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.

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

Screen Shot 2016-08-23 at 10.22.25 PM

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