MIFF & World Humanitarian Day Public Forum: Mid-Week Reviews

By Oliver Ramsay, Maya Chanthaphavong and Sonia Nair
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The Melbourne International Film Festival was held recently, and Right Now were there to review three films exploring different human rights issues. We also review the Victorian Division of the UN Association of Australia’s public forum to mark World Humanitarian Day.

 

No

Melbourne International Film Festival – No (2012)

By Oliver Ramsay

I love advertising. I do, I love it. It’s not something I always admit to in public, as the voice of Chris and Marie through the walls usually puts me off and suddenly I’m left standing by the bar with my drink replaced by a box of Napisan Plus. The popular opinion of advertising is that it’s bad. And well, it is. It plays on our deepest vulnerabilities to manipulate us into thinking a certain thing, or a certain way. It’s this unpopular characteristic however that makes Pablo Larrain’s film, No, so interesting.

General Pinochet’s exploits are well known. Murder, torture and exile to name a few. Yet when the referendum was announced that year, political advisers … were more than confident he’d win.

In 1988, thanks to international diplomatic pressure, General Augusto Pinochet was forced to hold a national plebiscite where the people of Chile were asked to vote either “yes” or “no” to his continuation as ruler for yet another eight years. A position he had already held authoritatively for fifteen.

General Pinochet’s exploits are well known. Murder, torture and exile to name a few. Yet when the referendum was announced that year, political advisers to the ailing General were more than confident he’d win. Indeed, he picked up 44 per cent of the vote. This is perhaps a credit to the people of Chile who were understandably critical of change in a country that had experienced so much uncertainty in the past, which had led to critical amounts of poverty and suffering. That old case of preferring the evil you know to the evil you don’t.

What unfolds is a hilariously idealised depiction of modern Chile, full of lies and falsehoods.

This was the essence of Pinochet’s “yes” campaign. It targeted the opposition as unpredictable communists who were not to be trusted. The temptation of the “no” was to highlight Pinochet’s injustices and honor those who had lost their lives to his rule. The problem was how to convince those wary of change and critical of the plebiscite to vote. Enter Rene.

Creative advertising man, Rene, invents a campaign built on positivity and happiness. What unfolds is a hilariously idealised depiction of modern Chile, full of lies and falsehoods. But it gives the people what they want; happiness and something to hope for. Ultimately, the film is about the power of looking forward when the overwhelming temptation is to look back.

Rene is perfectly cast with Mexican star Gael Garcia Bernal and the supporting cast are all impressive. The film is shot in standard format to more adequately depict the era, a decision that allows seamless integration of the film with the original commercials. No is a great film for those who love advertising and need to justify their addiction.

Melbourne International Film Festival Review – Just the Wind (Csak a szél, 2011)

By Maya Chanthaphavong

Benedek Fliegauf’s film Just the Wind is based on the true story of Romany killings in Hungary that occurred during 2008 and 2009, when a group of offenders firebombed sixteen homes and killed six people.

The film’s impact comes not from documenting the killings, but from an intimate glimpse into the daily workings of a Romany family living with this threat. Fliegauf states at the beginning of the film that it is not a documentary, but rather a collection of publically available information, woven into a storyline that expresses the totality of the events.

… the film masterfully creates a sense of the pervading threat that hangs over the Romany community.

In order to express this fully, the audience is introduced to Mari, who is acting as a single mother to her two children, as her husband has emigrated to Canada in the hope of securing work and sending for his family to join him. Mari’s daughter, Anna, is still attending high school; her son, Rio, has a penchant for skipping school to rob the houses of victims of crime.

The film follows Mari as she works her two jobs, and we witness the harassment and prejudice she encounters daily. Anna and Rio are also closely followed, and the audience becomes part of the intimacy of their daily life. Once they journey outside of the Romany encampment, there is an ever-present, though veiled, threat to their lives.

Fliegauf’s film offers no explanation of the events; nor does it attempt to – it’s purpose is to tell the story of an everyday family caught between socio-economic and political ideology.

Indeed, the film masterfully creates a sense of the pervading threat that hangs over the Romany community. There are glimpses of physical threat, when Rio walks alone in the forest, only to be caught like a rabbit in headlights by a dark stalking car. Sexual threat looms as well, as Anna silently walks out of the restrooms when another Romany girl is targeted by boys for sexual assault. Institutional threat occurs when Rio overhears the extent to which local law enforcement may be involved in the targeted killings of his community.

Just the Wind is a dramatisation of the true events of 2008 and 2009, focusing on the fragility of human life and the devastating effect that hatred and prejudice can have on it. Fliegauf’s film offers no explanation of the events; nor does it attempt to – it’s purpose is to tell the story of an everyday family caught between socio-economic and political ideology.

Melbourne International Film Festival – We Are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists (2o12)

By Maya Chanthaphavong

Brian Knappenberger’s We are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists is a documentary that focuses on the self-styled hacker collective known worldwide as “Anonymous”. It documents the rise of global “hacktivism” (a coupling of “hack” and “activism”), touching upon Wikileaks and its role in demanding governmental and corporate transparency. Though touted as unbiased documentary into the world of hacktivism and internet freedom, Knappenberger’s premise appears to be that Anonymous acts as a gatekeeper of internet freedom and it is this premise that makes for increasingly troublesome viewing.

With such great subject material it is disappointing that We are Legion contributes so little depth to the discussion.

Hacktivism refers to the use of networks to bring about a desired political goal. There is little consensus as to what hacktivism involves and it can range from Denial of Service attacks (DoS) to defacement of a political figure’s website. Increasingly, a loose group of hackers identify collectively as ‘Anonymous’ when undertaking hacktivist activities. There has been much discussion in mainstream media as to the usefulness of Anonymous and whether the group is a threat or a saviour. With such great subject material it is disappointing that We are Legion contributes so little depth to the discussion.

Knappenberger’s approach is more educational than it is hard-hitting investigative journalism, it provides an simplistic overview of how hacktivism and Anonymous emerged in the United States, supposedly through 4Chan and other online networks, and seems to downplay the involvement of programmers and coders over pictures of “Lolcats” and other memes. The road from script kiddies to Wikileaks and the threat against freedom of speech and internet freedom is something that could have been covered in greater depth rather than spending the majority of the documentary focusing on what appears to be an Anonymous public relations film.

Knappenberger does discuss Anonymous’ involvement in the Egyptian revolution of 2011 and the role that hacktivists played in dissemination of information both within and outside of the country.

That’s not to say that such issues were glossed over – Knappenberger does discuss Anonymous’ involvement in the Egyptian revolution of 2011 and the role that hacktivists played in dissemination of information both within and outside of the country. It also lightly touches upon corporate and governmental involvement in the suppression of internet freedom, but doesn’t go anywhere near the depths it could have with the information and interviewees that Knappenberger has access to. Certainly, Knappenberger missed an opportunity to illustrate how the use of social media and networks was harnessed in Egypt with the help of dedicated hacktivists.

We are Legion: The Story of Hactivists is worth watching if you want a general overview of how hacktivism and Anonymous formed, however, given the subject material, one has a feeling that a great opportunity was missed in being able to provide in-depth insight into the movement and, thus, move away from a mainstream presentation of the topic.

World Humanitarian Day Public Forum

By Sonia Nair

It was a day like any other – 19 August 2003. United Nations (UN) Special Representative in Iraq Sérgio Vieira de Mello and his team of 21 UN staff members were working within the Canal Hotel in Baghdad, Iraq when they perished in a suicide bombing specifically targeted at de Mello. The attack, followed by a second bombing in Baghdad a month later, irrevocably changed the course of the UN’s security practices globally, and resulted in an annual international commemoration – World Humanitarian Day.

In an effort to recognise the efforts of humanitarian workers who have lost their lives in the course of duty, the UN Association of Australia (Victorian Division) held a Public Forum on Wednesday 22 August at Federation Square in Melbourne, with an expert panel discussing Australia’s contribution to humanitarian efforts worldwide.

… Catherine Walker … kicked off the forum by drawing attention to the inevitability of danger in a humanitarian worker’s job …

The panel comprised facilitator Beth Eggleston (Humanitarian Advocacy Coordinator at Oxfam Australia) and a panel of five – Catherine Walker, Richard Towle, Bob Handby, Meg Quartermaine and Alan McLean – each at the helm of senior positions at aid organisations AusAID, UNHCR, Australian Red Cross, Oxfam Australia and RedR Australia respectively.

First, keynote speaker Catherine Walker, with a wealth of 20 years’ experience at AUSAid, kicked off the forum by drawing attention to the inevitability of danger in a humanitarian worker’s job, where they place themselves in harm’s way to save the lives of innocent bystanders.

As Walker drew upon heartening statistics – such as the fact that Australia is the fifth largest bilateral funder of food and a leading UN donor – she stated that a humanitarian response alone is not sufficient to address the global problems of natural disasters and civil wars. Rather, disaster risk reduction in the form of critical infrastructures and warning systems, as well as prevention initiatives, need to be put in place.

… humanitarian workers are not just collateral in the war-torn areas they work in; they are the targets.

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Richard Towle, then took to the stage to expand upon the humanitarian challenges that are “often obscured by political rhetoric”. But first, he reminisced upon the meaning of World Humanitarian Day and paid tribute to de Mello, calling him “one of the most remarkable UN officials”.

“We’re here to recognise the personal side of humanitarian work. Today is a day to reflect on Sergio and the other 21 people. It was a terrible and fateful day. We don’t celebrate it, we recognise it.”

Far from painting a rosy picture of a humanitarian aid worker’s life, Towle shared every sobering detail – from the fact that aid workers have one of the highest rates of collapsed marriages, where 60 per cent of them live away from their families, to the increasingly grim reality that humanitarian workers are not just collateral in the war-torn areas they work in; they are the targets.

… Australians are effectively contributing to the global alleviation of poverty and suffering.

As Towle outlined the various challenges plaguing the contemporary humanitarian line of work, he closed his speech with promising markers of how Australians are effectively contributing to the global alleviation of poverty and suffering. According to Towle, Australians are known throughout the global humanitarian world for being dedicated and hardworking aid workers – a fact that was reiterated by various members of the expert panel – and $17 million was raised last year alone through $25-$30 donations to the typical backpacker trawling the streets.

The two speeches covered a diverse breadth of concerns but were intrinsically similar, giving way to two key messages: humanitarian aid workers are facing historically challenging times due to a spate of political and geographical displacements, and there is a need for them now more than ever.

The panel discussion commenced and Meg Quartermaine, Alan McLean and Bob Handby entered the fray. Humanitarian Operations Manager at Oxfam Australia, Quartermaine delivered an emotionally rousing introduction where she recounted how she heard about Sergio’s death and emphasised that humanitarian work could not be carried out without the 80 per cent proportion that is executed by local teams and local staff who work within their affected communities.

Eggleston launched into the panel discussion with an interesting first question: what makes a good humanitarian worker?

In a change of pace and style, chief executive of RedR Australia, McLean, implored the industry to “find workers, prepare them and support them” in a call out for more aid workers, while Handby was the more humorous of the speakers, with his insightful, offhand depiction of life as an aid worker in war-torn countries like Rwanda, Iraq, Uganda, Sudan and Sri Lanka.

Eggleston launched into the panel discussion with an interesting first question: what makes a good humanitarian worker? Specific attributes thrown about by the five panel speakers were: flexibility, adaptability, motivation, skill in a particular field, ability to be a team player, pragmatism, practicality, “bucket loads of common sense” and a preparedness to work across teams and networks.

Eggleston’s second question was a more contemplative one: what are the concerns or changes in the challenges facing humanitarian workers? Handby pointed to the expectation of the media on aid workers while Quartermaine – in a similar vein to Handby – said the media scrutiny was a challenge alongside a scarcity in resources and coordination. McLean threw out a series of hypothetical disasters that could happen in the conceivable future to draw attention to the fact that big urban disasters in largely unplanned cities could have dire consequences, while Towle underlined the lack of serious commitment by the international community to humanitarian aid.

… the five panel speakers … shed light on the difficult, often undervalued efforts of humanitarian aid workers …

Opinions were bandied about, robust discussion was had, and stirring tributes were uttered as the five panel speakers – with the expert steering of Eggleston – shed light on the difficult, often undervalued efforts of humanitarian aid workers and the increasingly fraught challenges facing the effective implementation of humanitarian aid.

De Mello’s death will not be the last of unforeseen and unjust deaths in the world of aid workers. However, World Humanitarian Day goes to show that his death, and the demise of untold others, will not be in vain if Australians – along with the rest of the global community – take up the challenge, play their respective roles and honour their commitment to the call of duty as well as their indefatigable vision for a brighter future.

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