Short films tackling big issues

The winner of the ICCL Human Rights Short Film Awards will be announced this Thursday following a gala screening of the six shortlisted films in the Lighthouse Cinema, Dublin. The jury includes director Lenny Abrahamson (Adam and Paul, Frank) and playwright Conor McPherson.

For the first time, the six nominees are all documentaries. Subjects include Syrian refugees in a Bulgarian refugee camp; an African immigrant in London; and the exploitation of the Mayan people, in Guatemala, by the bio-fuel industry.

The Room is a subtle study of a hospital art class for patients suffering acquired brain injury.

The ICCL (Irish Council of Civil Liberties) promotes film as a means of explaining human rights issues. And if human rights begin anywhere, they begin with human dignity and its importance to us. The Room testifies to the power of art in conveying this dignity.

“In a way, I was kind of surprised o get the nomination,” says the film’s director, Róisín Loughrey. “Because it’s not a very obvious human rights story. But I do think it taps into a quieter element of human rights.”

The Room follows painter, Tom Meskell, who each week provides an art class to victims of stroke, accident, and debilitating medical conditions in Sacred Heart Hospital in Castlebar.

The project was funded by an Arts and Health bursary from Waterford Healing Arts Trust.

Unobtrusively, Loughrey’s careful framing captures the small magic of creative expression as it unfolds in the room. The film is notable for harnessing the brightness of the room and the vivid colours on the patients’ canvasses.

“The first thing that struck me was how gorgeous the room was,” says Loughrey. “It’s completely light-filled and has these beautiful, wooden floors. It seldom happens this way, but as soon as I visited the place I could see almost immediately the film we could make.

“Tom is an excellent, high-calibre artist in his own right and he is a friend of longstanding. But I’ve always been very impressed with his work at the Sacred Heart Hospital. People want to change the world, but here’s somebody who’s doing it every week, bringing this joy into people’s lives.”

Loughrey is a filmmaker of distinction, whose past work has earned her awards at international film festivals. Yet she is particularly proud of the Human Rights Short Film Awards nomination.

“I’m delighted and honoured,” says the Leitrim-based filmmaker. “This is special, because it’s highlighting something quite important. Most of these people are in the hospital most of the time and they can get overlooked. There’s no doubt about it. They’re forgotten people, really. So the film is a little door into this world. They’re people, too, and they’re trying to live.”

Providing such ‘little doors’ is one of the things film uniquely does, says Loughrey.

“We’re constantly getting fed news stories and it’s very easy to switch off. It’s very easy to be overwhelmed by any issue, because it can be very hard to find a way in. But what documentary film does very effectively is take a small story and allow you a way in,” she says.

The ICCL Human Rights Film Awards take place at the Lighthouse, Dublin, on Thursday. To view videos of the shortlist: www.humanrightsfilmawards.org

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