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Über dieses Buch

Human rights film festivals have been steadily growing in number in recent years. They are all bound by a common thread, human rights, and yet show distinctly different films. What leads them to be so different, and how is the universalism of human rights made sense by each?

Inhaltsverzeichnis

Frontmatter

Framings

Frontmatter

1. Human Rights: From Universalism to Internationalism

In 2007, students of human rights and I set up the first Human Rights Arts and Film Festival in Perth, Western Australia. This was to be an arm of a festival that had been planned and organized by two other women in Melbourne, on the other side of Australia, one a Law student, the other a Creative Industries student; it was our inaugural run. I had been teaching media theory to undergraduate students, and human rights philosophy to Master’s-level students interested in films as a form of activism, after being involved in Amnesty International and activism around refugees. As we organized this foray into the coupling of films and human rights activism in my (then) home city, I became aware of the lack of awareness from each side about the other: human rights students went to the cinema to watch films, some of which were on social issues, but viewed them unproblematically as stories of fact; some film/media students were interested in social issues and justice, but knew almost nothing about human rights and what this meant. The films we screened that year were few, but one troubled me deeply (I discuss this film in the following chapter). That film screening started me on this path, and it has led to the development of the idea of the humanitarian gaze, which I discuss in the following chapter.

Sonia M. Tascón

2. Film Festivals: Activism and the Gaze

As we set up the first Human Rights Arts and Film Festival in Perth, Western Australia, we became part of a larger festival that now encompasses most Australian capital cities. Our first year in the city of Perth was one with few finances, and we screened very few films. One of those was The Day after Peace (Gilley 2008). It was a film that, in many ways, gave birth to my disquiet and questioning that have resulted in this book (for a fuller analysis of this film, see Tascón 2012). In the reflections below, which, I hope, will help ground the more theoretical material, the selection of this film highlights the difficulties confronting programmers for HRFFs. In what I discuss, I do not stand outside of it; I was, after all a part of that process. An activist film festival is often faced with such dilemmas, of an economic but also ideological nature, and many decisions are compromises.

Sonia M. Tascón

Festival Internacional de Cine Derechos Humanos, Buenos Aires

Frontmatter

3. Context 1997–2003: History and Politics

Human rights as a widely used discourse entered the Argentine public imagination at a fairly specific point in that nation’s history. This was the period of the military dictatorship of 1976–83, which ended with the failed attempt to wrest the Islas Malvinas (Falkland Islands) back from the British. As a discourse that could wield wider political influence, it was the dictatorship of that period, as opposed to previous dictatorships, which produced the conditions for its possibility. Although the association between human rights and the 1976 dictatorship is now taken for granted, I want to take a brief look at some of that history, particularly as it was embodied by the activism of one group: the Madres Plaza de Mayo. These were a group of women who mobilized soon after the dictatorship came to power, seeking answers from the military about their missing children/grandchildren (see more below). Their activism brought the issue of political prisoners to prominence in Argentina and entrenched a corresponding discourse of human rights in the national psyche.

Sonia M. Tascón

4. The Festival 1997 to 2003: From the Desaparecidos to Neoliberalism

The FICDH in Argentina began its life five years after Julio Santucho returned to Argentina from exile, and two years before the Buenos Aires Festival Internacional de Cine Independiente (BAFICI) was started (Copertari 2009). This last event is significant because BAFICI is a festival of some international renown, but it is also of direct significance to FICDH. This is so firstly because BAFICI is funded and sponsored by the city of Buenos Aires, and its appearance may have had something to do with the removal of civil funding for FICDH that the city provided, soon after BAFICI started. FICDH had a hiatus in 1999 (the year BAFICI launched), and then again in 2001 (due to the financial crisis), after which it resumed as a yearly event, with funding provided by relationships forged with European embassies.1 Secondly, BAFICI includes a “human rights” category and provides a prize for this category. It is of particular interest that BAFICI, a festival largely established on principles of the promotion of independent cinema (Buenos Aires Ciudad 2014), should include such a category, an obvious marker that human rights has become embedded not only in the public imagination but also in the cinematic one. This placed these two festivals in some competition for the few Argentine film submissions as the fledgling national cinema made a comeback (Wander-Argentina 2014), as well as for the definitions of human rights in that nation.

Sonia M. Tascón

5. Context 2004–14: Postdictatorship, Postneoliberalism, and New Argentine Cinema

The films on the civic responses to the 2001 financial crisis, which the previous chapter described, illustrated a fidelity to earlier political and cinematic visions by the festival. Those films, celebrating “auto-organisations” that emerged organically as responses to the crisis, were part of films’ role as transmitters of national narratives, desires, and struggles. In this way, the festival, and the films selected to represent that time, form part of a wider struggle that had to do with reassertions of a nation in the face of external invasions both economically and cinematically. The origins of FICDH were entwined with the reassertion of a national cinema that had all but disappeared until the law of 1994 (Copertari 2009; Falicov 2007; Page 2011), one that had, furthermore, played an integral role in Argentine nation-building (Lusnich and Piedras 2009). The festival can be seen to be part of the rejuvenation of a cultural industry neutered in its ability to tell its own stories to itself. But it was also part of the repositioning of a politics that had been decimated. In this way, FICDH forms part of a broader vision both politically and cinematically, one that was trying to rescue a nation from disintegration. Its national cinema and the anti-imperialist and radical politics of Third Cinema, with its emphasis on self-representation and autonomous self-definition, had been a significant element of that prior to the dictator-ship.

Sonia M. Tascón

6. The Festival 2004–14: The “Other” and Cosmopolitan Visions

The sixth edition of the festival, in 2004, sees a significant shift in its gaze. For the first time a sizable number of films was not only produced outside Latin America but their topics were also about other regions of the world. In this edition, films about Palestine, Cambodia, Russia, Australia, and Vietnam are included alongside those from/about South America. Also for the first time, the festival is divided into thematic sections consistently, a trend that continued in future editions. The themes that year were Women (10 films); Violence against Children (9 films); Sexual Diversity (3 films); Land (Indigenous and Peasant) (9 films); Dictatorship and Tyranny (3 films); Memory and Identity (6 films); Political/Militant Cinema (9 films); Palestine (2); Social Exclusion (3 all from Argentina); Labor (6); and Panorama (15 films). The last category included films on various topics, but mostly related to art and activism. The themes change each subsequent year, but a number remained to become regulars such as Gender, Children, Indigenous, Memory, and Land. These categories closely mirror those of the UN’s Declarations and Conventions, as these are largely organized according to recognizable social groups to whom some form of recognition has been granted through Conventions or Declarations. For example: the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1990), and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (1979), although some rights are organized more generically, such as the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (1976).

Sonia M. Tascón

Human Rights Watch International Film Festival, New York

Frontmatter

7. Context: From the Cold War to The Yes Men

The history of HRWIFF is the history of Human Rights Watch, previously known as Helsinki Watch. That organization established itself in the heart of the Cold War and took a very specific position, both geographically and ideologically. As the festival emerged at the tail end of that ideological conflict, and there is an ongoing thread of interest in Eastern Europe at this event that is not there for Western Europe, I could not help but make the connections with that time. In some of what follows, I trace some of that history, both of Helsinki Watch and of the festival, and also attempt to locate some of the trends in the festival that are distinct from its parent organization.

Sonia M. Tascón

8. The Festival: Presences: Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and the United States

As this festival articulates the watching of films to be guided by its parent organization, and HRW has defined its role as monitoring human rights, there is an implicit expectation of seeing violations rather than the celebration of the achievement of human rights. Watching others not doing well with human rights is the expected vista, or, at the very least, watching their struggles to make human rights happen. This is not what necessarily takes place at the festival, however. The three regions or nations on which I have chosen to focus were the most obvious presence at the festival, due either to the number of films they screened or the ongoing attention to that region, or both. I discuss each region separately as different themes emerge for each.

Sonia M. Tascón

9. Context: From Latin America to Political Documentary in the United States

Although films about/from the Middle East (largely Palestine) and Eastern Europe have received ongoing and sustained focus during the period covered by this book, Latin America, Africa, and Asia have received less. This has been surprising in relation to Latin America at least, given a number of factors: Latin America is close geographically to the United States; there is a large Latino population in that nation; and the nations from Latin America have significant cinemas. If the ongoing attention to Palestine can be explained by the large Jewish population in New York, then the growing number of Latinos in the United States has not received the same level of attention. In this chapter I attempt to under-stand that “lack” through an historical lens, as I did for earlier chapters.

Sonia M. Tascón

10. The Festival: Absence: Latin America

In this chapter, I focus on a region that, in the period I cover, has had less presence at the festival. This does not mean that it is fully excluded, but rather that it has received less attention than the others I discussed in previous chapters. The absence is, after all, relative, and varies through the years in question, with Latin America at times achieving as much as 25 percent of the total viewing schedules (2005 and 2011 festivals), but mostly staying within the range of 0 percent (2001 festival) to 10 percent of films screened. The 1994 HRW annual report also mentions a Pino Solanas—Argentine filmmaker and cofounder of Third Cinema—retrospective at the 1993 festival (HRW 2014a), which suggests that the region may have had greater importance for the festival prior to 2001. Also, the remnant website that covers programming from 1995–97 mentions quite a number of films from/about the region. This is not surprising given that the festival began in 1988 with a film about the Chilean dictatorship, a regime that ended that same year, and that the fallout of the various dictatorships in Latin America began to be felt after their demise, most by the beginning of the 1990s.

Sonia M. Tascón

Conclusions

Conclusions

There is no such thing as a human rights film. But there are human rights film festivals. Film festivals are the places of organized unruliness—subversive spaces of alternative exhibition—where films that were not originally seen as “human rights films” can be constructed as such. Without the space and the entire field of activities that these festivals encourage and enable, individual films screened for human rights purposes would remain a fragmented set of stories that approximate the work of the organization hosting the screening. In these places of unruliness festivals create a wider and richer experience for a spectator, where films are a major part, but not the whole story.

Sonia M. Tascón

Backmatter

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