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Student docs brought in-house at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival

The Human Rights Watch Film Festival (HRWFF) is underway at the Ritzy Picturehouse, from March 18th to the 28th.  One of its nights was dedicated to student-made documentaries, and the SOAS Spirit was there.

By Paloma Rao

Still from "Auntie Ganga", by Asmita Shrish, National Film and Television School, 2013
Still from “Auntie Ganga”, by Asmita Shrish, National Film and Television School, 2013

This event, created in association with the Human Rights Watch Film Festival and the University of Roehampton, exhibited a compilation of short films produced by various students at UK universities. The eight short films were followed by an engaging discussion between several of the filmmakers, Alexandra Sage (Senior Lecturer in Film Production, University of Roehampton) and Dave Tinham (Lecturer in Human Rights, Kingston University) and the audience, which helped explore the reasoning behind each filmmaker and address any questions some of the unusual and provocative films raised.

The majority of the films focused on sexuality and gender discrimination, while some of the films directly looked at the lives of those experiencing these problems, which provided a new level of intimacy. “Auntie Ganga” (directed by Asmita Shrish, The National Film and Television School) explores the life and marriage of a Gurkha living in the UK after an arranged marriage at 13, and Shrish describes how she herself was crying while filming the sadness and loneliness expressed by the wife. Other directors used actors to convey a true story as the victim did not want to appear publicly, such as “Qumar’s Chapter” (directed by Joseph Ibyn Wall, Kingston University), in which a gay man seeks asylum in the UK after his father’s anger forces him to flee Iran. Issues of discrimination against transsexuality, particularly by religious communities, are favoured by a majority of students. “Platforms and security” (directed by Ricardo Greenough Guerreiro, UCA/Farnham Film School), criticizes the ever-present CCTV surveillance in the UK, arguing that it is a breach of privacy, while “Safina” (directed by Tony Clark, with Dulma Clark, London School of Economics and Political Science) looks at the insensitive approach of UK authorities in aiding victims of sex-trafficking, while also dealing with the responsibility to deport them.

The Q&A session at the end of the projections gave emotive insights into the motives and personal views of the filmmakers. “A Long Way To Go” (Amanda Valani Nurvadila, Goldsmiths College) portrays the life of Layla, a transgender woman living in the UK who converted to Islam in 2012, who was not permitted to pray in the women’s section at her mosque. The filmmaker explained how she wanted to show that these issues are prevalent in the UK, and described how transgender people in Indonesia have their own communities to practice their Islamic beliefs in. Qill Gill, the director of “My Secret Panties”, also expressed her anger at the homophobia in Malaysian society through her explicit video of two lesbian Muslim women. However, while aiming to convey intimacy, the video simply over-sexualized homosexuality, which is a cause of discrimination in the first place.

The various topics presented in the documentaries were met by various levels of film-making, with the quality varying greatly. However, we must keep in mind that some of the students were new to film-making. More importantly, whether or not these films succeeded in increasing awareness is debatable as the audience was relatively small, and the niche topic area of the event suggests those who attended may already be aware of such issues.

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