HRAFF 2014 film picks

By Sonia Nair, Maya Borom and Sam Ryan
HRAFF 2014

HRAFF movie reviews by Sonia Nair, Maya Borom and Sam Ryan.

With the Human Rights Arts and Film Festival just days away, the Right Now review team pick out some of the most intriguing films from the extensive 2014 HRAFF program, which offers the usual feast of informative and inspirational stories.

The Square

During 2011, the call to revolution rang out in Egypt’s renowned Tahrir square. Thousands of people called for an end to over 30 years of emergency laws and demanded the resignation of Mubarak and his regime from power. The protests started out as a peaceful sit-in but turned into one of the bloodiest revolutions in the nation’s history.

Jehane Noujaim’s The Square goes behind the scenes of the revolution, from the early stages of planning the occupation of Tahrir square to the 2012 presidential elections won by the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammed Morsi, and disaffection with Morsi’s rule in 2013. It becomes clear that there are competing agendas and interests in ensuring the revolution is successful  – graphic footage captures civilians deaths at the hand of military whilst back-door deals between the Muslim Brotherhood and the military seemingly undermine the purpose of the revolution against corruption.

Featuring on-the-ground footage that has rarely been shown on mainstream media (if at all), as well as interviews with key organisers of the Tahrir demonstrations, The Square is an important document of a bloody era of modern Egyptian history. It captures the people’s struggle for democracy against an increasingly difficult political situation and provides insight into the hopes and dreams of millions of Egyptians who supported the revolution – some with their lives.

The Square screens 6.30pm, Thursday 8 May at ACMI. View the trailer:

For Those Who Can Tell No Tales

This 2013 Bosnian film revolves around an Australian tourist’s dawning realisation that a hotel she stayed in at the seemingly idyllic Višegrad was the site of a rape concentration camp during the three-year Bosnian war that erupted in 1992. Haunting, cinematographically beautiful shots of the city’s famous Mehmed Paša Sokolović Bridge – site of innumerable massacres to the point it became impossible to cross at the time – and the surrounds of the infamous hotel are used to a cumulative eerie effect.

The film’s veracity is inescapable. Actress and co-writer Kym Vercoe plays herself as she confronts the ghosts of yesteryears and attempts to memorialise those who can no longer speak for themselves. A discomfiting meditation on the issues of culpability and a country’s silence around its bloody legacy, For Those Who Can Tell No Tales is compelling viewing.

For Those Who Can Tell No Tales screens 6pm, Saturday 10 May at ACMI. View the trailer:


Breastmilk is a timely deliberation on the emotive, often divisive subject of breastfeeding. Profiling various women in New York City, filmmaker Dana Ben-Ari paints an intimate portrait of the pressures new mothers face when it comes to breastfeeding and the use of baby formula, and the conflicting message that society sends out to mothers – you are considered a failure if you can’t breastfeed yet society’s discomfort and the lack of support within workplaces make it hard to actually do so.

Unflinching, close-up shots of breasts, and a particularly entertaining montage of squirting breasts, pepper the film, as well as oft touching conversations with a range of mothers from all walks of life, and revealing interviews with medical practitioners and academics. Ben-Ari uses the practice of breastfeeding as a platform to discuss cultural conditioning, feminism, sex between new parents, and gender roles within a nuclear family. The take-home message is that breastfeeding is often a fraught experience for a multitude of new mothers – something that can be overcome with more support for new families in place of judgement and condemnation.

Breastmilk screens 3.30pm, Sunday 11 May at ACMI. View the trailer:

No Burqas Behind Bars

Freedom is a complex concept for many of the 40 women in Afghanistan’s Takhar Prison, and 34 of their children.  Serving sentences of up to 15 years for “moral crimes” such as fleeing abusive relationships and/or forced marriages, their condemnation is greater in some cases than those imprisoned for murder. Yet, life inside Takhar offers security, expression and a relatively open community that does not exist for the women outside the prison walls.

Nima Sarvestani’s rare access to the environment makes No Burqas Behind Bars captivating and important viewing, more than 10 years after Afghanistan ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women. In fact, this access is so pervasive that it seems as though the cameras are non-existent, or hidden, at times. This gives some moments a surreal feel, and you wonder whether what is happening – such as a father vowing, on camera, to kill the son imprisoned in the men’s section for taking his stepmother into his home without his father’s permission.

There are also troubling questions raised about the children living in – sometimes born int0 – the prison with their mothers. The relationships at every level are complex, and while they “enjoy” relative freedom inside the prison, isolation persists for women faced with impossible choices and slim chances of avoiding some kind of tragedy.

No Burqas Behind Bars screens 6.30pm, Tuesday 13 May at ACMI. View the trailer:

The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz

Brian Knappenberger’s investigative documentary The Internet’s Own Boy tells the story of Aaron Swartz, widely known as an American hacktivist and one of the founders of Reddit. Swartz was also at the centre of one of the biggest legal cases in US copyright history and found dead in his apartment after refusing to plead guilty to charges.

Swartz’s interest in systems and open data led him to advocate for open access to information and actions that eventually led to a tug-of-war involving the government and corporate copyright interests.

The documentary features interviews with family, friends and experts that provide insight into Swartz life, from an early age through to the days leading up to his death. It also illustrates the extent to which the United States government and commercial entities will go to protect commercial interests.

The Internet’s Own Boy raises important questions about the right to information – who owns information and who has the right to determine whom can have access to it and when.

The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz screens 6.15pm, Thursday 15 May. View the trailer:

Everyday Rebellion

Arash and Arman Riahi’s Everyday Rebellion is manifesto for a new way – a “third way” – of protest. This is a film is unapologetically directed at those already converted to the pursuit of social justice – the audience’s belief that change is needed for a fairer society is taken as a given. From this basis, the Riahi brothers document movements around the globe finding new ways of affecting change.

At the core of the film is an advocacy for nonviolent action. Rapidly following examples in Iran, Syria, the FEMEN group in Ukraine, the Indignados movement in Spain and Occupy in the US, the focus is on positive action driven by passion that seeks to engage, rather than angry conflict. While the multiple threads of the documentary can impede the momentum of the film, it is a thought-provoking and inspirational account that should encourage believers to get up and do something.

It speaks to the converted, but seeks to inspire action and/or a new way of thinking. The sentiment can perhaps be summed up by Egyptian interior designer turned activist Yahia Zayed, who, when asked by his father why he gave up an established career to take the risk of becoming an activist, said: “Because you didn’t do that in the 70s.”

Everyday Rebellion screens 6pm, Sunday 18 May at ACMI. View the trailer:


Review – Renewal: Five Paths to a Fairer Australia

By Georgia Cerni

Sophie Cousins’ book Renewal: Five Paths to a Fairer Australia is, in many respects, a proposal. For Cousins, the COVID-19 pandemic has provided Australians with an opportunity to reconsider the ways our society currently functions. Cousins aptly makes her case – while in some ways the pandemic reinforced burgeoning inequalities, it also presented us the chance to apply collectivist values to solve systemic problems.