Human Rights Documentaries

Short Review Selection

Al Intithar – The Waiting

This year at the Berlinale I have seen Al Intithar – The Waiting by Mario Rizzi. The director attends a Syrian refugees camp in Jordan for seven weeks and draws a very unconventional picture of the situation there. The 30 minutes short film shows the conditions of living in that camp by accompanying one main figure and showing the improvised social network surrounding without any commentary but with sensitive shots and editing. There is a calm rhythm of the life in that camp noticable in the film. It shows a situation which is an interstation for its inhabitants, who all are and are not there by their own choice, traumatized and in the need for help.

The film is transferring a reasonable picture of these peoples situation, people who did not ask for war but want to live peacefully like everybody. It´s highly contrasting the everyday mass media image on the war and gives a comprehensible insight to one detailed part of the Arabian world – a trivial living perspective that is tried to be kept upright in the camp. I asked myself so many times while watching this film why the hell we do not get more of this kind of images by the media. Seriously.

The Act of Killing

An outstandingly shocking but also very respectable film dealing with some topic I would call mass psychosis is The Act of Killing by Joshua Oppenheimer.

The film is a portrait of two mass murderers. Practicing murdorous frenzy in the Sixties where the big massacre in Indonesia during the Suharto-Regime took place, both of them became heros and are until today. The film deals also with the sociological structures, in which their brutal vision could write a triumphant history without conscience of guilt. It´s a frightening image of mankind, really unbelievable and shaking the fundaments of a common understanding about what right is.

The film is shocking because of the brutal portrait the director is picturing not only of his main characters but of mankind as well. Respectable because of a very delicate and complex cinematic investigation and mapping of a bigger landscape in which that kind of aggressive behaviour can implant and grow. Respectable because the film is not giving a simple cause-and-effect-plot on what is and what was happening, avoids giving answers but in my opinion succeeds to open the desperation inducing historical process, trying hard to work on the understandability of the irrational. The film is furthermore analytically regarding the way of storytelling in general. Pointing his finger pitiless on the vulnerability of human rights.

The Axe and the Tree

One other film that deals with politically backed aggression in a courageous manner is The Axe and the Tree by Rumbi Katedza.

In this film four people who got victims in the 2008 turmoil arround the elections in Zimbabwe come to speak about their experiences. These four people are participants of a workshop driven by an NGO called The Living Tree. There, victims and perpetrators come together for an accompanied healing process with the aim to get hold of the rage, the wish of revenge or individual depression. These sequences where the filmmaker takes insight in the workshop methods and process are particularly substancial for the documentary. The viewer of the film is confronted with the question how to handle trauma of excessive unjustly violence as well on the individual as also on the collective side. The people who decided to share their angry wound with the world are setting a little flame of change.

As I took part at an after film discussion with the director she said there, she cannot show this film in Zimbabwe, because the participants did not agree. This is because the workshop took place in an immune sphere, whereas in their everyday lives even more victims and perpetrators are still living next to each other as neighbours, which naturally causes some implicit tension.

Still the film is giving the unheard a voice in the world. And its aim to break a cycle of violence deserves recognition.

Blood In The Mobile

Blood In The Mobile by Frank Piasecki Poulsen is about the business around the conflict minerals for electronic, primarily mobile devices.

In the beginning of this investigation the filmmaker presents himself as someone who likes the comforts of a digitalized world in the same time he feels very uncomfortable with the moral consequences he knows about. The fundamental motivation for the film is based on the question: How can it be that unfortunate systems of exploitation and war supporting are going on and on, even if everybody seems to be more or less aware of that situation (which speaks against every common understanding of human rights)?

It is a very plausible question. And personally I think, he hits a very striking nerve of the contemporary world we are living in.

The filmmaker asks himself, why those conflicting consumption networks are the way they are and if there is not something to do about it. So he is pushing things further: for tracing the far-reaching connections of this complex he is visiting places all around the world: from the corporate headquarters of Nokia in Finnland to a conflicted mining area in Congo, to Washington and Germany, where he meets politicians and activists dealing with the question how to handle these enmeshments.

The filmmaker is persistenly demanding answers from one of the market leaders for mobile phones. In a friendly recognizably straight way. He does a very good job.

He is not letting loose his grip when it comes to the usual kind of customers support, a trained subsystem to prevent the big business from confrontation. Searching for responsibility. Doing this in an invincible and positive way. Just knowing about his rights. With tender conscience.

He will go to the headquarters for a second time, after his visit in Congo. An outstandingly impressive move of this journalistic investigation. He wants to confront himself with the situation he heard of, wants to see the real circumstances in which these minerals are mined.

He does it quick.

It is very dangerous – nobody of the people living around, not even the workers of the mines have ideas of slightly secure trails to that point. Plus the filmmaker is suspiciosly flashy at that place of the world.

He finds a former mine worker, a child, a young boy who he can convince – and also his mother – to take him there in the risk of both of their lifes for the reason to make the images and bring them to a world public, to possibly make a change.

The sequence culminates in the claustrophobic passageways of the mines, loaded with people who are not delighted to see him there.

There is an unpleasent feeling staying, when the film comes to an end.
Because the strong demands of the filmmaker apparently are not enough to make a change.

At least he succeeds in revealing the structures of the complex.

Everyone takes advantage by using electronics. Doing this in a sustainable way under conditions that fullfill our understanding of human rights is a challenge we must face.

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