Right Now’s HRAFF 2018 film picks

By Anika Baset, Samaya Borom, Stephanie Griffin and Rachael Imam
jaha in the gambia hraff

The 2018 Human Rights Arts & Film Festival (HRAFF) inspires and engages audiences with an exciting program. Here we list our top film picks.

After the Apology | Larissa Behrendt

Review by Rachael Imam

When former-Prime Minister Kevin Rudd made a national apology to the Stolen Generations on 13 February 2008, he stated that “the injustices of the past must never, never happen again”. Now, almost ten years on, Indigenous children are still ten times more likely to be placed in out-of-home care than non-Indigenous children. After the Apology is a sobering and quietly devastating account of the damage and irreparable trauma that the continued removal of Indigenous children has on the children, their families and their communities.

The film offers a range of perspectives, from the parents and grandparents of the children, to the people working within the child protection system, to the people of the Stolen Generations themselves. Filmmaker Larissa Behrendt does not shy away from the issues that contribute to the children’s removal, with parents and family members owning the part that violence and substance abuse plays in many of their communities, as it does in non-Indigenous communities around the country.

Their stories are deeply personal, revealing the immense weight that is born by the families who are left behind, forced to fight a system against which they have no power. They show how lack of funding and a lack of self-determination leads to misinformation and misconduct, but also how effective intervention can be when it is early, personal and Indigenous-led.

After the Apology forces us to look not only at our violent history, but also at the injustices of our present. Sorry means you don’t do it again.

Editorial note: review republished from Right Now’s WINDA Film Festival 2017 highlights.
After the Apology is HRAFF’s opening night film. It screened on Thursday 3 May at 6:30pm at ACMI (Melbourne) with a post-film Q&A with Larissa Behrendt, the film’s director and a Eualeyai/Kamillaroi woman.

Jaha’s Promise | Mike Plunkett

Review by Anika Baset

Jaha’s Promise is the story of an extraordinary woman’s fight against female genital mutilation (FGM) after it devastated her own sexual autonomy. Over 200 million women and girls are living with the effects of FGM in Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

The film chronicles Jaha’s passionate campaign to change attitudes towards FGM in her home country of The Gambia, where misplaced religious beliefs and the lack of socioeconomic rights for women intersect to perpetuate a cruel and unnecessary practice.

Jaha’s personal story of forced marriage at the age of 15 sits alongside her activism, giving the film an added voice of authenticity. Her resilience, courage and persistence are the qualities that drove a grassroots campaign that garnered support from The Guardian, the White House, the United Nations and, ultimately, the government of The Gambia and other African governments.

Outside of the African context, Jaha’s Promise raises broader questions about the policing of female bodies. This film is especially powerful considering the current discourse surrounding the #MeToo movement and the deeply ingrained social systems that deny women agency over their own sexuality.  It also serves as an inspirational reminder that women’s voices need to be heard to change the world.

Jaha’s Promise screens on Wednesday 30 May at 8:00pm at Palace Electric (Canberra).

Border Politics | Judy Rymer

Review by Stephanie Griffin

Border Politics carefully and deliberately argues the case for rethinking contemporary approaches to asylum seeker policy in the West, and in particular Australia. Director Judy Rymer utilises a structured and measured style to establish the point that a human rights based approach is the only reasonable way to tackle the realities of the global refugee crisis.

The conduit of this no-nonsense message is Julian Burnside, a prominent Australian human rights activist and barrister. Burnside personifies the film’s coming together of reason and compassion; guiding the audience through different global, historical and geographical inflection points that have contributed to a climate of fear and devastation.

Where this film is markedly different to other documentaries on the topic is in its consistent and relentless grounding in the ‘big picture’. Rymer acknowledges the particularly harsh stance successive Australian governments have made in response to those seeking asylum and, by framing that response in an ever-broadening context, reveals the cruel and the delusional nature of our government’s position.

Through highlighting historical and geographical parallels, such as the fall of the Berlin Wall and the dismantling of ‘The Jungle’, a refugee camp in Calais, the audience begins to reflect on the need for a proactive and humane response. With perspective it becomes unreasonable to think in terms of protectionist, nationalist instincts.

The no-nonsense, essayistic approach taken by the director is complimented by the use of visual metaphor and clever juxtaposition. At one point Burnside stands amongst a mountain, or graveyard, of life jackets on the coast of the Greek Island, Lesbos. A visual representation of the scale of the collective loss of humanity.

This film offers a refreshing approach to addressing the unacceptable cruelty of Australia’s refugee policies. The result is a damning condemnation of hardline border enforcement policies and the revelation that they are out of touch with western democratic values.

Border Politics screened on Saturday 12 May at 8:30pm at ACMI (Melbourne) with a post-film Q&A with director Judy Rymer and Julian Burnside. Border Politics screens on Thursday 31 May at 6:00pm at Palace Electric (Canberra).

This is Congo | Daniel McCabe

Review by Samaya Borom

One of the most resource rich countries in Africa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has been ravaged by over 20 years of civil instability and its vulnerable people are the ones who suffer the most.

In the first five minutes of Daniel McCabe’s This is Congo you are given a frightening glimpse into the sights and sound of civil war and this sets the stage for the rest of the film. The threat of war is everywhere, from the 50 plus armed groups vying for control over areas rich in gold, diamonds and other minerals, to the feared Rwanda-Ugandan backed M23 rebels who are well armed and move through the country with impunity.

The rebels all share one thing in common: they’re united in their mission to overthrow the Kabila government whom they see as corrupt and siphoning away the potential of the country for their own material gain. But is this a recent issue for the DRC? McCabe’s use of archival footage illuminates the path that the country has found itself on, willingly or not.

McCabe’s focus on the four characters that he has chosen – a National Army Colonel, a high-ranking army officer, a mineral dealer, and a tailor – shows the impact of living in a country that is constantly at war with itself.

This is Congo is as harrowing as it is beautifully shot. The frontline footage is confronting but so is the story of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and it’s one that needs to be told.

This is Congo screened on Friday 4 May at 6:00pm at ACMI (Melbourne),


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.