Monday, 11 May 2009

Stories on Human Rights in Bangkok

Stories On Human Rights, an evening of film screenings, took place at the FCCT in Bangkok on 4th May. The films were commissioned by the United Nations, and the programme included Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Mobile Men. Apichatpong was present for a Q&A session after the screenings.


Medley of shorts on Human Rights
LEKHA J. SHANKAR
Friday, May 8th, 2009

The film genre of ‘shorts,’ on the theme of Human Rights and made by the top names in contemporary art and cinema, is to have an exclusive screening at Bangkok. One hopes it can be shown at festivals around the world and possibly at cul tural and academic institutions too.
The films have had their world premiere at Sao Paulo, last year, and there have been screenings at some Human Rights festivals and United Nations/ European Union events in Europe.
For the film buff and the humanist, these are rare and important movies, because they talk of relevant contemporary issues, and also because they introduce us to the best names in contemporary world culture.

ART FOR THE WORLD'S IDEA
The shorts came about, when the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, with funding from the European Union (EU), decided to commemorate the 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The project was conceived by the well-known ART for the World organisation, which commissioned 22 talented filmmakers, photographers, and video artistes from around the world, to make three-minute shorts on the six themes of the Universal Declaration: culture, development, dignity and justice, environment, gender and participation.
A book was also released with the films, containing interviews with the directors, as well as contributions by 12 authors, including five Nobel prize winners, on the themes of the Human Rights Declaration.
The directors were chosen for their espousal of human rights. Among the well-known filmmakers are Hany Abu-Assad (Palestine), whose controversial film ‘Paradise Now’ was nominated for the Oscars in 2006, Sergei Bodrov of Russia, whose film ‘The Caucus
 Prisoner’ was nominated for the Oscars and the Golden Globes in 1996, Shira Geffen and Etgar Keret of Israel, whose film ‘Jellyfish’ won the top award at Cannes in 2007, and Zhang-Ke Jia from China, whose film ‘Still Life’ won the top award at the Venice festival in 2006.
Some of the other award-winning directors in the series are Abderrahmane Sissako from Mauritania, Saman Salour from Iran, Armagan Ballantyne from New Zealand, Pablo Trapero from Argentine, Apichatpong Weerasethakul from Thailand and Murali Nair from India.
The first short in the series is by famed director Abderrahmane Sissako from Mauritania, whose last feature film, ‘Bamako,’ created waves at many festivals. Called ‘Dignity,’ it deals with the filmmaker asking different people the meaning of ‘Dignity’. No one is able to answer the question in the film, and everyone looks confused!
One of the most unforgettable films is ‘Voice’ by Russian director Sergei Bo
drov, which deals with an excited couple coming to adopt a child. Behind the innocent, adorable face of the child, is a world of corruption, cruelty, frustration and desperation. This is the amazing example of how a ‘short’ film can say so much.
It’s surprising to see how many films deal with the subject of terrorism, and more disturbing to see how it affects young children. In fact, at the end of famed Serbian artiste Marina Abramovic’s ‘Dangerous Games,’ comes the shocking statistic that more than 2,00,000 kids serve as “soldiers” in many parts of the world!
But while the kids in this film play with toy guns, the kids in noted Palestine director Hany Abu Assad’s film ‘A boy, a Wall, and a Donkey’ play with real guns.
As with many films from Iran, the theme of gender is etched out in Iranian director Saman Salour’s ‘The Final Match,’ about a group of little girls vying with the boys to play football on the streets.
The tone is harsh in New Zealand director Armagan Ballantyne’s loud film about domestic violence, ‘Lili & Ra’, and quiet in Sarajevo artiste Jasmila Zbanic’s portrayal of an old- age home in ‘Participation’.
The ‘ rights’ of society towards cinema, is the subject of an amusing round-table discussion, in the French film ‘Des films a faire’, by Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster and Ange Leccia.
There are some interesting films on the Environment, such as ‘La Mangue’ by Idrissa Ouedraogo from Burkina Faso, where the blooming of a mango tree signifies the growth of a young couple’s marriage.
‘La Victoire sur les Sachets’ by French director Sarkis portrays the unique case of disposed garbage being re-cycled into a musical ‘djembe’ instrument. It’s mentioned that 20 tonnes of recycled rubbish leads to as many as 2000 such instruments!
From Asia, there are arresting shorts by noted filmmakers Zhang-ke Jia (China), Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Thailand), and Murali Nair (India).
Murali Nair’s short, ‘The Crossing,’ has a dazzling array of images that seem a collage and a “crossing” of the old and new India, with pictures of rural and urban individuals, old-world and hi-tech environments, captured with a speed and urgency that are almost palpable.
These are the many tones and tenors of a unique medley of films, created by some of the most individualistic artistes in the world, on a theme that is singularly relevant today.
One hopes the EU will make available ‘Stories on Human Rights’ to cultural institutes around the world.

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