City of Ghosts Melbourne International Film Festival Review

Matthew Heineman’s new documentary, City of Ghosts, focuses on RBSS (Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently), a group of citizen activists who documented the path of destruction and death inflicted on the city of Raqqa in 2014. The group set out to witness the crimes of both the Bashar Al-Assad regime and ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) through active reporting, including the secret filming of events leading to the fall and capture of Raqqa.

Extensive footage shows how ISIS rose to power in Syria, seemingly on the back of Assad regime protests around democracy, and how RBSS silently filmed them to ensure that there was a historical record of the atrocities that would be committed, which unbeknownst to RBSS would eventually amount to genocide and Crimes against Humanity. From the inception of ISIS arriving in the city, to the realisation that they were worse than Assad’s pro-government forces, the documentary frighteningly captures the nightmare that besieges Syrians daily. ISIS trucks parade through the city centre with crucified hostages, beheaded bodies line the footpath outside a popular park, while mainstream and western media remain silent. The film’s focus is on RBSS communicating to the international community the atrocities taking place, and pleads with it to spread the news of what is occurring in Syria.

Extremely confronting, City of Ghosts is essential viewing for those interested in the rise of ISIS and how citizens are able to bear witness for generations to come.

City of Ghosts screens at Hoyts Melbourne Central on Saturday 5 August at 9:15pm and on Sunday 20 August at 4:15pm. 

Originally published here.

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Representations of the African-Australian Diaspora in Contemporary Australia

Ways of Being Here
Rafeif Ismail, Yirga Gelaw Woldeyes, Tinashe Jakwa and Yuot Alaak
Margaret River Press

WaysOfBeingHereCoverWays of Being Here is a collection of stories by African-Australian writers showcasing a diaspora that receives little attention in contemporary Australian writing. The four writers, Rafeif Ismail, Yirga Gelaw Woldeyes, Tinashe Jakwa, and Yuot Alaak, trace their lineage to Sudan, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, and South Sudan, respectively, and it is their strong connection to their homelands, culture and memories that drive their own individual stories.

Easy to read, the novellas provide readers with unique voices and experiences usually hidden in the Australian literary landscape. The stories themselves were exposed through the Ways of Being Here flash fiction competition set up by the Centre for Stories in Western Australia, which seeks to share the work of diverse storytellers, poets, and other creative people in order to strengthen the connections within the community.

Inclusivity within communities is definitely a theme running through all the stories, each highlighting the issue of acceptance in their own poignant way.

In Rafeif Ismail’s piece, ‘Light at the End’, she notes “You were born to deserts and rushing rivers. Summer is in your soul, in your bones, buried deep beneath inches of ice and cement. From the moment you arrive, you’ve been too much and not enough.” Tinashe Jakwa, in ‘No Child of One’s Own’, takes the reader on a journey that further considers the impact of childhood memories, folk tales, and history, stating “As it is, some bridges conspire with the waters beneath them.”

In Yirga Gelaw Woldeyes, ‘When the Sky Looks like a Donkey’, it is shown how cultural and linguistic explanations can conflict with the social expectations placed on new Australians. Through the eyes of Ermi, a security guard in training who is trying to navigate workplace conversations and expectations, the reader sees how Ermi’s formal migrant English challenges the often lazy Australian drawl.

Yuot Alaak’s story ‘The Lost Girl of Pajomba’, about the terrifying separation of mother and child during war, highlights the importance of humanitarian and human rights effort with the powerful statement “I can only wish Mum and Dad were alive to witness the kindness of the human spirit. That my brothers survived to experience the innocence of childhood.” Whilst the shortest of the four stories at only eight pages, Alaak’s strong and sharp prose captures the reader immediately and is a fitting finale to the collection of stories that makes up Ways of Being Here.

Originally published at RightNow here

Sydney Film Festival 2017 picks – Defiant Lives

Sarah Barton’s Defiant Lives details the struggle for disability rights in Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom. Featuring interviews with key disability activists and supplemented with archival footage, the film provides powerful insight into the treatment of people with disabilities from the 1960s to today.

Barton’s film explores the recent shift in conversations around disability, from disability being viewed as troublesome and something to be pitied, to disability being centred on respect and recognition of rights. Yet people living with disabilities are still institutionalised and hospitalised in alarming numbers; Barton estimates around 30,000 people under 65 in Australia and more than 2 million in the United States.

Institutionalisation is not the only struggle activists have fought against. Disability as a spectacle, as entertainment to aid fundraising, only disappeared from television screens recently. American comedian Jerry Lewis’ annual Las Vegas telethon in 2011 paraded child wheelchair users across the stage in a bid to elicit donations, and telethons in the United Kingdom and Australia, up until 1992 and 2000 respectively, used similar tactics.

Defiant Lives tells the powerful story of disability activists fighting against entrenched attitudes towards disability and highlights the ongoing struggle for recognition of rights that able-bodied people often take for granted.

Originally published here.

Do Not Resist, Human Rights Film Festival Review

Do Not Resist | Craig Atkinson

The opening scenes of Craig Atkinson’s Do Not Resist are confronting in their similarity to scenes of war. Heavy military grade transportation – Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles – roll down streets. Police wearing what appears to be military-issued gear fire tear gas into a crowd of protesters where children are present. Cars are set alight and the sound of shots ring out over and above the sound of screams and sirens.

Welcome to Ferguson, Missouri, United States of America. The site where protesters gathered peacefully calling for justice in regards to the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager shot six times by police officer Darren Wilson. Wilson was later exonerated by the Grand Jury for any wrong doing.

Surprised with the excessive police response? Don’t be.

Do Not Resist by Craig Atkinson focuses on the increasing militarisation of the police force in the United States and the very real possibility that they are being turned into an occupying army. Atkinson notes that since 9/11 the Department of Homeland Security has provided police departments with over $34 billion in grants to purchase military-grade equipment. This has been supplemented by $5 billion in free military equipment from the Department of Defense resulting in a police force that looks, and acts, like it is at war; deviating dramatically from the idea of protecting and serving their own communities.

The film features interviews with an assortment of law enforcement characters, however most concerning is the rhetoric from Dave Grossman, a US Military and Law Enforcement trainer, whose central argument revolves around the idea that the police are at war – spurring on the purchasing of military-grade weaponry in order to protect themselves.

Do Not Resist is compelling to watch and one wonders just how far the militarisation can go given it’s already seemingly well embedded within the police force and supported by endless pockets.

Do Not Resist screens on Wednesday 17 May at ACMI (Melbourne).

View the trailer:

Originally published here.

Constance on the Edge, Human Rights Film Festival Review

Constance on the Edge | Belinda Mason

In 2005 Constance and her family, refugees from war torn South Sudan’s Agoro, settled in Wagga Wagga, regional New South Wales, on a humanitarian visa.

Belinda Mason’s Constance on the Edge follows Constance and her family as they settle into life in Wagga. Confronting racism, depression, drug addiction, fear of the police, and initial language and cultural barriers – it was not always an easy fit. Constance and her family members each work their own path trying to fit into the tightknit regional community. Charles, her son, has had a particularly bad time, with over ten suicide attempts and trouble with the police. While Constance’s daughter, Vicky, studiously works towards her dream of assisting children. She has her sights on studying nursing or paediatrics at Charles Sturt University.

Mason expertly weaves the family’s refugee experience into the story, providing the viewer with an insight into how traumatic experiences can shape an individual – for better or worse. While Constance and her family escaped war, their experiences left an indelible imprint. Constance describes it as if she lives in “a world of sweet dreams and horror, a world of living and walking with the dead”.

Constance on the Edge is a moving story that is captured and shared with honesty and openness.

Constance on the Edge screens on Friday 5 May at ACMI (Melbourne), on Tuesday 23 May at 6:30pm at Dendy Cinemas Newtown (Sydney), and on Friday 2 June at 6pm at The University of Tasmania (Hobart).

View the trailer:

First published here.

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.