International Film Festival and Forum on Human Rights
Geneva hosted the International Film Festival and Forum on Human Rights this past week and a bit, from 10-19 March. I was a bit slow on the uptake, but managed to see three films, all which I would recommend as an exercise in self-education. The rest of the films also look incredible, so check out the programme and take note.
The first film I saw was The Pearl of Africa, and it was a real treat in that the lead (true) character, Chloe, and her partner were in the audience and she participated in a panel discussion afterward.
The film follows Chloe and her partner, Nellie, as she leaves her home country of Uganda following the Anti-Homosexuality Act passed in 2014. In the film, she and Nellie venture to Thailand in order for her to undergo surgery, and she later settles in Kenya, still waiting the ability to change her name and sex on her identification documents so as to be the first trans-gendered person to re-enter Uganda. It is a moving story, and the cinematography was beautiful.
During the panel discussion that followed, I loved one simple remark she made. "I was born a baby, and they called me boy." It was this that set her on the wrong path, against that of social norm and nomenclature. She knew soon after who she was, and she has taken on a great responsibility in being herself despite the persecution she faced and continues to face. I applaud her, and the importance of this film.
On this issue, I also recommend this Ted Talk that was shared with me following this film viewing - For extra perspective, and for turning that perspective into voice.
The next film I saw was not a documentary, but a feature film that sparked a lot of interest at the Cannes Film Festival: Mimosas, la voie de l'Atlas. It was strange, with audio weaving in and out in unusual ways. The cinematography was absolutely stunning, and I would recommend the film for this foremost. The story itself moved slowly and it wove together a bizarre, perplexing and occasionally endearing narrative. It was about faith, death, friendship and boldness. Has anyone else seen this? Did you like it? Artistically, I appreciated it. Personally, I really could not tell you. I was amused, but equally confused.
On the final day of the film festival, I saw Chasing Asylum, which has been running in theaters around the world for about a year now. This film airs covert footage of the detention facilities on Nauru, where refugees seeking asylum get sent as they try to make their way to Australia. Australia has one of the strictest refugee policies in the world, and has spent millions of dollars to keep those looking for safety in Australia instead in Papua New Guinea or stuck en route in countries like Indonesia. Fleeing from violence or persecution, these refugee seekers find themselves facing prison-like circumstances. Children and women report abuse, though no one has ever been charged, and two men have died, one violently and the other because of blood poisoning following an infected, reported and ignored injury.
The policy in Australia is now so severe that whistle blowers, including nurses and social workers, face up to two years in prison if they speak out. This type of censorship in a democracy is particularly frightening, especially given the hints of a similar abuse of power in my own country.
The timeliness of a documentary like this also cannot be ignored. There are over 60 million refugees in the world right now, the highest number we have seen since World War II. All too often, we forget that there are men and women from all over risking their lives to find a better life for themselves or their families. When Australia let in 70,000 Vietnamese in the 1970s, it was for the betterment of the country, not the detriment. The same is true of my own country, and every other country that now sees a fusion of culture for having been kind and loving, instead of fearful and hateful, of its neighbors. In being patriotic, in being proud of where we come from, why are we hesitant to share that which defines us? We do not lose ourselves in opening our borders (for it was sheer luck that placed us in the countries where we were born), but we may lose ourselves if we ignore the suffering of others.