The Rocket Review

This article was originally published at Right Now: Human Rights in Australia


By Maya Borom

The Rocket

The_RocketThe Rocket, by director Kim Mordaunt (Bomb Harvest) is a Lao-Australian feature film that tells the story of one child’s battle to overcome Lao superstitions that question his existence. Carefully woven into this tale is also the story of the country of Laos, the most bombed place on the planet and a place where the government is displacing people for the sake of profit.

Ahlo’s childhood is filled with accusations of him being the harbinger of bad luck. These are fuelled by his grandmother but sheltered from him by his mother. After an unfortunate series of events, Ahlo must try to prove that he is capable of bringing good luck to his family and wants to enter a rocket festival so that he can win enough money to enable his family to purchase a house and land.

Along the way, Ahlo is introduced to Uncle Purple, an outcast in the makeshift village that has no running water or electricity.  Entire villages have been relocated by the Lao government, who appear to be working in conjunction with an Australian-Lao venture to dam rural Laos and on-sell the electricity to Thailand and China. Promises of new houses and remuneration for their old one’s are increasingly looking unlikely to materialise; the displaced communities are forced to live in conditions akin to the Vietnam war era concentration camps that were opened in Laos during the war, in which thousands of people perished.

During the Vietnam war, Laos was subjected to bombing by the allies in an attempt to destroy the infamous Ho Chi Minh trail. As a result thousands of unexploded ordinance litter the countryside.These rusted carcases litter Laos and are a poignant reminder of the war, long forgotten by the Allies but ever-present in Lao society. Casualties and loss of limbs from exploding bombs still occur some 40 years after the war and Mordaunt cleverly weaves this narrative into the film, with their threat never far away. Uncle Purple’s character also alludes to the fact that the CIA trained Hmong fighters as part of their war effort against Vietnam, who are now hunted and viewed as outsiders in mainstream communist Laos. The film manages to incorporate all of these elements wonderfully and with dignity.

Mordaunt has remained faithful to the history of the country and indeed it’s people; this shows in the expert performances by the Lao cast. The Rocket shines a light onto human rights issues in Laos that until now, have found very little traction in mainstream cinema, let alone in the media. It’s great film that leaves a lasting impression and one that hopefully encourages people to seek out more information about this landlocked country and it’s tragic past.

Aim High in Creation! Film Review

This article was originally published at Right Now: Human Rights in Australia, an edited version is below.

Aim High in Creation!

AimHighInCreationDirected by Anna Broinowski (Forbidden Lie$), Aim High in Creation! is a fascinating look behind the scenes of one of the biggest propaganda machines (aside from Hollywood!) in the world – that of North Korea. It is also the story of an Australian director’s travels to North Korea for advice on how to make a film about the dangers of fracking, something that is of increasing importance in the Australian and global landscape.

Broinowski heard that that her local park would be subjected to fracking – the process of drilling and injecting fluid into the ground to release natural gas trapped within the earth. There are concerns this process causes pollutants and toxins to enter the immediate community.

In order to get people interested in the issue, Broinowski thought it opportune to seek the wisdom of the North Korean cinematic elite in the hope that she could produce a movie that would capture the hearts of the people, in the way that North Korean cinema does (though admittedly, North Korea does have a captive audience). The documentary plots her visit to North Korea to seek guidance on filmic principles set down by former leader Kim Jong Il and provides insight into the machinations of it’s film industry.

Aim High in Creation! is engaging because it provides a juxtaposition of two very different cultures while highlighting the commonalities – cinema is used by both to highlight key issues within society in the hope of a wider dissemination of the message. The result is a hybrid Australian-North Korean production that certainly get’s the message across in an entertaining and highly novel way.

Aim High in Creation! doesn’t shed any light on human rights issues in North Korea, nor does it purport to do so, rather it uses North Korea as a mirror to Australian society and provides examples of where the environment rather than politics and money has triumphed.  It’s an entertaining documentary that is well worth seeing and will perhaps teach you a thing or two about how to make a novel impact.

We Steal Secrets Film Review

This article was originally published at Right Now: Human Rights in Australia,

We Steal Secrets

Alex Gibney’s We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks promised an in-depth look into the creation and inner workings of one of the most famous media organisations in the world. Gibney, of Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (2005) fame, marketed the documentary as providing insight into an organisation that is arguably one of the most (in)famous both in terms of publication output and the almost rockstar like following of it’s Editor-in-Chief, Julian Assange.

Disappointingly, it didn’t.

We Steal Secrets chooses instead to focus increasingly on the cult of personality surrounding Assange and seemingly glosses over the importance of the collateral damage video first released by Wikileaks and the cables published after.

The aim, presumably, of the documentary was to shed light on the creation, maintenance and ongoing struggles of an organisation publishing material that placed states and governments in a precarious position publically – the publishing of the secrets that existed behind the closed doors of decision makers, military and intelligence services. Secrets that we now know included details of corruption in Kenya, paramilitary training by the US to assist the overthrow of South American governments, Guantanamo Bay standard operating procedures and video and transcripts of US forces killing unarmed civilians and journalists in Iraq.

There is an uncomfortable feeling that no one actually wants to talk about the atrocities that Wikileaks was able to catapult into the public domain…

Instead, Gibney seemingly becomes transfixed by character references of Assange. The opportunity to analyse Wikileaks’ usefulness as an organisation – one that was able to catapult serious violations of international humanitarian law into the public sphere – is lost amongst the endless parades of cameos offering insight into Assange’s personality. Yes, there is discussion of the killing of unarmed journalists in Iraq, and excerpts are shown in the film, but this is countenanced and almost trivialised by Gibney’s infatuation with the cult of Assange. The majority of the documentary appears to be about the relationship between Gibney and Assange, and Assange and every other media organisation in the world.

Little discussion is given as to the worth, in terms of human rights and international humanitarian law, of the footage and documents released by Wikileaks as evidence of war crimes and Gibney in this sense, appears to follow the majority of mainstream media outlets in ignoring the obvious and wanting to shift attention to the personality behind Wikileaks. There is an uncomfortable feeling that no one actually wants to talk about the atrocities that Wikileaks was able to catapult into the public domain and the usefulness of such an organisation in the face of increased governmental and state secrecy.

The treatment of Bradley Manning in the film is also curious, in that it bizarrely shifts its focus on him from whistleblower to a person troubled by gender issues, spending a substantial amount of time building him up as an unstable, isolated individual whose conflicting traits are somehow responsible for his actions against the state. Again, the audience needs to keep in mind that these ‘actions’ are in reality proof of conduct by a state that is against international law, but appear lost amongst the chatter of Manning’s personality.

We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks is no in-depth expose on the Wikileaks organisation; it focuses too heavily on the cult of the personalities of both Assange and Manning to the detriment of actually providing insight into the usefulness and actions of the organisation. Gibney would have done well to focus less on personality and more on substance – the publication of footage that explicitly illustrates war crimes by a state is a topic that deserves more analysis than it received in the documentary.


No Fire Zone Review

This article was originally published at Right Now: Human Rights in Australia

No Fire Zone

By Maya Borom.

NoFireZone_promo_stillNot since John Pilger’s 1979 Year Zero documentary on the Khmer Rouge slaughter of civilians in Cambodia has there been a documentary as important in bearing witness and raising awareness of the grave contraventions of international law and human rights as Callum Macrae’s No Fire Zone: Killing Fields of Sri Lanka.

Macrae’s documentary pieces together a clear picture of the tragic events in 2008 that lead to the final government offensive against Tamil stronghold regions of Kilinochchi and Vanni in Northern Sri Lanka, where thousands of people were killed. Utilising raw mobile footage obtained from the waring Sri Lankan Government and Tamil Tiger forces, as well as footage taken by UN workers and civilians caught in the middle of protection zones, the film provides a no-holds barred view into the systematic eradication of a minority group within Sri Lanka by the majority government.

Hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people flooded into the zones in what turned out to be a mistaken hope of being protected …

The title of the documentary refers to these no fire zones of protection set up by the Sri Lankan Government, and whose coordinates were given to the UN and International Committee of the Red Cross as a designated shelling free / refugee area. In theory, those within the zones borders would be safe and protected from any fighting and collateral damage that may occur as the fighting raged around them. Hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people flooded into the zones in what turned out to be a mistaken hope of being protected and shielding their loved ones from the savages of warfare.

The explicit footage in No Fire Zone bears witness to the complete destruction of entire families and communities. No one is spared, not even society’s most vulnerable: children, the elderly and the infirm. Interspersed with interviews with UN officials who were in the field at the time, as well as government propaganda as to what was occurring, the documentary also illustrates the inadequacy of the international community’s response to the massacres, led in part by the unwillingness of the United Nations to intervene. It’s important to note that key government officials were, and continue to function, in office within the United Nations, or in diplomatic posts – a parallel that can once again be drawn with Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge.

No Fire Zone: Killing Fields of Sri Lanka is an unforgettable journey of torture, extrajudicial killings, sexual violence and genocide. It documents war crimes. There is no doubt that the images and scenes played out in the film are haunting, disturbing, distressing and unforgettable and linger long after the final credits.

This is a documentary that leaves an indelible impression and adds to the call to bring those responsible to the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity.


The Reluctant Fundamentalist Review

This article was originally published at Right Now: Human Rights in Australia,


By Maya Borom.

Mira Nair’s film adaptation of Pakistani author Moshin Hamid’s bookof the same name provides a delicate introspection into protagonist Changez’s (Riz Ahmed) struggle with his western consumerist driven identity and his eastern cultural, religious and familial background. This struggle is told as a first person narrative to investigative journalist Bobby Lincoln who has approached Changez to interview him for an article that he is writing. It quickly becomes apparent that neither man is who they are perceived to be and that they both struggle with identity issues in the face of adversity.

Set in New York, America and Lahore, Pakistan, the film retells Changez’s journey from Princeton University to Wall Street, where he works as analyst for Underwood Samson, a consultancy firm that specialises in wealth creation and consolidation. Changez’s high intellect and ability to predict areas of a company that can undergo a restructure in order to increase company profit endears him to Jim Cross (Kiefer Sutherland) who quickly promotes him through the ranks. Changez doesn’t just pursue his love of money and success, he also falls in love with a photographer (Kate Hudson) whose fractured personality increasingly mirrors his own struggle to find his place in the world.

[The Reluctant Fundamentalist] presents two versions of singular events and it is the viewer who must determine whether the actions or non-actions of Changez (and to an extent Lincoln) will lead him towards an extremist viewpoint.

Changez’s moment of epiphany comes when he is asked to dissolve a publishing company responsible for publishing poetry and creative works. This directive doesn’t bode well for Changez whose father is a well known poet in Pakistan. The dissolution of the company would effectively shut down a creative industry to support a commercial decision; because of the values instilled in him by his father, Changez understands that sacrifices for communal good are sometimes required. His refusal to engage with the corporate direction pushes him onto an alternative life path and, coupled with the events and aftermath of 9/11, takes him from New York back to Lahore to begin new life.

Though the title of the film is suggestive, there is little, if any, direct reference to religion and religious fundamentalism – it is alluded to by the kidnapping of an American professor by known terrorists – but it remains largely on the periphery, as background noise to the relationship of Changez to those around him.  It presents two versions of singular events and it is the viewer who must determine whether the actions or non-actions of Changez (and to an extent Lincoln) will lead him towards an extremist viewpoint.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist’s strength lies in it’s presentations of the human psyche and the idea of the ‘other’ as dangerous. It illustrates how innuendo and fear can transform friends into enemies, how race and religion can result in profiling and lead to detention and persecution. It illustrates how governmental policy can lead to disastrous outcomes – where innocence is lost and where darkness can take it’s place. However most importantly, it illustrates the power of suggestion and lets the viewer, with their own biases and understanding, resolve in their own mind the path that Changez will ultimately tread upon.