(This article first appeared in the Mumbai Mirror)
A group of independent Latin American filmmakers felt that struggles throughout the Southern Hemisphere have common agendas and could benefit from shared ideas and perspectives. With this in mind they started a tri-continental film festival to showcase documentaries on human rights issues from South Asia, South America and Africa. In India they collaborated with Breakthrough which is a human rights NGO pledged to promote awareness of human rights issues with the use of pop culture and media among the youth and is bringing to us the 3rd edition of Human Rights In Frames over the weekend.
The films address a host of concerns from public conveniences to terrorism. But human rights in the strict sense of the phrase refer to fundamental rights granted to individuals against the system under major international treaties or national constitutions and not all the films fit into that context. For instance, Say Amen is home video style documentary shot over time by the youngest member of a large clan in Israel. The film documents his coming out to his orthodox parents and siblings and their struggle in understanding and accepting his sexuality. The nature of conflict here is personal, borne out of love and faith rather than oppression and greed and one can hardly expect someone to have a valid suit against their mother for violating their ‘right to family life’ (Article 8 of the ECHR). But the fact that it does not ask burning questions about homosexuality and its place in the world does not take away from the remarkable poignancy of the film in general. For a first person account it is remarkably devoid of self indulgence and honestly draws out the emotional core of the issue.
Similarly in Between The Lines- The Third Gender the rights and issues of hijras against the state and society lurk vaguely on the periphery while the majority of the investigation centers on their lifestyle, rituals and sexuality. The camera follows three hijras from different parts of the city for this investigation and peers curiously into their intriguing inner worlds guided by their outspoken frankness. Unfortunately the voyeuristic approach ends up presenting them like exotica skimming as mentioned earlier only the surface of real issues confronting them.
Leila Khaled Hijacker unlike Third Gender, successfully uses the portrait of an individual to evoke the larger questions of her existence. The film journeys to Lebanon where Palestinian refugees are living out their days in exile hoping against hope that they might return home one day. Leila Khaled, the world’s first woman hijacker and a member of the People’s Front For Liberation Of Palestine lives among them and recounts her reason and experience of the hijackings. The film presents her as an unvanquished hero but goes beyond lionizing her to ask who is a terrorist and what makes her one? At a time when “war against terror” is a blanket explanation for the damnation of thousands in this world the importance of this subversive question cannot be stressed enough.
In a similar way, Shake Hands With The Devil revisits the Rwandan massacre of the Tutsis in the early 1990’s through the memoirs of Canadian Lieutenant Romeo Dallaire who revisits the country ten years after he put up a under-resourced fight against the genocide. The General pulls no punches in his condemnation of top UN officials, expedient Belgian policy makers and senior members of the Clinton administration who chose to do nothing as Dallaire pleaded for reinforcements and revised rules of engagement. Instead of dismissing the genocide as tribal warfare, he critically re examines how the world including himself might have failed Africa. On many an occasion the ‘first world’ has refused economic collaboration or inclusion into the EU to a country which does not uphold human rights adequately. This film turns the table on them spotlighting their own violations of human rights, direct or indirect, which largely go unquestioned.
Also in the line up are other acclaimed films like Venezuela Rising, John And Jane and Q2P. The screenings of these films have the potential to acquaint the small percentage of India which is poised to fly with its larger majority which is still shackled by social, political and economic oppression much like its fellow ‘third world’ citizens from other parts of the world and perhaps even instill a few seeds of change.