Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Brave Women, Genetics And Genocide, and A Voice: HRAFF '13

The Human Rights Arts and Film Festival has been in Melbourne for the last week and a bit, and I managed to see two short films, two full length stories, and wander through the amazing photography exhibit that accompanying the Fest. The Festival soon tours the country, so these are the ones I saw, loved and was moved by:

Taxi Sister
The story of a female taxi driver in Dakar, Senegal. There are 15,000 taxis, and just 4 taxi sisters among them. The short follows one around over a couple of days, picking up customers, waiting for fares, chatting with other drivers, and just living every day, making her living.

She finds herself having the justify her place in her chosen role to her male colleagues, and explaining that she is alone, having to bring in the money for her family. She no longer had a husband, she explains to the inquiries about why she is not staying home taking care of a man, and that she should be able to work in whatever role she wanted. She's sassy and strong willed, and such an interesting character, showing the world that gender is not a barrier to doing something you want to do.

Red Wedding
250,000 women were forced into marriages during the Cambodian Khmer Rouge period. The political spin was that this was to increase the population, and the new desired workers who were left from the genocide phase were the basis of this new population. This short was one woman's story, of the rape and trauma of her experience, and the lack of understanding about what went on and why.

Incredibly brave, we follow as she shows us the rice paddy where she now works, in the village she lives in, which was once used as a killing field. She tells us the bits of her story she confidently knows, and then confronts members of her village who were part of the arranged marriages and the ruling party at the time, to get a better understanding of it all.

She finds a way to discuss what happened to her with her family, and starts a formal complaint process, in a quest to find some sort of closure, and to help other woman like her. I wonder how she will remain safe as her story is being told to the world through this short film, as she confronts her village leaders, and as she submits her request for a formal investigation. So brave.

Sun Kissed
The story of a Navajo family with two children with the very rare genetic condition called XP. Characterised by skin that burns very, very easily in sunlight, often before diagnosis, and then by the rapid and pervasive neurological degeneration. At the point of the movie, their son had recently passed away, and their daughter was profoundly disabled, requiring peg feeding, and with very limited independent movement.

Initially they thought that they were the only ones experiencing this trial, and the medicine man had told them that their children were like this because when he was young he tortured ants. They had also been told that having children with someone from the same clan would result in children with medical issues, such as their children. But soon, she found other families in the Reservation with children with the same condition, and they started piecing some information together. None of the families she found were parents of the same clan. Some of them, too, had been told that their acts of harming animals when they were kids were the reason for their children having this condition. The impact of religion and cultural beliefs was strong, and the stories carried.

XP is a condition with an incidence of 1 in a million; but here in this region, it was presenting in 1 in 30,000. A significant biological situation.

They manage to speak with a Geneticist and a Historian, and start to hear a connection between this elevated prevalence of this rare genetic disorder to the Long Walk. Essentially, in the late 1800s US military rounded up the Native Americans and kept them within a small geographical area, and initially confining them to a concentration camp of sorts. From here, their population diminished due to the conditions to 5000 people, and it is thought that this mixed clans, and in turn, through the conditions and deaths and pool of Native Americans in one place, confined the gene pool.

This clustering of the Native American clans has meant that the recessive genes are meeting in a match more often, and manifesting in such a rare disorder in this generation of children. Fascinating that it has taken this long to present itself, frightening that there is a sudden surge of incidences of this condition.

Their quest to seek information about how the Long Walk may have impacted took them some time, as no one in their community wanted to discuss it. The past, and bad things such as illnesses, are not discussed in Navajo culture, it was explained. He lamented that this, in turn, meant that so much of their own culture was being lost to them. They no longer spoke some of the languages, and now they were having trouble accessing their history.

Apart from the incredible grief felt for this little family and their loss, the film leaves you with the contemplation of the genetic impact of such atrocities as forced migration on populations, communities, and the future generations - the Long Walk, the rounding up of Indigenous children in Australia, Nazi Germany, the Khmer Rouge genocide....

Requiem
A photography exhibit on display in the Yarra Gallery off Fed Square - here is a room of images selected from the collection shot by the 135 journalists who were killed or went missing during the Indochina War in South East Asia. These prints were taken by Cambodian Nationals and Foreign Press photographers in the battles and weeks before the KR took full command. Some powerful images captured - moment of history - all quashed by the ruling dictatorship/

Words Of Witness
We follow the work and passion of 22 year old budding journalist, Heba Afify, during the Egyptian uprising in Cario in January of 2011. She battles her Mum for permission to be out and interviewing people protesting, and teaches her family about the political situation of the overthrow of Mubarak, whilst she writes and publishes stories and updates for an English news site, and her Twitter and Facebook accounts.

As a young women she faces many barriers, including the perceptions from her own family, about what she should and should not be exposed to, all the while, displaying her passion and excitement for a new political era in her own country.

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