Human rights and making films that matter

Human rights themes are again to the fore at the ICCL film awards and rightly so, writes Pádraic Killeen

NOW in its fifth year, the ICCL Human Rights Film Awards 2013 take place at the Light House Cinema in Dublin tonight. The winner of this year’s competition will be announced following a screening of the nominated films. Members of the jury, which includes figures such as Kirsten Sheridan, Ken Wardrop, Brenda Fricker and Stephen Rea, will be part of the audience.

The films shortlisted this year are: Jimmy, a film about a venerable Scottish disability rights campaigner; No Enemies, an animated campaign video for the Frontline Defenders organisation; Mums & Dad, an intimate film about gay parenting which attests to the diversity of family forms in Ireland; The Battle of Benghazi, a fictional drama about two children at play while war rages in Libya; and, finally, The Value of Women in the Congo, a bracing documentary about the horrifying prevalence of rape in Congo.

The awards were founded by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties to acknowledge the significance of film in promoting human rights and reward conscientious filmmakers.

“As a way of communicating human rights issues, film is extremely effective,” says Walter Jayawardene, communications manager with ICCL. “It’s a visual medium. And when a viewer sees the human face of various human rights situations and violations, they’re no longer a thing in the abstract.” This year’s shortlist features work by two directors nominated in previous years; Trish McAdam (No Enemies) and Dearbhla Glynn (The Value of Women in the Congo).

Glynn, a documentary-maker of some distinction, won the competition in 2010 for a short film about Gaza. Her film on the Congo is a harrowing watch, examining as it does the incessant sexual assault of women and children in the war-torn region.

“I did a Masters in Development recently and I was researching the Congo,” says Glynn. “And I realised that I wanted to hear from the men, the perpetrators. There’s a lot of research carried out on the survivors of rape in the Congo but I felt that the men’s voices were missing. It’s crucial to talk to the men, to find out why this is happening. And they were actually very willing to talk — that was the surprising thing.”

Glynn managed to get in touch with the men through the Congo Men’s Network, a Congolese non-government organisation.

“They educate men about gender-based violence,” she says. “And that’s the way forward. The key to ending this cycle of violence is through education and raising awareness. A lot of men said to me ‘I didn’t know I was doing anything wrong at the time’, and an awful lot of them are former child soldiers.”

Besides the fear of pregnancy or HIV infection, victims of rape in the Congo can often become social outcasts. “The reason I called it The Value of Women in the Congo is because once a woman is raped she completely loses her ‘worth’,” says Glynn. “Your husband might leave you, you can be kicked out of the family home, and you can be taunted and humiliated by people.”

Glynn continues to film in the Congo and is actively at work on a feature-length documentary.

Armed conflict also provides backdrop to another of the nominated films, The Battle of Benghazi. Paco Torres’s short is a fictional story about two children playing in the Libyan city even as battle rages around them.

Torres is a Spanish director who has been living and working in Dublin since 1997. The Battle of Benghazi is proving perhaps his most successful film. Intriguingly, Torres convincingly uses locations in Dublin for his depiction of Benghazi. “We had a very limited budget but I got support from Dublin City Council and a lot of equipment for free,” he says. “Benghazi is near the beach so we used the beach near my home in Clontarf. And there’s an old destroyed baths in Clontarf, too, so we decorated that with some props and it became a street in Benghazi. And then for our third location, we chose a local park.”

Though the film has already been successful, Torres was nevertheless thrilled to see it shortlisted for the Human Rights Awards. “I wanted the story to raise awareness of the fate of children in war scenarios, so obviously to be recognised by the Human Rights Film Awards is very important,” he says. “But, also, my life is here in Ireland, so it’s very important to me personally.”

The shortlist has also tended to include novice filmmakers and the ICCL oversees a competition targeted specifically at young people, The Human Rights in Under a Minute Challenge. This year’s winning short, The Truth about Poverty is by Carlow transition year student Grace Murphy.

*To view videos of the shortlist:


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