HRAFF Film Picks – Mid-Week Review

By Maya Borom

By Maya Borom.

Right Now movie reviewer Maya Chanthaphavong previews her three picks from the Human Rights Arts and Film Festival: Rawer, Words of Witness and Law of the Jungle.

More of Right Now’s coverage of HRAFF.


RawerRawer, by Anneloek Sollart, follows a mother, Francis, and her 14 year old son Tom’s fight against children’s services in Holland, amid the state’s accusations that feeding a child raw food is akin to physical abuse.

The allegations come on the back of public outcry to an earlier documentary about Francis and Tom’s raw food diet, which raised serious questions about Tom’s physical and psychological development, and resulted in a public and media frenzy over Francis’ decision to keep Tom on the controversial diet.

Children’s services and paediatricians at Tom’s local hospital make a report of child abuse against Francis on the basis that the raw food diet is detrimental to his long term physical and psychological well being. We witness testimony from medical staff and civil workers who claim that Tom’s developmental trajectory has been stunted by his mother’s refusal to incorporate dairy, meat and fried foods into his diet.

Ultimately, Francis’ steadfast refusal to allow the state to intervene results in it advocating for Tom’s removal from his mother’s care and having him placed in a foster home for 12 months. It may not help Francis’ case that she also wishes to restrict Tom from schooling on the premise that he would have less access to raw food and be exposed to more processed foods.

The film highlights the problem in balancing children’s rights and the rights of parents with the responsibility of the state in child welfare. It certainly raises complex philosophical and moral arguments – the allegations of child abuse due to alternative eating habits is a curious one, and the push from the state for an intake of processed foods and nutritional supplements in particular is equally as strange.

Featuring interviews with Tom, Francis’ family (including her older son), the medical doctors involved and children’s services, Rawer is interesting in that it illustrates the ease with which food can be politicised and used as a tool of manipulation. Both sides have adequate data supporting their argument either for or against the raw food diet although, in the end, this is not the issue finally debated by the court.

Rawer is engaging as it is complex, and Sollart would do well to film a third installment following up on Tom and Francis, and whether any kind of compromise has been made from either, or both, sides of the fence.

Rawer screens at 8.30pm on Tuesday 21 May at ACMI and will be followed by a post-film forum.

View the Rawer trailer.

Words of Witness

Words of WitnessThe revolution that ousted Hosni Mubarak from Egyptian office after nearly 30 years of rule in 2011 was an event unprecedented in Egyptian politics. The ‘Arab Spring’ that started in Tunisia in late December 2010 was the impetus for many thousands of Egyptians to take to the streets and social media to demand Mubarak’s resignation. It was a period of immense change for Egyptian society and one that is followed closely in Mai Iskander’s Words of Witness.

Iskander’s documentary focuses on Heba Afify, a young female journalist for the leading independent Egyptian newspaper Almasry Alyoum, just after Hosni Mubarak’s removal from office. Afify embodies the hopes of Egypt after decades of authoritarian rule. Long held Western style tenets of democracy and transparency of government are fought for in the streets, with nearly 900 reported deaths and countless disappeared persons affected. As a journalist, Afify is in a unique position to document what is occurring and takes the opportunity to share her findings, not just as part of her job but also as a citizen concerned with human rights violations.

In this sense, social media becomes an important tool for disseminating information as well as bearing witness to the atrocities committed for those who no longer have a voice or who are prevented from speaking out. Interspersed with media commentary about torture and the forced disappearance of activists, Words of Witness provides a powerful glimpse into a country still fighting remnants of a regime that was supposedly overthrown by the people.

Afify’s insistence on covering stories that could place her in direct opposition to Mubarak sympathisers (known and unknown) and potentially the Army terrifies her family who constantly plead with her to remain neutral and not get involved. Decades of Mubarak rule and the disappearance of dissidents and activists lends some weight to their concerns. In the lead up to Egypt’s first free election there is a communal wish that the elections will be free from violence and old regime tactics, and as Afify takes to the streets to document people wanting to vote there is a sense of Egypt moving forward towards the democracy that they wished for so much.

Words of Witness is as much about the brutality of the Mubarak regime as it is about the will of the people for democratic change; it provides a powerful glimpse into grass roots activism and the very people that help effect change on a massive scale. It also provides a glimpse into the new, modern Egypt, embodied in Afify with her hopes and dreams of a democratic nation.

Words of Witness screens at 6.30pm on Wednesday 15 May at ACMI.

View the Words of Witnesstrailer.

Read Rebecca Harkins-Cross’ essay on the issues raised in Words of Witness.

Law of the Jungle

Law of the JungleMichael Christoffersen and Hans la Cour’s Law of the Jungle is a powerful documentary that follows the trial of a community of Indigenous Peruvians as they fight against Petrolplus, a multinational oil company that has been given the rights to parts of virgin Amazonian forest in the name of oil.

In 2008 Peru was divided into more than 100 blocks covering more than 70 per cent of the country. The blocks were auctioned off to multinational companies by the Peruvian government who allowed these companies to exploit them. Tired of having their rights abused in the name of profit, the indigenous peoples of the village of Andoas decided to stage a protest in Block 1AB, the airfield that serviced Petrolplus.

The protest has disastrous outcomes for the villages and they must now fight against a possible 25 year jail sentence for a crime they know little about. So begins the mammoth struggle against not only Petrolplus but the Peruvian state itself, with DINOES (Special Operations Division of the Police) implicated in the human rights abuses of those detained at the airfield and appearing to be working to safeguard the interests of the company.

In solidarity with the Andoas villagers, similar protests take place across Peru with DINOES playing a major role in violently suppressing the growing unrest – attesting to the power of multinational companies in Peru who are able to retain the state’s specialist police force as their own private security guards. Constantly struggling against forces that have greater resources than them, the villagers press on knowing that they are fighting not just for their own existence, but that of generations to come.

This documentary provides an expose into the plight of indigenous peoples of Peru and their struggle to obtain equal recognition in the face of corporate greed and environmental mismanagement.

Law of the Jungle screens at 8.15pm on Sunday 12May at ACMI.

View the Law of the Junle trailer.

Read Kate Galloway’s essay on the issues raised in Words of Witness and parelells to those faced by Indigenous Australians.


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.