Irrawaddy Mon Amour -Mardi Gras Film Festival 2017 film picks

Irrawaddy Mon Amour | Valeria Testagrossa, Nicola Grignani & Andrea Zambell

What do you do if your love for your partner is illegal in your country?

The village of Kyauk Myaung, on the Irrawaddy River, sits outside of Mandalay – the largest city in Myanmar after Yangon. It has a unique acceptance of the LGBTIQ community, which is distinctly opposite to that of the previous ruling military Junta’s position on same-sex couplings. The Junta actively prosecuted gay relationships, often imprisoning ‘offenders’ for upwards of ten years. Despite recent elections of the National League for Democracy party led by Aung Sang Suui Kyi, many of the Junta’s policies and legislation are still in place with key seats in government still held by the former military leaders.

Irrawaddy Mon Amour offers an intimate glimpse into Kyauk Myaung and showcases the struggle of two lovers in their bid to marry each other against competing societal beliefs and brutal military rule. The directors, Nicola Grignani, Valeria Testagrossa, and Andrea Zambelli, deftly explore the relationship that exists between the community members, illustrating the underlying foundation of Buddhist and animist values at odds with the impact of rules of the Junta. Viewers are shown couples seeking the advice of revered Buddhist monks for auspicious dates to be married, as well as conversing with spirit mediums – nat kadaws – who are usually transgendered individuals whose practices bridge the gap between shamanic and Buddhist rituals in rural communities. The film focuses as much on the villagers, and their relationships to each other, as it does on Soe Ko and Siang Ko who are embarking on a journey to marry each other with assistance from the members of their communities.

Irrawaddy Mon Amour is important as it positions same sex couples as members of humankind, rather than deviants threatening Myanmar society, which is how the Junta sought to paint them, and which has changed very little even with the National League for Democracy in power. Myanmar’s constitution was written by the Army and is not likely to change to reference human rights. It offers an interesting glimpse into an unseen society within Myanmar that viewers can then extend to consider the LGBTIQ rights in other countries, such as Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei, where regimes and laws also seek to remove or limit the human rights of its citizens, resulting in the LGBTIQ community hiding from public view for fear of retribution.

Irrawaddy Mon Amour is a beautiful film that shows love can persevere even in the face of severe adversity – well worth watching.

Irrawaddy Mon Amour screens on 28 February in Sydney NSW.

View the trailer:

Published here originally

Australia as a Good International Citizen – Book Review

Australia as a Good International Citizen

Alison Pert, Federation Press, 2014, $125 ($112.50 for members through Law Books)

Can a state be considered to be a good international citizen? Is there a standard to measure the reputation of a state, and if so how does one go about evaluating it in a meaningful way? Australia as a Good International Citizen answers these questions with a comprehensive and fascinating analysis of Australia’s role in the international legal community.

It considers Australia’s role with an international law lens. The author argues that core attributes of being a good international citizen revolve around compliance with international law, supporting multilateralism and having morality and leadership. The ability of Australia to lend support towards international tasks is also a key attribute and provides context for Pert to follow Australia’s engagement with various international instruments and legal bodies from the time of Federation in 1901 through to the recent Rudd and Gillard governments.

Pert’s specific focus on two key attributes of a good international citizen, namely compliance with international law and support for multilateralism allows her to measure the State against a criterion of established international law standards and expectations such as the concept of doing good for the greater community. Treaty making, overseas aid and nominations for world heritage listings are examples of Australia being good international citizens, while protection of human rights and in particular Indigenous rights are areas that require extensive engagement.

Originally published in the Law Institute Journal, November edition.

True Relations: Reading, Literature, and Evidence in Seventeenth-Century England – Book Review

Frances Dolan’s True Relations: Reading, Literature, and Evidence in Seventeenth-Century England is a textual journey into the meaning of ‘true relations’, which refers, in simple terms, to the credible reportage of happenings often backed up with well-intentioned documentation attesting to one account’s worthiness over any other ‘true relation’.

Dolan is keenly interested in debates surrounding interpretations of textual evidence and how such debates provide a framework for achieving a new historical understanding of ‘evidence’, particularly during the seventeenth century.

The book is made up of six chapters, divided into two sections. ‘Crises of Evidence’, the first section, introduces the reader to early modern crises of evidence, such as Anne Gunter’s bewitching and theories surrounding the Great London Fire of 1666. It provides an interesting examination of competing and consenting standards of evidence. Section I focuses on the use of, and dependence upon, evidentiary material, the validity, authenticity, and completeness of which would be judged inadequate by contemporary standards. For example, Dolan analyses the importance placed on political and confessional affiliations in evidentiary debates about the London Fire.

The second section of the book – ‘Genres of Evidence’ – explores the reading of texts as ‘genre’, though here Dolan refers to genre in the sense that ‘texts can be grouped according to the expectations they invite from and the demands they impose on their readers’ (p. 23) rather than being inclusive of a specific set of writing norms. Chapter 4 is especially interesting for its analysis of evidentiary depositions and the entrenched habit of labelling such depositions as ‘fictions’. It highlights Dolan’s central argument that relational texts raise many more questions then they seek to answer: there is no definitive way for readers to assess the true value and veracity of true relations.

The value of True Relations: Reading, Literature, and Evidence in Seventeenth-Century England is that it attempts to provide an analysis of the gaps found between fact and fiction in legal depositions, plays (as genre), and advice literature – it expertly connects past debates about text as historical evidence to contemporary understandings of seventeenth-century texts as evidence. The book also introduces new concepts to debates surrounding historical evidence, such as the need to include church court depositions and advice literature as genre.

From: Parergon
Volume 30, Number 2, 2013
pp. 242-243 | 10.1353/pgn.2013.0120

Delving beyond the politicised asylum seeker debate

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More to the Story: Conversations with Refugees
Rosemary Sayer
Margaret River Press

As the major political parties in Australia shifted into election mode earlier this year, the topic of refugees was almost always one that elicited an emotional response, with questions like ‘who are these people?’, ‘why did they come here?’ and ‘why should we care about them?’ becoming the norm. The recent release of over 2,000 confidential files on the Nauru detention centre that exposes sexual assault, child abuse and inhuman detention practices has seen a surge of interest in the public wanting more information and transparency around asylum seekers held in detention.

More to the Story: Conversations with Refugees by Rosemary Sayer is an important collection of stories told by individuals who came to Australia seeking refuge, and provides personal insight into the questions so often raised within political forums, which arguablydrowns out the voices that matter most in the mainstream debates about refugees.

The 1951 Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, of which Australia is a signatory, states that a person is a refugee if they are outside of their country due to fear and likelihood of prosecution due to their religion, race, nationality, political opinion or member of a social group (often a minority group).

More to the Story: Conversations with Refugees is a vital contribution to understanding the complex tapestry of the human experience that refugees bring with them when they embark on their journeys and settle in their new countries.

As an expat living overseas, Sayer notes that she was regularly asked why Australians were racist towards refugees, with Chinese friends concerned with the rise of Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party and the anti-immigrant sentiment playing out in the media. Sayer writes that the reason she became interested in presenting the unique stories of refugees was because she “felt compelled to embrace the opposite approach” of how refugees’ stories are commonly represented and politicised, in order to provide a voice to those who are regularly silenced by states, governments and the media.

More to the Story: Conversations with Refugees is a vital contribution to understanding the complex tapestry of the human experience that refugees bring with them when they embark on their journeys and settle in their new countries. The stories feature diverse characters from disparate countries, from Naw Pi, a Karen from Myanmar who fled from persecution by the Burmese military who raided her village to Abdul Farid Sufizada, one of the 428 people on board the Tampa, the ship that became a turning point in Australian politics around the management of refugees and asylum seekers.

Sayers reflects that “spending time among refugee families that had often been dislocated by war and were now living such challenging lives had constantly made [her] reflect on [her] family’s good fortune of being born in Australia”.

Interestingly, Sayer includes a chapter on those who have been left behind – illustrating that the journey to becoming a refugee is often not taken in isolation and that there are far-reaching consequences that are often unseen. Sayers explores how familial ties are often strengthened when a husband, brother, mother or sister flees in the hope of a better life.

The author also visits Mae La, the biggest refugee camp on the border of Thailand and Myanmar, and attempts to document the entire experience of the refugees there with sensitivity. At Mae La, Sayers notes that “the significant effort made by all the refugees to maintain their dignity and hope in the camp community” contributed to their ability to maintain a positive outlook, despite some of them being there for numerous years while their claims were being assessed.

In the process of writing More to the Story: Conversations with Refugees, Sayers often had her own cultural constructs and ideas about refugees and the circumstances leading to them seeking asylum challenged. In her introduction, Sayers notes that she rarely harboured a thought as to what it meant to live in a free society until she spoke intimately with the refugees who had themselves become displaced because of socio-political interference.

More to the Story: Conversations with Refugees expertly weaves together not only conversations with refugees but the historical and socio-political backdrops that have forced them to flee their countries for shelter in Australia. As Australia’s treatment of refugees and asylum seekers increasingly becomes a political and moral issue, it is well worth reading this book to hear authentic voices.

More to the Story: Conversations with Refugees is now available from Margaret River Press.

Article originally posted here: RightNow: Human Rights in Australia

What it means to be a refugee in Australia

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Younis Yousefi, My House, 2004, unfired clay handpainted

Pictures in my Heart: Seeking Refuge – Afghanistan to Australia
Fiona Hamilton
Wakefield Press

Noted French novelist Marcel Proust once claimed that “only through art can we emerge from ourselves and know what another person sees”. In Fiona Hamilton’s book Pictures in my Heart, Seeking Refuge – Afghanistan to Australia, the reader is treated to artworks created by refugees from Afghanistan living in Murray Bridge, a small town outside of Adelaide, South Australia. The pieces explore what it means to be refugees in Australia. Linocuts – prints cut into a sheet of linoleum – are used as the medium through which the artists’ depict their separation from their families and their harrowing experiences as asylum seekers.

Between 1999 and 2001, many Hazara male refugees came to Australia by boat and were placed on Temporary Protection Visas (TPV) while the Australian government assessed their asylum claims. Living on a TPV meant that this particular group of men was able to live in the Murray Bridge community, rather than in detention as is the case now for those seeking asylum on Australian shores. However, the TPV also meant that the Australian government would reconsider their petition for asylum after 30 months. If circumstances changed, there could be every chance that their review would be unfavourable and that they would be sent back to Afghanistan – a potential death sentence for those fleeing the Taliban.

Familial themes pervade the artwork, while the stories further reinforce how dangerous Afghanistan has been for those caught in the Taliban’s warfare.

Alongside longtime friend and artist Miranda Harris, Hamilton saw the opportunity to run a series of art workshops as a way of mitigating the intense periods of loneliness and separation that accompany the refugee experience. The book is a collection of stories, linocuts, photos and clay art made by the men who attended the workshops. Their contributions featured in a 2003 exhibition at the local town hall.

Whilst significant as artworks in their own right, the series of works highlights the collective plight of many refugees; caught between wanting to honour their own socio-cultural backgrounds while trying to become valued members of Australian society. Familial themes pervade the artwork, while the stories further reinforce how dangerous Afghanistan has been for those caught in the Taliban’s warfare.

Broken up into chapters such as “Home”, “War”, “Journey” and “Boat”, Pictures in my Heart, Seeking Refuge – Afghanistan to Australia is a collection of memories and hopes representative of the initial shared refugee experience – from the decision to embark on a dangerous journey to freedom to the challenges faced as a result of governmental intervention.

Unfortunately, the ability of refugees to access artistic programs such as the Murray Bridge program is not a shared experience, and we are poorer because of it.

Originally published at Rightnow: http://rightnow.org.au/review-3/importance-art-understanding/

HRAFF 2016 Picks

Drone | Tonje Hessen Schei

Imaging living under the threat of being killed by an unmanned aircraft at any moment. This is the reality of villagers living in Pakistan or Yemen who face extrajudicial killings from the United States, whose use of drones is highly questionable in the continued War on Terror. While the hunt for Al-Qaeda continues, it is the unarmed citizens that face indiscriminate maiming and death.

Tonje Hessen Schei’s Drone is a highly controversial documentary that features interviews with former drone operators, heads of defence, dissidents and concerned citizens who have been involved in one way or another in the drone war occurring across Pakistan. It tells the story of how the United States Government wages a war from the sky; a war that involves young, indoctrinated military men pressing the trigger and blowing up civilians under the guise of protecting US interests. A drone manufacturer in the film remarks that “war is the opportunity to undertake business” and Schei does well to illustrate this point;

drone warfare is both a business opportunity as it is a merchant of death.

Drone also discusses the phenomenon of ‘Militainment’ – where the world of military games meets military intent. Scarily, the US military is described as having invested in creating games that are used for recruitment tools. In this sense, the film illustrates how drone warfare becomes a normalised activity where emotion and humanity is stripped from those pressing the trigger and where, because the activity looks like a computer game, the media becomes used to seeing images on television of drone attacks against ‘militants’.

Drone is a must see film for those interested in the future of warfare, as well as human rights activity in a world with increasing electronic and unmanned warfare.

Drone screens on 8 May in Melbourne.

View the trailer:

Dreaming of Denmark | Michael Graversen

The media reports that thousands of children arrive on European shores as unaccompanied minors, although little is known or reported about what happens once they arrive. Michael Graversen’s Dreaming of Denmark follows the story of Afghani Wasiullah, who came to Denmark as an unaccompanied minor seeking asylum.

Wasiullah is an 18-year-old with a failed asylum bid who absconds to a new life in Italy, hearing that it is easier to obtain official status there than in Denmark, where he has been staying in a centre for the past three years.

The film personalises the plight of young refugees, seeking acceptance in their adopted homelands much the same way that young teenagers want to be accepted by their respective peers.

From sleeping rough to trying to fit in in a refugee centre, it sheds light on a seemingly forgotten demographic in the refugee debate. In this sense, Wasiullah is at once fragile as he is strong, he is both representative of the child refugee seeking asylum as a scared minor, as well as the young adult seeking his own way in a new land – one that has at times rejected him as well as embraced him.

Dreaming of Denmark is of interest to those whom has wondered what happens to those children who seek asylum in countries as unaccompanied minors – does their adoptive country embrace or dispel them?

Dreaming of Denmark screens on 7 May in Melbourne.

View the trailer:

Originally published at Right Now: HRAFF 2016 Film Picks

The Collapse of Counter-Terrorism – Book Review

Blood-Year

Blood Year: Islamic State and the Failures of the War on Terror | David Kilcullen | Black Inc.

As the Islamic State claims responsibility for the recent terrorist attacks in Paris and Belgium, David Kilcullen’s bookBlood Year: Islamic State and the Failures of the War on Terror is essential reading that charts how this terrorist group –once believed to be a minor threat – spread from Iraq through to Europe and beyond, with gruesome consequences for all it comes into contact with.

Kilcullen’s critique of the lack of a competent strategy to defeat ISIS (as well as other terrorist branches) is honest as it is confronting. As part of the team that devised the post-9/11 strategy to deal with Al Qaeda affiliates and extremists, Kilcullen notes that their apparent failure to take into account the rise and expansion of ISIS across strategic states as Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria has had disastrous consequences that have been felt most recently through the realisation of attacks in the heart of Europe.

The author is well placed to write a book on the rise of the Islamic State, with an impressive resume that includes being an Australian Army soldier, a civilian intelligence officer, and a United States government employee who served the Bush administration during the War on Terror and the Obama administration afterward.

… the terrorist threat that the War on Terror sought to quash is stronger, has access to a wider tactical network, and is more motivated to jihadism than ever before.

As a specialist in counter-terrorism, Kilcullen’s careful observations on policy and political campaigns, and their subsequent onground effect make for compelling reading – characterising some of the failures of 2014 to 2016 as “nothing less than the collapse of Western counter-terrorism strategy as we’ve known it since 2001”. The book underlines the fact that the terrorist threat that the War on Terror sought to quash is stronger, has access to a wider tactical network, and is more motivated to jihadism than ever before.

Kilcullen makes it very clear from the outset that his observations in Blood Year: Islamic State and the Failures of the War on Terror are driven from his personal experience as a key player in the theatre of war and the development and implementation of counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism strategy in the US and Australia.

That aside, his writing is backed up by comprehensive references that enable the reader to delve deeper into issues and situations if they so wish. From the fall of Mosul to the push by Russian and Syrian forces into Aleppo and surrounding villages, the book offers unique insight into the operations of ISIS as well as the State actors – such as the United States, France and Australia – attempting to deal with ISIS’s violent activities and threats.

Blood Year: Islamic State and the Failures of the War on Terror is a gripping read that will help readers make sense of how ISIS has arguably become the number one global terrorist threat.

Blood Year: Islamic State and the Failures of the War on Terror is now available from Black Inc.

Originally published at Right Now: The Collapse of Counter-Terrorism