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Environment

Film festival puts human rights on the big screen

In its third year, the Movies That Matter Festival represents one of the main film events in The Hague. It aims to raise awareness of human rights by screening the personal journeys of activists from around the world.

Filmroll

The festival lets people share their experiences

In a city where film festivals are coming out of the woodwork, a focus on the human dimension of human rights keeps the Movies That Matter Festival from being lost in the mass of other events at The Hague, said Taco Ruighaver, the festival's director.

"You hear numbers that don't really touch a person, such as '70,000 children in China are sold every year' or 'one and a half million people are missing in Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein,'" he said. "But when you bring those stories back to one of those children in China, or a son missing his father in Iraq, then it gets human proportions.”

After three years, the Movies That Matter Festival has become a cinematic highlight in The Hague, attracting some 15,000 visitors to the personal stories of people maintaining their dignity under difficult circumstances.

"It's the people who are portrayed in these films, who are doing great work and are always in danger; here they have a forum for themselves, where they can exchange their experiences and feel they are not alone," German film director Susanne Jäger said.

Broadcasting domestic abuse

Jäger's "The Jungle Radio" focuses on a local radio station in Nicaragua called Palabra de Mujer, or "Women’s Word." The station, located in the remote jungle village Bocanas de Paiwas, began broadcasting in 2002 and serves as a sort of public telephone booth.

Women walking to a village in Nicaragua

Parts of Nicaragua are extremely difficult to reach

The station allows people to send messages to their friends and family and has broadcast everything from the latest news about a boy's illness to family members' warnings that they'll be late for dinner.

But in the country with Latin America's second highest rate of domestic violence, Palabra de Mujer has found a larger purpose: It names and shames aggressors of women on air.

"The people who usually turn these men in are the neighbors, sometimes the woman herself, or even the brothers and sisters of the aggressor," explained the radio's founder Yamileth Chavarria.

In the film, the scale of the task facing Palabra de Mujer becomes apparent as men are shown openly saying they're against laws that forbid them from hitting their wives, "We sometimes need to put them in their place," one man said.

Chavarria said when she showed a shorter version of the documentary in the village, at least one man decided it was time for him to change and came forward to ask her for help.

Filmmaking activism

"I think film is a very emotional medium," said Canadian filmmaker Stephanie Boyd. "Film allows the protagonists to have a voice. The story can be told in their words and we can follow them and show actions as they unfold."

Boyd's film, "The Devil Operation," uncovers an espionage network set up to monitor a group of activists fighting an international mining company's plans to expand to a mountain in Peru which the activists consider sacred.

Boyd documented the activists' work opposing the mining company as well as the threats they received.

Yanacocha gold mine

Miners wanted to expand operations to a sacred mountain in Peru

"We've known this has been going on for years but we just haven't had any evidence to prove it," Boyd said. "It's the first time we have photos, footage and reports and real proof that companies are hiring private security firms that work as though they were mercenaries."

Getting young people to think

Another activist who made an impact at this year's Movies That Matter was Senegalese hip-hop artist Sister Fa. At her concerts she talks to the crowd about human rights, in particular female genital mutilation - a process she herself underwent.

Her fight against this practice was captured in the documentary "Sarabah" by two American directors. They followed her as she travelled back and forth from Berlin, where she currently lives with her husband and baby daughter, and her home country.

"What I'm doing is just to bring the young people into the reflection," she said. "If we can tell them about human rights, tell them they can educate their child without any traditional practice that can hurt or damage her health. If we talk now to the young people, for me that's hope for the future."

Sister Fa said she hopes to use the film to encourage other artists to play a more active role in human rights education. She added that it's crucial to reach musicians from areas of the world where female genital mutilation still occurs.

The Movies That Matter Festival screens some 70 films every year, including documentaries, fiction and short-films. The event is the successor to the former Amnesty International Film Festival. After 10 editions, the NGO decided to set up an independent foundation to organize the event.

In addition to the film screenings, there are also workshops, educational activities for children and debates with the filmmakers and the protagonists of the documentaries.

Author: Cintia Taylor

Editor: Sean Sinico

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