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

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

Overburden | Transitions Film Festival 2016

In West Virginia, an entire community has united to fight against a mining corporation that wants to destroy Coal River Mountain to mine coal. The alternative is a wind farm that will power the region; however political support is thin and the coal company has resources to fight the community. Chad A. Steven’s Overburden is the story of a community fighting for the survival of their town.

In mining, ‘overburden’ refers to the rock, soil and ecosystem that exist above the coal. It is something that mining companies remove to access the coal seams. The devastation on the environment is enormous as it forever changes the landscape.

Residents of Coal River Mountain sense that coal mining, once a stable employer for many generations, is coming to an end and that they must find greener alternatives – not only for the sake of the environment, but for the sake of their town. Other members of the town are staunchly against anything but coal-driven employment.

Steven brings together a pro-mining advocate and an anti-mining advocate, whose experiences of the mines propel the story forward, with both identifying that a diversified economy is the new middle ground. Overburden is a must see for those interested in grassroots activism and the effect it can have on community-led outcomes.

The Transitions Film Festival is taking place in Melbourne from 18 February to 3 March and in Adelaide from 20 to 29 May.

Originally published at Right Now  Top Six Transitions Film Festival 2016 Picks 

Looking for Camp 32: A Personal Journey into Cambodia’s Dark Past

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Film review by Samaya Borom

Camp 32 | Hom Chhorn

Known colloquially as the Land of Smiles, Cambodia is a place deeply affected by its dark past. Hidden behind the friendly facade are generations struggling to come to terms with the atrocities that the Khmer Rouge committed indiscriminately against its own population.

During the late 1970s, the Khmer Rouge party rose to power. Looking to create a communist utopia called Democratic Kampuchea where the population worked to sustain the Party and its principles of a shared agricultural economy, the Khmer Rouge set up forced labour camps where almost two to three million people lost their lives. These camps existed all over Cambodia and culminated in one of the world’s worst genocide acts, yet little is known about these camps and many are not officially documented.

Camp 32  is one man’s harrowing personal story of survival from 32, a labour camp deep in the Battambang province where the majority of the land is covered by jungle and mountainous ranges.

At just six years old, Hom Chhorn was imprisoned at Camp 32 and this experience shaped not only his life, but the life of his family who lost their father and brothers, murdered by the Khmer Rouge.

Setting out to understand his past so that it informs his future, Hom decides to locate Camp 32, a journey which is advised against by both his ailing mother and sister who remember only too well the violations that befell not only their family, but thousands of other families before and after them.

Hom is driven in part by the need to tell the story of the forgotten camp on behalf of his elderly mother before she passes, but also because he needs to seek answers to his own questions, especially given his young age and vulnerability when he was removed from the family and sent to the children’s labour section of the camp.

Camp 32 is as much a film about the personal quest of Hom in putting together stories and memories of his past as it is about the collective remembering of the abominations that were committed during the brutal reign of the Khmer Rouge.

Hom’s difficulty in locating official documentation from the Cambodian National Archives, the Library and even the United Nations about 32 highlights the inherent difficulties that survivors encounter when looking for information about a dark period in time that profoundly shaped their lives.

“Hom’s desire to return to a place that was the source of such brutality and sadness in order to tell the story of his family, and indeed many other forgotten victims, is memorable and laudable.”

Collective memory is often relied upon due to a lack of documentation, official or otherwise. The team behind the film are currently in the process of having Camp 32 officially recognised, something that will go some way toward acknowledging the horror of what occurred throughout the whole of Cambodia.

Unspeakable acts, horrific accounts of torture, and death of family members under the Khmer Rouge often make it difficult for survivors to vocalise their experiences, so Hom is considered extremely lucky when he is unexpectedly reunited with some of the children of 32.

The reunited friends provide further insight into life under the Khmer Rouge and it’s clear that there will always be an unbreakable bond between them due to their shared experiences as children trying to survive the horror of a totalitarian dictatorship that killed their families and friends.

Interspersed with footage of contemporary Cambodia and Hom’s family’s deeply personal accounts of life in the camp, the film captures the ever present dichotomy between good and evil, and a country of people that cannot move forward without understanding how its past contributes to their future.

Hom’s desire to return to a place that was the source of such brutality and sadness in order to tell the story of his family, and indeed many other forgotten victims, is memorable and laudable.

Given the brutality of the Khmer Rouge and the systematic genocide it committed, Camp 32 is unmissable viewing as it tells the tale of survivors, and in turn gives a voice to those victims who should not be forgotten or overlooked.

Caption: Hom Chhorn.

Find out more about Camp 32 here.

Originally published at Right Now: Human Rights in Australia