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Distant voices

Anamika Mukharji 

A film festival that takes us into a world of lonely crusaders trying to make a difference in troubled times.

Burqa-clad women protest quietly on a Paris sidewalk. Curious passersby look at the pamphlets they’re handing out. No, they’re not protesting against some discrimination. They are just mothers and wives — The Collective of the Families of the Disappeared in Algeria (CFDA) — whose husbands and sons were picked up by the government on suspicion of links with Islamicists, and never returned. Thirteen years later, Nassera Dutour, founder and spokesperson of the Collective, is still looking for her son Amine. The new government in Algeria told them to stop protesting: “You shame us with your photos,” the President said in a message. A representative told them, “the government is responsible, but it is not guilty.”

Capturing the struggle of the CFDA in Song for Amine, director Alberto Bougleaux brings to light the impact of a forgotten war against Muslim fundamentalism. It’s the same story in Cuba, where in 2003, Fidel Castro ordered the quiet arrest of 75 outspoken journalists, writers and human rights activists. Their families’ struggle for their release is narrated by director Gry Winther in Women in White. In To Shoot an Elephant, film-maker Alberto Arce focuses on ambulance personnel in the volatile Gaza Strip, who risk their lives getting the wounded and the dead to hospital. 

Lonely crusaders like this, fighting for justice, knowledge, or peace, rarely get the limelight they deserve. Yet they carry on, often invisible. And so a film festival that brings together tales of the world’s forgotten, marginalised and unfortunate people is a conscience call that must be answered.  

Flashpoint, the three-day human rights film festival, concluded in Mumbai yesterday, coinciding with the International Human Rights Day — 62 years after the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. Homophobia, war crimes, suppression of minorities, trafficking of women and children — all these uncomfortable truths are explored by the movies screened at the Festival.

The germ of this idea first came to Festival Director Sridhar Rangayan, filmmaker and founder-member and trustee of the Humsafar Trust, India’s first gay NGO. Earlier this year, Rangayan was the Festival Director of Kashish, the Mumbai Queer Film Festival. Going on to serve as a jury member at the Netherlands’  Movies That Matter Film Festival, Sridhar was deeply moved by the films he saw there.

“I was so touched that I really had to share these movies with people here. I hope to make this an annual event and to showcase Indian films as well,” says Rangayan. Unfortunately the Festival did not have the funds to bring the filmmakers to India for meaningful discussion after each screening. But they more than made up for it with panel discussions that brought in filmmakers Kalpana Lajmi, Bishakha Dutta, Vinta Nanda; activists like Flavia Agnes and advocates Maharukh Adenwala, PA Sebastian and Colin Gonsalves.

Organised with the support of Alliance Francaise de Mumbai, and in collaboration with Movies That Matter (Netherlands), Solaris Pictures (Mumbai), and Magic Lantern Foundation (New Delhi), the Festival was inaugurated by filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt and actor Dolly Thakore who lit candles to represent hope and peace. Bhatt’s words resonated deep within the audience, “In an environment where we pursue only entertainment, such meaningful cinema is valuable and must be given the platform it deserves.”

As Rangayan says, “the Festival is life-affirming because it doesn’t just show you the problem — it focuses on people who are trying to solve the problem, to seek answers, and to be heard”.

We can never completely know a story unless we have lived it, seen it through the eyes of the people directly involved. This Festival does just that — leaving the realities of our existence outside in the sun, it invites us into a dark world where some people are trying hard to be the light.

Flashpoint - Human Rights Film Festival will be held at Alliance Francaise, New Delhi, January 20-22. Admission free. For details, visit www.flashpointfilmfestival.com  

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First Published: Sat, December 11 2010. 00:20 IST
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