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.