Thursday 21 October 2010

Festival Focus: Document 8 and Africa In Motion (The List, Issue 669)

The term ‘Human Rights Cinema’, with its implication of heavy political issues and intense subjects, may sound too much like hard work for the average cinemagoer. But for the last seven years Document, the Glasgow-based International Human Rights Film Festival, has been demonstrating that films about human rights simply means films about people like you and me. Begun in 2003 with a focus on the lives of Glasgow asylum-seekers, Document’s reach and scope has widened with each successive year.

This year’s opening film is Aisheen: Still Alive in Gaza, a gently powerful portrait of contemporary life in post-invasion Gaza that offers a very effective introduction to the type of film’s Document showcases. The film focuses on one of the biggest political arguments in our world, but from the perspectives of ordinary people caught in the middle of it, showing how precarious life is amidst the devastation. But Aisheen is no angry polemic; Swiss filmmaker Nicolas Wadimoff observes, mainly through focusing on young people, how life continues in a community where basic human rights have been denied. The film is troubling and uplifting in equal measures: one boy says, “the conditions are not right for learning… we’ve given up dreams”, but just as affectingly, Wadimoff shows us the burgeoning rap group choosing words as their weapons, and attempting to bring some hope and inspiration to Gaza with their music.

Another key film in this year’s programme is Bloody Sunday: A Derry Diary (pictured), a remarkable first-hand account that follows the almost 40-year journey from the Derry massacre in 1972 to the long-delayed conclusion of the Bloody Sunday Enquiry earlier this year. Filmmaker Margo Harkin, who was an eyewitness to the devastating events and gave evidence in the tribunal, has assembled a film of incredible power that, through the measured accounts of each contributor, not only delivers a defiant shout in the face of injustice, but also offers a message of hope to anyone who fights for a human cause to be heard.

Other highlights amongst the festival’s 95 documentaries are The Fear Factory, a clear-eyed appraisal of the UK’s failing Youth Justice System, The Silver Fez, a hugely entertaining account of a penniless African musician aiming for glory and The Shutdown, Alan Bissett and Adam Stafford’s award-winning short about young life in the shadow of Grangemouth. Document 8 Programmer Neill Patton says, “we’re not here to tell people what to do, we just want to let people see what’s going on in the world.”

While Document is happening in Glasgow, the Africa in Motion Film Festival will be celebrating its fifth anniversary in Edinburgh, showing over 70 films drawn from 28 African countries. This year the theme of the festival is ‘celebrations’, and Festival Director Lizelle Bisschoff says “first and foremost it’s an arts festival, celebrating brilliant African films, and that’s more important to us than any issue-based or ‘worthy’ approaches to representing Africa.” That’s a statement that’s borne out in the programme, with highlights including the opening film, Sex, Okra and Salted Butter, from Cannes award-winner Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, a selection of music and dance-themed documentaries from across the continent and a special children’s workshop with Kenyan animator Alfred Muchilwa, lead animator on CBeebies’ Tinga Tinga Tales.

Document 8 Human Rights Film Festival, CCA, Glasgow Tue 26-Sun 31 Oct. Africa in Motion Film Festival, Filmhouse, Edinburgh Thurs 21 Oct-Fri 5 Nov. 
A shorter version of this feature was first published in The List magazine.

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