Category Archives: Guest bloggers
The Show Me Justice Film Festival is on April 9th and 10th at the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg, Missouri. As the start of the festival approaches, guest blogger Annie Walsh discusses GLOW and the making of the film that documents this laudable social justice organization. GLOW is an official selection of the 2015 Show Me Justice Film Festival.
I think one of the challenges about social justice issues, and social justice films, is how inured we have become to them. Though we as Americans can fairly be accused of apathy—when one looks at voter turnout, for instance—I believe most people do care about justice. But so many of us feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of need, the expanse of injustices perpetrated around the world—from Selma to Syria—that we don’t know where to begin. Though we want to be “part of the solution,” we feel ill equipped to make a dent in such seemingly insurmountable problems.
When I was approached by Cynthia Saddler, co-founder of Girls Leading Our World, Inc. (GLOW), I, too, felt hesitant to commit. Cynthia reached out to me because she knew I was on the board of Kansas City Women in Film & Television (KCWIFT), a dynamic group of men and women, which works to empower, promote, and mentor women in film, television, and new media. Cynthia was drawn to KCWIFT because of all the organization was doing at the time to encourage female screenwriters, and she was hoping KCWIFT could help her make a movie, too. Her movie, however, would not require a script. Her movie would instead document part of story that was already playing out in the heart of Kansas City’s urban core.
I say I hesitated to commit to helping tell the story of GLOW not because I found it uncompelling but because it came with no budget. GLOW, which is sustained by an all-volunteer staff, uses every dollar it receives to serve girls in need. So money for a film simply was not in the picture. And, though I know many hardworking filmmakers who often donate their services at discounted rates, I don’t know many who can afford to work for free.
But…the seed had been planted. The more I learned about GLOW, the more I wanted to do anything I could to support its important work with young women in Kansas City. When KCWIFT decided to apply for a Missouri Arts Council grant, we included a short film about GLOW in our proposal because GLOW’s mission of empowering girls aligned so well with KCWIFT’s mission of empowering women. And, in the summer of 2013, we learned we had been awarded enough funding to make the film a reality.
Once funding was secured, I knew exactly who I wanted to direct the film. Cara Myers is well known in Kansas City’s film scene. She brings a unique artistic touch to every project she takes on, and she has another attribute that made her uniquely suited to the job. Cara routinely does work for non-profits in the KC area and is gifted at connecting with viewers on an emotional level. But, perhaps even more importantly, she also is a female filmmaker with her own successful business.
This was particularly important for the GLOW project because part of GLOW’s mission is to expose its girls to a variety of professional and educational paths and to introduce them to positive, successful women who have found ways to use their passions to pay their bills. Many of GLOW’s girls do not have positive adult role models; many come from families where no one has attended college; most live in impoverished areas; most lack access to accredited schools; several live in households where food is scarce and transportation is limited; and many have been sexually assaulted or abused.
Without the intervention of programs like GLOW, many of these girls might never know that they, too, can attend college, can have a profession, can live free of violence, and can lift themselves out of poverty. But each week GLOW reinforces for its girls that there are people in the world who care about them, who believe in their potential, and who are willing to help them set and achieve their goals. Rather than focusing on what’s wrong in girls’ lives, GLOW focuses on what’s right within each girl. The program is designed to help girls recognize and build upon their own strengths.
These kids are incredibly resilient, bright, and just as fun and frustrating as any of their more privileged peers. But what many lack is a “village” of caring, functional adults prepared to assist them in their journey to adulthood. GLOW bridges that gap. It provides the girls with a network of individuals who reinforce on a weekly basis that they have the potential not just to participate fully in society, but to be leaders of society.
Through weekly programming, the girls gain entrepreneurial tips from professionals working in a wide array of fields—from musicians to veterinarians, and from environmentalists to attorneys—and they often learn how under-represented women of color are in certain professions. Seeing examples of women at work in the world is essential to expanding the GLOW girls’ worldview, which is why I was delighted to work with Cara in the making of this film.
Throughout the making of the short documentary, Cara was creative, assertive, very much in charge, and communicated her artistic vision in a way that was sensitive to GLOW’s desire to highlight the girls’ strengths. It’s not easy to get teens to open up, even in the best of circumstances. Add a camera, lights, and crew to the mix and kids are even more likely to clam up. Yet Cara was able to coax the girls into conversations that weren’t always comfortable.
And most importantly, Cara was conscientious throughout production to address the challenges that the girls face in a way that ensures the girls are not defined by those challenges. By no means did we want to make a film about “disadvantaged girls in the urban core.” Rather, this film is about incredibly strong young women who are emerging from difficult circumstances to become future leaders.
Every time Cara gave direction to her crew, adjusted lighting on the set—literally called the shots—the girls of GLOW had yet another opportunity to see how they, too, can call the shots in their own lives. For me, that’s what social justice is about: empowering individuals and communities to gain agency in their own lives.
The girls may not even realize they’re learning to be agents of social change. But every week they come to GLOW and hear from volunteers, mentors, and guest speakers about the need for more people of color to become veterinarians, how community gardens are established and maintained in their neighborhoods, how those neighborhoods have fought for environmental justice and equal housing opportunities, and, yes, every time they see a woman behind a camera, they take yet another step toward self-empowerment. They see their own potential reflected in the work of others who take time to invest in them each week.
And that’s the beauty of getting past “social justice paralysis,” that numb feeling that renders one unable—or perhaps just hesitant—to even try to make a difference. It’s not easy. But it’s also not as hard as one might think. The path to social justice just might mean making a relatively small investment in a kid’s life. A couple of hours a week may not seem like much, but the consistency of care that a program like GLOW can provide is essential for these girls’—for all children’s—continued success. Sometimes engaging in social justice issues means just showing up. Just showing up and showing you care. Showing kids you believe in them and want a bright future—for them and for yourself as well. After all, as we age, we will inevitably come to depend on the leadership of this generation. And a small investment now can pay big dividends in the future.
For those of us involved in the making of this documentary, we’ve already enjoyed a return on our investment. Seeing the girls’ faces light up when a packed house saw their story projected on a big screen at the film’s premiere last summer was all the critical acclaim I needed. And a few of the girls who were too shy to participate in the film have since told me that they wished they’d had the courage to speak on camera. Both reactions assure me that Cara and her crew truly did honor how strong and smart these young women are. It also reaffirms how important it is to keep showing up in these kids’ lives, with or without a camera.
I have become a GLOW convert. On any given Thursday night, you are likely to find me hanging with the GLOW girls, and I also mentor a girl one-on-one. Recently I also accepted a position on GLOW’s board and I look forward to showing up for those meetings each month as well. I still feel overwhelmed by the wide-ranging injustices in our world but, every time I show up for GLOW, I also feel like I’m doing what I can where I can to promote social justice for these girls. Hopefully, as they grow up, they’ll continue to show up for others, too.
With the start of the fifth annual Show Me Justice Film Festival just a few weeks away, our guest blogger continues with a remarkable post by filmmaker Kyoko Yamashita, whose animated film The Little Match Girl is an official selection of this year’s festival.
When I was a child in Japan I used to like reading – Andersen´s The Little Match Girl and other classic, tragic children’s literature stories. And, I wept copiously, without realizing that I was forming my sense of justice. But, in my naivety and ignorance, I thought they were only fictional stories from the past.
When I was about 10 years old my family migrated to the countryside of Brazil, where the public schools had half day classes. My sister and I had a very hard time adapting. Puerile feelings stayed in the past. But, years later when I saw children selling things and begging at the crossings in the same big cities the Andersen´s tale emerged from, my childish imagination awoke, that until then had been asleep in the bottom of my conscience.
Most Brazilians don’t know the story. Some people told me children shouldn’t read this tragic tale. I disagree because children feel things with more intensity, and that’s what enriches the character and forms a sense of justice. When already an adult, a reading hardly affects their formation; an indigent child’s death is no longer news in the world.
When I had the opportunity to make this short, I decided to fit the tale to present day for a young audience. This makes it different from many other movies based on the same tale. Naturally, there are different elements because these are different times and so are the desires and temptations. But, the childhood’s purity is immutable; even when doing not so “pure” things, childhood keeps its essence.
I tried to tell the story with no gratuitous and manicheaist emotional appeal for the reason that the story is on a systemic problem. So, all of us take part of it, whether we want to or not. I didn’t use any dialogue because I thought it was redundant, so interpretation is left to the viewer. It will be an image reading instead of textual one.
As the result of Brazilian government social programs, I haven’t seen street children lately, at least in Porto Alegre, where I live. But, inequality has deep historical and cultural roots in Brazilian society, and the latest events in the political scene indicate that things could get worse.
Justice is a luxury good in this country, and all over the world, where there are still a lot of little match girls, 170 years after Andersen wrote the tale.
As the fifth annual Show Me Justice Film Festival approaches on April 9th and 10th, we reached out to featured filmmakers, who will be serving as guest bloggers. Robin Canfield, our latest guest blogger, has written a fantastic post about social justice “changemakers,” individuals striving to effect change around the globe. Canfield’s SLUM DREAMS is an official selection of the 2015 Show Me Justice Film Festival.
Laughter bounced off mortar walls and echoed upwards off of corrogurated tin roofs nearly two years ago as I watched a student film crew – four members strong with a local guide – nervously shift in place as they faced two pairs of eyes looking down at them through a gap in the tarps forming one side of the “alleyway” they marched through on their explorations in the Kibera Slum of Nairobi. The crew had walked a short way from Sadili Oval, a sports outreach center built outside the infamous slum.
Days before the crew had ventured just inside the boundary of the slum to film a weekly tennis lesson with children from the slum, and now they had trudged up paths of muck and garbage, following their guide through twists and turns in the maze of shacks and sheds, seeking the families of the children who take part in Sadili programs.
Now they found themselves staring back at two pairs of slightly bloodshot eyes while laughter bellowed and an outstreched hand beckoned them to come around to their side of the tarp. A giggly man came rushing around the corner, drunk, and no more steady on his feet on the pathways of Kibera than the crew members. He led them along the alley for a minute and through a small entryway that opened onto the front of a shack and a circular, tarp-lined area with a homemade still in the center. Even in the shade of a tarp overhead it was hot. It was dry and dusty. The other two drunk men gestured for the crew to come closer so they could marvel at the camera gear and, through the guide’s interpretation, offer the crew a taste of their alcohol.
There were no takers, but the men laughed all the harder rather than take offense. With big smiles they walked the crew back out to the path and sent them merrily on their way. The crew came away with a loss of fear, with a loss of the generalizing belief that in an area where help is drastically needed bad things are bound to constantly happen. The crew continued on that day to film several scenes for what would become the documentary “Dirt Court Dreams” – spreading awareness of Sadili, a great changemaker organization. The crew learned what many changemakers working towards social justice around the world already know, that people are generally friendly and have a tendency toward good – sometimes they just need help in the right direction.
It’s a realization I’ve happily seen come to many students participating in programs with Actuality Media, be it in the mountains of Thailand where the norm in a tiny village is a satellite dish sticking up through a thatch roof and a daughter sold off into the sex trade – with a changemaker working to convince them in the value of changing their ways – or in a slum in Nicaragua, just blocks from a small but bustling tourist center, where a group of local university students, part of Techo, work to build emergency housing to replace tarp-walled shacks for people in need.
There really are people working towards social justice around the world – I call them changemakers – and you may have heard of quite a few operating on large scale efforts. My experience has been working with organizations operating on a much smaller scale. I guarantee you that even in your community – your city, your state – there are efforts towards social justice worth making films on.
Last year our second Kenya program saw three films made in Kisumu, in the west of the country. The three changemakers were a perfect spread of the type of changemakers to look for:
First – a short-term transplant. A Dutch farmer who came to the area to take the lead in an experiment in bringing permaculture farming to an area overtaken by sugarcane monoculture, bringing extremely low wages to local men who have little other option than to work the farms. “Permanent Culture” tells the story of one local man who learned from this experiment and who is looking to strike out on his own, improving his life and his community.
Second – a long-term transplant. A European nurse who has been making inroads in Africa for many years, and who has been the Country Director with Safe Water and AIDS Project (SWAP Kenya) for a decade. “Living Positive” focuses on an HIV Positive woman who has worked with SWAP for many years and through their efforts leads an HIV support group in her community.
Third – and my favorite changemkaer – a local who saw a need and made a solution. Honestly, no one knows the social injustices within a community better than someone who has grown up there. That doesn’t mean that every local knows the solution – some recognize the problem are stifled by their inability to do anything about it (sometimes those people even turn to drinking). That’s not what “Slum Dreams” is about at all, though. It’s a film centered on the Young County Change Makers and a local effort to bring social justice to the Nyalenda Slum.
I invite you to watch “Slum Dreams” when it screens at the Social Justice Film Festival and, what’s more, I invite you to seek out that person or organization in your own community who is working towards social justice and find the story in their work that needs
Our guest blogger series continues with an inspiring post by filmmaker Karin Venegas, whose powerful documentary UNAFRAID: VOICES FROM THE CRIME VICTIMS TREATMENT CENTER is an official selection of the 2015 Show Me Justice Film Festival.
My documentary film, UNAFRAID: VOICES FROM THE CRIME VICTIMS TREATMENT CENTER, examines the devastating impact of sexual assault on a person’s life by chronicling the stories of four rape survivors on their individual journeys toward healing. The film is set at The Crime Victims Treatment Center in Manhattan, where they all receive counseling. More than a story of victimization, it is a celebration of the resilience of the human spirit and the capacity of ordinary individuals to effect change.
Interwoven with the survivors’ narratives is a historic look back at the treatment center’s original founding at the height of 1970s feminist activism. To tell this story, I turn the camera on my own mother and her best friend, highlighting their pioneering work on behalf of victims’ rights.
I was inspired to make this film after spending two years with the Crime Victims Treatment Center as a “Volunteer Advocate.” With training and certification from the New York State Department of Health, I signed up for night time shifts on call, should any rape or domestic violence victims report to the local emergency room. My role was to provide crisis counseling and emotional support during their night in the ER, as they negotiated very difficult decision-making: Do I want to report this crime to the police? Do I want to undergo a physical forensic examination? Should I tell my family, my friends, my partner? If I don’t feel safe at home, where should I go?
It was a transformative experience. The violence and heartache I witnessed was shocking and upset me to my core. There is a lot of injustice in this world and to be present with someone in the aftermath of such extreme trauma brings that message home on a deeply personal level. Yet it was also inspiring, uplifting work. There is nothing more rewarding than to be of service and support to someone in their time of need. The ugliness that humanity can inflict is no match for its kindness.
What struck me most, was the frequency with which I got called into the emergency room. There was a steady stream of new victims each month. Sexual assault and domestic violence are frighteningly common. And yet so many victims remain silent – too afraid, ashamed, and confused to report to the police or seek medical care and counseling. These forms of violence are such intimate violations, they makes victims feel so utterly alone, unaware that so many others have suffered the same injustice.
I wanted to leverage the power of personal narrative to humanize the statistics and make a film that would help lift the stigma that traps victims in silence.
But above all, I wanted to remind my audience that social change is possible. A better world too often feels elusive. Fighting inequality and injustice requires both personal and systemic changes that are at once complex and enormous. When I feel like giving up, I remember my mother. As is revealed in my film, her efforts were groundbreaking and led to significant institutional and cultural change. Yet her goals were never so lofty. She was just “doing her job” and doing it well.
The lesson I have learned from my mother’s story, and the lesson I hope to share through my film, is this (and it’s really very simple):
Change is possible. It occurs when good people do good work over time.
That’s it: Good people, doing good work, over time.
The Show Me Justice Film Festival’s guest blogger series continues with a post by filmmaker Robin Truesdale focusing on the three activist nuns at the heart of the documentary Conviction.
Three activist nuns are the subjects of, Conviction, a documentary that delves into faith, activism, and the U.S. justice system.
I didn’t meet these extraordinary women until after I had edited Conviction, a 53-minute film that highlights their Colorado action against nuclear proliferation and their subsequent trial in a federal court. The nuns were each sentenced to between 31 and 40 months for obstructing national defense and damaging government property. So, as our filmmaking team worked to bring their story to the world, the nuns were behind bars.
At our film’s premiere in Denver, I was finally able to come face to face with Jackie Hudson, Carol Gilbert, and Ardeth Platte. Each had recently finished serving their sentences. Their big smiles and warm hugs communicated their gratitude for our work, and it was clear that prison had not diminished their dedication to non-violent resistance.
Now, nearly a decade later, the two surviving nuns continue to practice active resistance to war. Jackie Hudson passed away in 2011, having devoted her 76 years to education and anti-war activism. Ardeth and Carol remain committed to civil disobedience and will be in Warrensburg during the festival to share insight about their life’s work – activism that often lands them in prison.
I hope you’ll take the opportunity to meet them during the festival! Engage these well-educated women with debate and discussion. You’ll find that they will offer their very informed opinions without an argumentative tone, but listen fairly and debate with love. What a gift, and an example for us all!
-Robin Truesdale, Editor and Co-Producer of Conviction
As the 5th Annual Show Me Justice Film Festival nears on April 9th and 10th, filmmakers whose work will be featured in the festival will be guest blogging about cinema and social justice. The following post by filmmaker Mary Dalton centers on her approach to documenting the lives of Lennie and Pearl, the two women at the heart of the fantastic documentary LIVING IN THE OVERLAP, which screens on Thursday, April 9, 2015 in the 7pm Short Feature program in Hendricks Hall on the campus of the University of Central Missouri.
My co-director Cindy Hill and I are thrilled that LIVING IN THE OVERLAP is an Official Selection for the Show Me Justice Film Festival! Cindy will be representing our film at the festival, and I hope you’ll be able to see this beautiful love story and engage her in conversation about it.
Lennie and Pearl have compelling personal stories, which is part of what draws them together, and overlapping interests, which is part of what keeps them together. They articulate profound things about their relationship, like the concept of living in the overlap, and the way they have worked out this philosophy in practice is inspiring. A big part of the overlap is their shared commitment to social justice issues, which stretches back decades and is represented in this film mainly by their LGBT advocacy work. They have also talked at length about the role travel has played in drawing them together through many trips over the years that feed their adventurous spirits. Other things exist in the overlap, too, like their love of the fine arts and a deep appreciation of the natural world.
As a filmmaker, I’ve tended toward telling stories about people I find inspirational in one way or another – and these stories usually include the communities that surround and sustain them – but I tend to focus more on who people are than on what they do. Both are important, of course, but it’s the inside-out approach that feels most natural to me. Getting to know Lennie and Pearl has been a joy, and from the very beginning, it’s been their love story that has drawn me in and made me feel a keen desire to make this film. These women have the type of enduring relationship with an intimate partner that I think most people want to have.
For me, as writer and co-director of the film and as a straight woman, part of the larger goal of the project is to help viewers see that Lennie and Pearl are absolutely meant for one another and that differences may exist between good relationships and bad ones but not because partners happen to be gay or straight or somewhere outside of those firm categories. The reductive thinking that goes along with separating groups into binaries leads to an “us” and “them” way of thinking about the world that is dangerous. We adopted a personal essay approach to this film with the intention of complicating those binaries and disrupting preconceptions that go along with them. I believe that relationships between partners that expand the world for both of them, offer intellectual connection, deep bonding, and a sustained romantic spark are a little bit rare. I’ve watched a lot of relationships closely over the years and have found few that I admire and even fewer that make me think, “That’s like what I want.” They way Lennie and Pearl have structured their lives together lets me know that this type of relationship is possible and sustainable.
If you want to “meet” Lennie and Pearl before the screening, we have an interview with them and a number of videos on our website, www.lennieandpearl.com, and clips from the film are also featured in a recent Human Rights Campaign (HRC) video about that that was picked up by Upworthy, https://www.facebook.com/video.php?v=956093464431512&pnref=story. Enjoy!
~Mary Dalton (and co-director Cindy Hill)
Our guest blogger series continues with a post by filmmaker Wagner Depintor, who discusses how his work is informed by societal prejudice.
The short movie ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE has a certain social dedication. It touches on the subject of prejudice, appearances, and on the Brazilians’ collective unconscious of social imbalance leading violence to pertain to a specific aesthetic; which is people believing that children on the street are criminals.
When I say prejudice I don’t mean the evident towards Blacks, Whites, Asians, Arabs, or Jews. I mean the day-to-day labeling we do when we look at someone on the street and tend to classify them as something or another. The movie plays on this tendency in a serious way. It takes the viewers to that place of quickly judging and making their own conclusions about everything they see. This story is very detailed in this aspect. Nothing in it is by accident, everything has a dubious intention but a clear meaning of things. In the end we reveal what the movie is really about. It’s all done through image, acting, and music. Taking a song like “All You Need is Love,” a “leitmotiv” by The Beatles, and transforming it into hip-hop was incredible. Still, no one notices who the main characters are in the story. Like I said, people tend to classify others and things with superficial ideals.
The main actor, Sérgio Lopez is an 11 year old boy now. I had already worked with him before. The first time was when he was 6 and it was on a music video for a band called Leões de Israel, a reggae group from São Paulo. Sérgio has a natural gift for acting. When I decided to cast him for the role, it was because he had a certain similarity to the character. In the beginning, I was doubtful about the physical aspects, I wanted an Afro-brazilian boy, though when I decided to invest in him it turned out to be the perfect choice for the movie. The short film was really benefited by his acting. Sérgio comes from a very simple and humble family, he has 14 brothers and sisters. His mother, Regina Lopez who also participates in the movie, had to give up some of her children for adoption for lack of means to raise them. She was once a drug dealer, and his father was in prison. Even though Sérgio knows about the street life really well, he still has this innocence and ingenuity about him, as well as an enormous heart. These traits for the character were essential, the kid was practically the character.
The social theme is also reflected on some of my other work. Whenever I get the chance of filming something of my own, be it a music video or whatever, I touch on controversial topics. I don’t even do it consciously, it’s just something I noticed not too long ago looking back at my work. I think that comes from experience, of life though, not academically. My family is very religious, a kind of Brazilian religion, that’s very tolerant and open. My dad is a Christian pastor, my mom is more Catholic than than pope, my uncle is a Spiritualist, my brother is a Charismatic christian, and I was raised I the middle of it all; in these talks about the bible that get heated and turn into full on discussions. My dad is Italian descent and my mom is half Black half Indian… between all these differences coming from a rich background and heritage we were able to build a firm common ground, that sums up a strong beliefs and values that we keep very clear in our heads.
You can view ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE here:
Our guest blogger series continues with a short post by Joseph Spaid, whose film WRITTEN BY GANDHI highlights Gandhi’s teachings in perhaps an unconventional fashion.
WRITEN BY GANDHI is set in space, but is exclusively about events on earth. It’s an animated cartoon of adorable looking characters exacting catastrophic violence on one another. It’s a 60 second movie that examines and solves the root of all human violence in 44 seconds and still has 16 seconds left over for the end credits. Careful, it’s easy to miss it.
How is it that in a world that is so technologically accomplished the human race killed off over 100 million of its own species in the 20th century alone? While we may bicker, peace is always possible, and we all know it. WRITTEN BY GANDHI uses cartoon animation to make Gandhi’s powerful message accessible to all ages and regions of the world, while the bare-knuckle narrative provides comic relief for a topic as heady as universal brotherhood.
You can watch WRITTEN BY GANDI here: http://www.imdb.com/video/withoutabox/vi1868538393?ref_=tt_pv_vi_aiv_1
Our guest blogger series continues with an insightful post by the filmmaker Kasumi.
My work has always been about the ways individuals understand and react to the events in their lives because individuals are, it’s almost too simplistic to say, the component parts from which political movements are made. In BREAKDOWN, for example, I appropriated the vocabulary of propaganda to expose the ways political forces feed on individual weaknesses and fantasies to achieve their impersonal ends. SHOCKWAVES burrows even deeper into the individual psyche, but paradoxically finds deep within the individual precisely the same cultural iconography derived from the mass media as is used by the forces of political propaganda.
On the one hand, mine is a very sympathetic view of the individual, basically casting him as a victim of forces he isn’t even aware he’s subject to. But even more importantly, it’s a view that compels me to do what I do—I try to uncover and show the things that really do drive us and the other things that we allow to drive us. Fear of the unknown and childhood trauma are understandable human weaknesses, but until we are able to disconnect them from the violence they too often provoke, we’ll never escape them. I understand warmongers and wife-beaters, but I don’t excuse them.
However, amidst the multi-layered messages in SHOCKWAVES, there’s a hidden thread, a call to action in the viewer, our own rebellion, to challenge the inner voices and rise above our deepest pain. We experience the recurring message: “Never forget the horror; there is no hope,” and we feel moved in reaction to cry out, ‘I can move forward; there always is a better way!’ By unfolding the tragic path of this doomed man whose disturbance so relentlessly leads him to the greatest of all human evils–murder, we must come away with a renewed motivation to face our fears, outgrow our past traumas, and create a better future.
Our guest blogger series continues with a fantastic post on storytelling as a human rights tool by filmmaker Barry Gamba.
Just Imagine: you’re a child growing up in a country where war and civil unrest have existed for as long as you can remember. Your choices are limited; risk being recruited into the fighting or die in the day to day struggle to survive. Your family, like most of your neighbours, has been touched by tragedy more than once. Brothers, fathers, sisters, mothers, cousins, killed in the conflict, targeted directly or dying from disease and starvation. So your family scrape together what resources they can to send you away, not knowing if they’ll ever see you again, believing that there is safety somewhere in the outside world. You start off on a long, dangerous journey by yourself, across land and sea, and end up in a first world country like Australia hoping to find refuge.
Australia is not so keen on being a refuge for those who cross the seas these days. No open arms to welcome those who have escaped the brutality of war and displacement, no boundless plains to share. You’re placed in detention as a deterrent to others even thinking of claiming asylum by this route. But you’re one of the lucky ones and after a year in various detention centres, both offshore and onshore, before you go completely mad with despair, you’re granted a permanent protection visa.
So here you are, alone, with no family in a country that doesn’t know what to do with you. You hardly speak the language. Here in the lucky country you’re shunted from one temporary accommodation to another. You’re housed in crisis youth accommodation where the other residents, locals, are dealing with a range of mental health issues, drug and alcohol problems, escaping histories of domestic and family violence. It’s hard to sleep at night listening to the sounds of wailing, crying, people in intense pain.
So you take off on your own again, living on the streets, fending for yourself. Like the search for a safe haven has never ended.
The official classification used by the authorities to describe young refugees who arrive like this is ‘Unaccompanied Humanitarian Minors’. A ‘UHM’ is under the age of 18 and arrived in Australia without a parent or an adult family member. Most UHMs in Australia are male, between the ages of 17 and 18, from countries like Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and Sri Lanka. Current statistics estimate there are 865 UHMs in Australia. 90% arrived by boat.
UHMs are 10 times more likely to become homeless than an Australian born young person.
Like a lot of people, I had no idea of the struggles that young refugees face even after going through a tough process to find refuge in the first place. Like a lot of people in Australia, I thought the fight for the rights of refugees was focused on making Australia live up to its obligations as a signatory to the UN Convention on Refugees, to impartially and efficiently access claims for asylum instead of locking refugees away in detention for prolonged periods, or more recently, towing the refugee boats back out of Australian waters before they can even make a claim. It’s sobering to discover that the fight for human rights continues even after settlement in a host country.
In 2013, I worked with a group of young refugees- or as they are often referred UHMs – in Sydney, Australia, and other brave stakeholders to develop a fictional film narrative, drawing on the real experiences of UHMs and homeless youth in Australia.
The logistics of producing a feature documentary on the issue were not within reach of this project. We didn’t have the resources to film overseas in some of the countries of origin, to trace a journey firsthand. But more significantly, laying bare the details of young refugees’ real stories could re-traumatise the very people we were trying to empower. Instead, devising a fictional story, drawing on the lived experiences of the participants was cathartic. You could safely remove yourself from the story as well as identifying with it at the same time.
BROKEN TIME is an 18-minute drama we developed together to provide an audience with an opportunity to imagine this experience, to see the world through someone else’s eyes, walk in someone else’s shoes.
In BROKEN TIME, our protagonist meets a local homeless young woman and they share their stories. The young woman has escaped domestic violence and has no desire to ever see her family again. Our hero comes from a situation of political violence, and he says, he would do anything to see his family again.
Sharing stories across unimaginable divides is the first step in challenging our assumptions. Sharing the story, a first step in sharing our humanity.
Director, BROKEN TIME (2014)