enforcing the laws of the Taliban. 

The film was directed by Hana Makhmalbaf, the daughter of Mohsen and Marziyeh and sister of Samira Makhmalbaf, a family of filmmakers from Iran.  She was 18 years old when the film was made, developing the storyline with her mother. Asked what she intended to show in the film she states:  

"By showing today’s picture of Afghanistan, I tried to depict the effects of the recent years’ violence on the country. So that the adults could see how their behavior affects the younger generation. Children are the future adults. If they get used to violence, the future of the world will be in great danger. A teenage boy in the film says: “when I grow up I will kill you”. Because as a child he has been through lots of violence so it has become part of his usual life." A full interview and dialogue list is available here in English http://www.makhmalbaf.com/movies.php?m=59 

In the everyday images we see on the war in Afghanistan, from the war with the Russians, the Taliban or the US soldiers, it is easy to forget the human impact of the war.  News reports focus on the death of soldiers (usually US soldiers) and occasionally Afghan civilians.  Buddha collapsed out of shame is a reminder that we could do so much more to help access to education for girls (and boys) around the world.  It is also calls attention to the effects of decades of war on young children, in areas which are forgotten by the press. An original and thought provoking movie, worth watching. 

Thursday, July 12, 2012

21. Breaking the history of silence *

The women's international war crimes tribunal for the trial of the Japanese military for crimes of sexual slavery 



After the Second World War, the allies set up a tribunal to prosecute those responsible for war crimes perpetrated by the Japanese military.  The Tokyo Tribunal, often considered the poor sister of the Nuremberg Tribunal, has been criticised for the selectivity over crimes prosecuted and also for its failure to prosecute Emperor Hirohito.  Another criticism of the IMTFE is that it failed to prosecute those responsible for the plight of so-called 'comfort women'.  Comfort women are women who were placed in 'stations', held in sexual slavery and brutally raped during the war.  Women from Korea (North and South), China, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, East Timor, Taiwan, the Netherlands and Okinawa are yet to receive a proper apology from the Japanese government nor monetary compensation for the suffering they endured.  

Only one man has been prosecuted for crimes related to 'comfort women'.  General Iwate was convicted for war crimes relating to a Dutch woman held in a comfort station during the colonization of Indonesia.  Despite being the overwhelming victims of Japanese military, Asian women have yet to receive any redress and their claims are continuously rejected by courts, including the recent rejection by the Philippine Supreme Court.  

In 2000, a People's Tribunal was held in order to prosecute Hirohito and those responsible.  The Tribunal also found that the state of Japan was responsible for the crimes in terms of state responsibility.  Elderly women from all over Asia and the Netherlands bravely came to testify about their experiences.  Many were kidnapped as teenagers and transported around comfort stations.  Some were impregnated during the gang rapes by soldiers, sometimes numbering 60 men during one day.  Some former soldiers also came forward to testify to their role in raping women in China.  

The Tribunal was comprised of international judges and prosecutors including, Patricia V. Sellers, Gabrielle Kirk McDonald , Carmen Argibay (an excellent Argentine judge), Prof Christine Chinkin (my supervisor), Willy Mutunga, and countless lawyers and activists.  

Of course, the most amazing and moving part of the documentary is hearing the testimony of these women.  The Tribunal recommended that Japan should apology and so it should. 

20. Bent (1997)




In the Boundaries of International law, Chinkin, Charlesworth and Chinkin explain that one feminist methodology in the study of international law is to expose the silences of the international system.  Feminist scholars of international criminal law, such as Kelly D. Askin, have noted how the founding tribunals of the International Military Tribunal of Nuremberg and the International Military Tribunal for the Far East 'silenced' gender crimes in the judgments and proceedings.  In Nuremberg none of the Nazi war criminals were charged with rape, sexual violence, forced abortion, despite ample documentary evidence.  In Tokyo, rape was charged as a crime against honour, however, the sexual slavery of the so-called 'comfort women' was excluded from the indictment.  This is now a relatively well known story within the study of international criminal justice.  Concerted efforts since 1990s to ensure that victims and survivors of gender violence are not silenced by international proceedings have culminated in the enumeration of a plethora of gender crimes in the Rome Statute 1998.  The Rome Statute is the first international treaty to use and define the word 'gender'.  An achievement for feminist advocates and lawyers of international law.  

However, as the current Gender Advisor of the ICC, the famous, Catharine A. Mackinnon, has noted, the definition in the Rome Statute excludes gay and lesbian persons.  Or as other commentators have put it, the definition is heterosexist.  So why does this matter?  

Bent (1997) is a good reminder of why the protection of gay and lesbian persons in international criminal justice is important. It also reminds us that the persecution of many different groups during the Holocaust is prone to 'silencing'.  Originally a play by Martin Sherman, and directed by Sean Mathias, the film tells the story of Max, a gay man sent to Dachau under the Nazi regime.  His partner Ralph is murdered by the SS for wearing glasses.  Max decided to chose a yellow star instead of a pink star, preferring to be persecuted as a Jewish man instead of a gay man.  During his time at the camp he falls in love with Horst, another inmate, who wears a pink star.  Members of the cast include, Clive Owen, Mick Jagger, Sir Ian McKellen, and Jude Law. 

The persecution of gay men during the Holocaust is a neglected topic in legal literature and in academia more generally.  According to Wikipedia Bent led to an apology from the German government and to monuments being constructed in the memory of gay men persecuted by the Nazi regime.  The play depicts some of the horrors faced by gay men but also provides an allegory on themes of shame, pride, and freedom.  Difficult to watch but definitely to be recommended.  

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

19. Against all odds: The first ten years of the ICTY *



Today is the 17th anniversary of the Srebenica massacre.  This week is also international criminal justice week marking the first ten years of the International Criminal Court (ICC).  I therefore felt it would be appropriate to introduce one of the documentaries made about the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY).  

The ICTY located, like the ICC, in the Hague, was established by a unanimous Security Council resolution in 1993.  The documentary informs us through a voice over that the Security Council declared the Tribunal resolution just as easily as it declared Srebenica a safe area.   Tracing the development of the Tribunal from its establishment, to its indictment and prosecution of Milosevic, the film interviews judges and prosecutors, including, Richard Goldstone (the first Prosecutor), Gabrielle Kirk McDonald, Louise Arbour and the late Antonio Cassesse.  

There are a number of things I learned from the documentary:

1. The Tribunal at first had no budget with Gabrielle Kirk McDonald stating that the UN gave allotments 'like  you would to a child'.  Goldstone was informed in 1994 that he had to indict someone by 1995 otherwise the funding would be drawn.  Therefore, he indicted the 'small fish' with a pyramid strategy starting at the bottom and working his way up.  Cassesse thought that this was ridiculous.  
2. Louise Arbour set out to change the 'NGO' atmosphere of the Tribunal and instead used her powers to convince States to arrest those wanted by the Tribunal.  By showing that operations could be carried out she wanted to shame SFOR into action. 
3. The raw emotion is well captured in the documentary.  Cassesse speaks of judges having tears down their faces as the witnesses gave their testimony.  
4.  The average sentence handed down by those convicted by the Tribunal is 16 years (this is interesting when compared to Lubanga's sentence of 14 years).  

As part of its information and outreach projects the ICTY makes documentaries about its work.  Another documentary 'Triumph of Justice: The Prosecution of Sexual Violence' will be reviewed later.  
The video and the transcript of the video are available here: http://www.sense-agency.com/documentaries.42.html 

Its educational and worth watching.  

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

18. Waltz with Bashir (2008)



In the past two posts I have focused on animation movies, Persepolis which was based on a comic and the Grave of the Fireflies based on a book.  Waltz with Bashir, the critically acclaimed and Oscar nominated Israeli movie on the War of Lebanon 1982 is an animated film which became a graphic novel, published in 2009. I found this interesting since I wasn't sure which came first.  

According to the film website the synopsis of the film is as follows:  One night at a bar, an old friend tells director Ari Folman about a recurring nightmare in which he is chased by 26 vicious dogs.  Every night, the same number of beasts.  The two men conclude that there's a connection to their Israeli Army mission in the first Lebanon War of the early eighties.  Ari is surprised that he can't remember a thing anymore about that period of his life.  Intrigued by this riddle, he decides to meet and interview old friends and comrades around the world.  He needs to discover the truth about that time and about himself.  As Ari delves deeper and deeper into the mystery, his memory begins to creep up in surreal images... at http://waltzwithbashir.com/film.html 

The use of music in the film is worth looking out for.  The title of the film comes from Chopin's Waltz in C sharp minor.  The film also features electronic music such as Enola Gay (about the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima).

Influenced in part by Slaughterhouse 5 (mentioned briefly in a previous post) and by the comics medium, in particular the works of Joe Sacco, the film is a unique portrait into the post-traumatic stress faced by Israeli soldiers of the 1982 war.  A war which led to the massacre of an estimated 3,000 persons following the retaliation of the Philangists for the murder of Bashir Gemayel.

Considered to be one of the best movies of 2008, winning numerous awards and nominated for an Oscar (not as an animation but as best foreign language film), the film is a must for those interested in the study of war and film and as background to the current Israeli/Palestine conflict..




17. Grave of the Fireflies (1988)


火垂るの墓



Grave of the fireflies (or Hotaru no Haka) is one of the best anti-war movies ever made (in my opinion).  Made in 1988 by Studio Ghibli, the company founded by Miyazaki (they make movies such as Spirited Away, My Neighbour Totoro, Nausicaa, etc.) the film is directed by Isao Takahata.  Takahata has a distinctive animation style and his movies, which are often touching and nostalgic include:  Only Yesterday (1991), Pom Poko (1994) and the hilarious My Neighbour the Yamadas (1999).  Undoubtedly, Grave of the Fireflies, is his masterpiece.  

The film tells the story of two children, Seita, a 14 year old boy who looks after his little sister, 4 year old Setsuko.  Set against the firebombing of the city of Kobe, the mother of the children is caught in the bombing and dies.  The children move in with their aunt.  However, as the food supplies diminish the aunt becomes increasingly resentful and the children move out into an abandoned food shelter.  Seita has no option but to steal food, but his supplies of rice are insufficient.  Setsuko slowly dies of malnutrition just as the announcement comes of Japan's unconditional surrender to the US.  

The film was based on a semi-autobiographical novel by Akiyuki Nosaka, written as an apology to his little sister who died during WWII.  

The sentencing of Lubanga this morning to 14 years of imprisonment for his role in enlisting and conscripting children in the conflict in the DRC is one example of the plight of children during conflict.  Child soldiers in Africa, forcibly conscripted in some cases, sexually violated in others, have become a focus of prosecutions at the ICC.  Grave of the fireflies shows other hardships faced by children due to war and conflict.  Orphaned, homeless, starved and rejected by an adult population, the film is a reminder of the innocent lives destroyed in the senseless pursuit of territorial expansion.  Definitely worth watching.  

16. Persepolis (2007)




Comics are often adapted into movies.  Batman, the Green Lantern (who recently came out), Spiderman, Doraemon, and countless other characters first began their lives in books before they hit our screens.    Persepolis is one of these films.  Based on the comic written by Iranian Marjane Satrapi (who has also written Chicken with Plums and Embroideries, both excellent) the film tells the coming of age story of a young girl from Iran.

Following the overthrow of the Shah in the 1970s, the young heroine witnesses the repression of the Irani people and is sent away to study in Vienna by her family. The film is sweet and intensely political, offering childhood perception on diverse themes such as democracy, freedom of expression, the veil, emigration and exile.  


Both the movie and the comic are to be enjoyed with a sense of humour! 




Sunday, July 8, 2012

15. Granito: How to Nail a Dictator

 Justice for the Genocide in Guatemala


What exactly is the relationship between law and film?  In his book The Memory of Judgment Lawrence Douglas analyses the screening of the 'Nazi Concentration Camps' documentary during the International Military Tribunals in Nuremberg.  He makes the argument that Nuremberg was the first time that an international court used 'film as witness'.  The judges and others present in the courtroom were able to see from the footage some of the unspeakable atrocities committed during the Holocaust.  It is now common place for video footage to play vital roles in trials. Some scholars such as Richard Sherwin have stated that we can't understand the law without regard to these digital changes and their effects on criminal trials (When Law Goes Pop)

How to nail a dictator, Pamela Yates' follow up documentary to When the Mountains Tremble is about her journey to find potential evidence of criminal responsibility of the former Guatemalan army General Rios Montt in her outtakes of the documentary she made in Guatemala in the 1980s.  Yates had gone to Guatemala to make a film about the genocide which is finally being brought to trial in the Audencia Nacional in Spain.  The documentary notes how Spanish lawyer, Almudena Bernabeu, of the Center for Justice and Accountability in San Fransisco had the idea to contact Yates.  Yates had interviewed Rios Montt and other military commanders, currently under investigation for international crimes under Spain's universal jurisdiction laws.  

I really enjoyed watching this documentary having had the pleasure of meeting Almudena a couple of times during my period as staff attorney at Womens Link.  Beyond this, the film demonstrates how lawyers, forensic personnel and filmmakers can all work together to make accountability a reality.  Rigoberta Menchu, the Nobel Peace Prize winner explains that 'granito' means that we are only but one piece of sand, one piece of the puzzle, and that we must all work together to do what we are called on to do.

An interesting and reflective piece. It demonstrates how lawyers can get creative but furthermore, provides a reminder and follow up to the excellent documentary When the Mountains Tremble, highlighting that there is still to be justice for the Guatemalan people. 


14. Judgment at Nuremberg (1961)



Stanley Kramer (who also made Inherit the Wind the subject of an earlier post) assembled an all star cast for the 1961 movie Judgment at Nuremberg.  Spencer Tracy, Burt Lancaster, Marlene Dietrich, Judy Garland, William Shatner and Montgomery Clift are just some of the actors in the movie about the American prosecution of members of the judiciary in Nazi Germany.  It was one of the first movies to be made about the Holocaust. 

A lot of academic writing on law and film, and more specifically on international law and film has focused on this movie.  Antony Chase talks about the film in detail in the 'international law' section of his book 'Movies on Trial'.  Lawrence Douglas also refers to it in his article on the filtering history and memory into war crimes trials.  Douglas makes the point that many people (at least in the US) erroneously believe that the movie was about the Nuremberg trials, when in fact, the trial of the four judges took place three years after the IMT. 

However, the film fictionalises and focuses on real trials which took place in particular the 'Katzenberger trial' in Nazi Germany.  The film looks at the responsibility of the judges for the case in which an elderly Jewish man was sentenced to death under the Nuremberg laws for his relationship with an Aryan German woman. (There are also echoes of this case in the musical Cabaret, made into a movie in 1972, as a romance blossoms between Fraulein Schneider and her suitor Herr Schultz, a Jewish man).  

The movie is a marathon, its 186 minutes long.  But its worth every minute.  A classic Hollywood movie nominated for 11 Oscars and winning 2, its definitely one of the most famous law and international criminal justice movies out there. 

13. Courting Justice


I surely hope my being here will inspire other young women...



This documentary created by Ruth B. Cowan and directed by Jane Lipman focuses on female judges in the judicial system in South Africa.  According to the film in 2008, women comprise 18% of the judiciary. 

The DVD box states that 'Courting Justice profiles indomitable female judges charged with the task of advancing those rights and enacting transitional justice while confronting the challenges of a male dominated institution.  This dynamic film examines the transformation to democracy through the intimate and inspiring stories of women working for change from the bench'. 

The DVD comprises of interviews with a number of female and male members of the judiciary in the Constitutional Court of South Africa, considered to be a leading court in the field of socio-economic rights.  As Justice Nkabine states in the film, the court is admired wherever she goes.

In the past the judiciary acted as a machinery for apartheid, with prosecution of 'inter-racial' couples and courts upholding the regime.  The judges in the film therefore place great importance on the Constitution and recognise the importance of diversity.  Being black, being a woman, being rural are all cited as important things which provide different perspectives.

An interesting glimpse into the South African system and the human stories of the judges.  More information here: http://www.courtingjustice.com/



12. The Bubble (2006)

Ha-Buah

The Bubble is a movie by Israeli filmmaker Eytan Fox set in Tel Aviv.  There are many films which have been made about the Israeli/Palestine conflict with a recent film festival at the Barbican Centre in London showcasing some new Palestinian cinema on this topic.  But, since it was world gay pride in London yesterday I thought I would start with a movie which focuses on a number of themes including sexuality and conflict.  

In Habuah, a young Israeli soldier Noam falls for an Arab man, Ashraf.  A modern Romeo and Juliet (or Romeo and Romeo) the film is set against the turbulent backdrop of the conflict.  Fox includes scenes of young people partying, taking drugs, listening to techno, protesting for peace in the beautiful city.  However, the film ultimately concludes in tragedy, showing how there are no winners in the conflict.  

I am a big fan of Eytan Fox's movies and really enjoyed this movie.  There are other great movies on sexuality in Israel including a more recent film called Eyes Wide Open (2009) Einayim Petukhoth (original title).  Worth watching.  


11. The Reader



The International Military Tribunal of Nuremberg is often cited as the birthmark of international criminal justice.  Twenty Nazis were prosecuted by the Nuremberg Tribunal for crimes against peace and crimes against humanity.  The trials for those responsible for crimes perpetrated during the Holocaust remain ongoing.  Eichmann was prosecuted in Israel in the 1960s, Barbie was prosecuted in France and Demjanjuk has most recently been brought to justice in Germany (on trial for the second time).  The Control Council No. 10 trials and trials in different Allied countries form part of the jurisprudence of international criminal justice on war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.  

In the Reader (2008) directed by Stephen Daldry, Michael (David Kross and Ralph Fiennes) falls in love with a woman twice his age, Hanna (Kate Winslet).  Michael reads to Hanna and they have a secret and passionate affair until one day Hanna suddenly disappears.  Michael sees her again many years later, this time as a law student, observing trials for crimes committed by Nazis.  Hanna is on trial with many other women for being concentration camp guards.  Hanna confesses to being the ringleader of the group of women on trial since she is illiterate and is more ashamed of this fact than being found guilty for the crimes.  This is also because she has such guilt over the crimes she has perpetrated.  In the end, after her sentence has been served she commits suicide. 

The film left me with mixed feelings. As a Hollywood production is it formally very polished with a clear narrative structure.  The film was nominated for a number of Oscars and Kate Winslet won the  Oscar for best actress.  

I didn't like the film the first time I watched it, but after revisiting it a few times, it did get better.  It is interesting to see women on trial for Nazi crimes.  Feminist scholars have commented that international criminal justice tends to paint women as victims rather than showing the multifaceted roles women play in conflict, including perpetration and resistance.  Both the ICTY and ICTR have convicted women for their role in perpetrating crimes against humanity and genocide. 

Comics! Post 1: The Fixer

A Story From Sarajevo 
By Joe Sacco 

Introduction 

I have just decided today that for every 10 film posts I will post about something else.  Just to mix things up.  This year I attended a workshop at Senate House, London by the Institute of the Study of las Americas entitled "Para leer a América Latina: Comics, Graphic Novels and Collective Memory".  The workshop brought together a number of PhD students from different academic backgrounds who spoke about the importance of the 'visual narratives' in comics for inter alia., nation building, education and collective memory.  Comics are increasingly being theorised and studied in various academic disciplines, however, within legal studies comics remain marginalised.  

Why is this?  Well, it may be because in the West comics are often considered to be for young audiences, not to be taken seriously by serious lawyers.  Yet, those familiar with graphic fiction will be aware that comics often deal with complex subject matters including many issues related to human rights and international law.  In this blog I hope to stimulate debate between those of us who like comics and to introduce new readers to some 'visual narratives' which are highly relevant to the study of popular culture and international law.  If you would like me to review something in particular let me know. 

The Fixer 

To begin with I have chosen Joe Sacco's 'The Fixer'.  The Fixer is an easy place to begin since its short and the story is very accessible... also its sitting on the table in front of me.  Set in Sarajevo, Joe Sacco returns five years after his work Safe Area Gorazde (which will be reviewed in due course).  Sacco tells the story of "Neven" a former soldier who became a 'fixer' hanging out in hotel lobbies in order to arrange things for foreign journalists.  Sometimes he would get paid to bring them to the frontline, at other times he would arrange for a prostitute to sleep with seven journalists, admitting that afterwards she felt suicidal.  Through Neven's story, Sacco tells the story of some of the factions of the Green Berets fighting in Sarajevo under the command of Celo, Juka and Delacic. 

After writing both the Fixer and Safe Area Gorazde Sacco went to the Hague and did a short piece for Details magazine on the ICTY.  Sacco's form of cartoon journalism is easily accessible, informative and provides an interesting 'visual narrative' on the atrocities perpetrated during the Balkans.  Enjoy! 

 


Saturday, July 7, 2012

No. 10 Inherit the Wind (196)

Remember the wisdom of Solomon in the book of Proverbs. "He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind." 


Why does 'Inherit the wind' make this human rights film diary blog?  What does it have to do with human rights?  Well, the right to freedom of expression for one, the right to education and the right to a fair trial are just three rights which pop into my head.  

Inherit the Wind (1960) is Stanley Kramer's movie about the 1925 Scopes Monkey.  As the movie poster states 'Its all about the fabulous monkey trial that rocked America'.   The film is based on a play by the same name and has been remade a number of times.  Starring Gene Kelly, Spencer Tracey and Frederic March, the film was written as a parable for McCarthyism.  

The movie focuses on the trial of science teacher accused of the crime of teaching evolution.  The trial judge disallows any scientific evidence to be called allowing for reliance solely on the Bible.  The press descend on the town where a 'witch hunt' has begun to take place.  A really excellent film full of great and witty lines.  

Enjoy! 


No. 9 The Milk of Sorrow (2009)


La Teta Asustada (2009)

" To speak about experiences associated with extreme violence, the sexual violence, it is not an easy thing. Suffering and fear, lived silently, with shame, “as if it was a fault of one”. It creates a fingerprint that generates other pains associated with the fact of being a woman in a context of arbitrariness and mistreatment. I share the idea that the task of opening spaces, to think, is the only way of facilitating the dialogue on a topic that brings so much pain, and this film was conceived as a search of healing."  Claudia Llosa interview in Filmmaker http://www.filmmakermagazine.com/news/2010/08/claudia-llosa-the-milk-of-sorrow/  


La Teta Asustada, directed by Claudia Llosa is set in the outskirts of Lima, Peru.  The film infuses magical realism with conventional narrative, to tell the story of Fausta (Magaly Solier), a young woman from Huanta who has lost her mother.  The film begins with her mother singing about the rape and killings in the Quechua language.  After her death Fausta must live with her uncle and his family and earn money so that she can bury her mother. Fausta suffers from a rare disease passed down from the breast milk of her mother.  The disease is passed on by women who have been raped or abused.  A physical manifestation of transgenerational trauma.  


In the film, Fausta goes to work for a wealthy woman.  She is tricked into singing for the woman, who composes and performs the piano.  Music plays an integral part to the film.  

Between 1980 to 200, Peru was in a state of conflict with groups including the Shining Path, state forces and the MRTA committing crimes including forced disappearances, torture, kidnappings and rape.  According to the UNIFEM report on transitional justice by Julissa Mantilla Flacon with regards to sexual violence 'Impunity surrounded these cases and the Peruvian Truth and Reconciliation Commission found no evidence of criminal prosecutions against perpetrators of sexual abuses.  Moreover, men rarely allows their wives or daughters to report the sexual violence'.  


The film is therefore an  important tool in  'opening dialogues' on sexual violence in Peru.  A memorable film.

No. 8 The Hurt Locker (2008)


First woman to win best director Oscar


I haven't much to say about this movie but it appears in a number of websites and databases about conflict, war and human rights so I thought that I would add it to the list.  The movie set in Baghdad focuses on an elite squad of the US army trained to diffuse bombs.  A new army leader, arrives and causes havoc by his seemingly carefree attitude to death.  

The film is pretty tense and shows the enormous psychological toll that the war in Iraq has on soldiers.    The soldiers in the movie, with their limited understanding of the people and culture, suspect that everything could be a bomb and that anyone could be the enemy.

According to the Hollywood Reporter the movie became part of a lawsuit with Sgt Jeffery Sarver, an Iraq war veteran claiming that his life had inspired the character of Jeremy Renner in the film.  Sarver was later ordered to pay Kathryn Bigelow and Nicholas Boal's legal fees.  

I watched this movie with high expectations and was disappointed.  My father fell asleep.  I think a similar message on the toll of war on soldiers can be garnered from Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse 5 which is an excellent and short read.  



No. 7 The Reckoning (2009)

Battle for the International Criminal Court


A couple of years ago I saw this documentary at a Human Rights Watch film festival held at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London.  The ICA is one of my favourite venues, hosting a number of interesting film festivals throughout the year and also some great art and live music events.  

A number of documentaries have been made about Luis Moreno Ocampo, the former Prosecutor of the ICC. Moreno Ocampo, the Argentine lawyer who first prosecuted the military Junta in 1985 and 1986 in Argentina, became the first prosecutor of the ICC when it was established in 2002 (following the coming into force of the Rome Statute 1998).  

The documentary 'The Reckoning' follows Ocampo on his missions to Uganda, the Congo, Central African Republic and Colombia over the course of three years.  Made by the same team of filmmakers of 'When the Mountains Tremble' and 'How to nail a dictator' the documentary interviews witnesses, survivors and staff members of the ICC and demonstrates the difficulties faced by Moreno Ocampo in prosecuting war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in the Hague.  

According to Pamela Yates:
'The film is about accountability. It's about bringing the perpetrators of the worst crimes happening in the world to justice'. 

As part of this skylight pictures has partnered with Facing History to create a short course on 'Teaching the Reckoning' available here: http://www.pbs.org/pov/reckoning/teaching.php

The documentary thus carries out important outreach work for the ICC teaching people around the world why the ICC is necessary.  

No. 6 As if I am not there (2010)

Gender crimes during the Balkan conflict 


As the posts on Esma's Secret and the Secret Life of Words shows there are a number of movies which deal with the consequences of rape and sexual violence during the conflict in the Former Yugoslavia.  More recently, a number of films have focused on women and their experiences of the conflict.  These include today's movie As if I am not there, Snow and In the Land of Blood and Honey, Angelina Jolie's controversial film. 


As if I am not there (2010), directed by Juanita Wilson, an Irish director, is based on the book by Croatian journalist Slavenka Drakulic.  Drakulic has written many books including an excellent book 'They would never hurt a fly: war criminals on trial at the Hague'. To gather the material for both these books Drakulic spent time at the International Criminal Tribunal of the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) watching the trials.  In 'They would never hurt a fly' she gives descriptions of those prosecuted by the Tribunal while in 'As if I am not there' she tells the story of 'S' a victim of sexual violence during the Balkan conflict. 

The movie starts a little differently from the book and focuses on a young woman who moves from the city to a village to take her first post as a teacher.  Shortly after her move Serbian soldiers come to the village, separating the men and boys from the women and girls and set fire to the houses in the village.  The protagonist is then transported to a camp where the women are held in sexual slavery.  Girls as young as 12 are brutally and repeatedly gang raped by the soldiers. 'S' is then chosen by an army captain who 'saves her' for himself.  S is expected to dress up, put on make up and have dinner with the captain, as well as sleep with him.  Finally, she is released and escapes to Sweden where she claims asylum.  This is where the book by Drakulic begins.  S is refused an abortion since her pregnancy is too far through and she is forced to give birth. 

The plot of the film is roughly similar to that of In the Land of Blood and Honey,  and there are strong echoes of the Kunarac trial running throughout both films.  The movie is in Bosnian and was filmed in Macedonia.  Worth watching but warning, the sexual violence is extremely graphic. A de-brief may be necessary afterwards.  




Friday, July 6, 2012

No. 5: Turtles can fly ( 2004)

A recommendation 



I decided to watch this movie after it was recommended to me by a fellow intern.  She told me that it had invoked a strong reaction in her.  I asked her if it was good and she replied that she did not know what my criteria was to be able to answer my question. When I review the films, I often do not have a particular criteria in mind.  I am not fixated by the 'legal realism' which dominated much of law and film scholarship beforehand.  I am not really interested in watching In the Name of the Father (1993) and pointing out all the procedural inaccuracies.  Nor am I purely looking at the formal aspects of cinematography.  Being quite new to film studies, I often find myself captivated by the film and drifting off, instead of critically assessing the shots, editing and mise-en-scene so de rigeur for film scholars.  But whatever the criteria Turtles Can Fly is an excellent film.  


According to the director Bahman Ghobadi 'Just as the world TV networks were announcing the end of the war, I began to make a film whose leading stars were neither Bush, nor Saddam, nor any other dictators.  Those people had been the media stars the world over.  Nobody mentioned the Iraqi people.  There hadn't been a single shot of the Iraqis. They were mere extras...' 

The film focuses on the plight of children in refugee camps on the Iraqi/Turkish border.   Shot on location, the film beautifully captures the consequences of war and poverty for children, who are often rendered extremely vulnerable.  Many of the street children in the film have lost their limbs due to the Italian and US landmines.  They receive money for picking them from the fields.  

The film also tells the story of a girl, Agrin, and her brother, Hengov, who has lost his arms after stepping on a landmine.  They have a small, blind child with them.  It transpires that the toddler is the child of the girl.  Through flash backs we see that the girl has been brutally raped by the men who killed their parents.  


Through the course of the film I came to emotionally connect with the characters.  Satellite, a boy in command of the children, the boy with no arms who can tell the future, the young boys collecting mines and hoping to be rescued by the American soldiers, the girl who has given birth to a baby that she does not want...

I have to thank my friend for this recommendation. An excellent and very moving film.