Miss Representation (2011) Reveals a Glaring Reality Still Relevant in 2020

Miss Representation (2011) Reveals a Glaring Reality Still Relevant in 2020

WOMEN

Miss Representation (2011) Reveals a Glaring Reality Still Relevant Today

Miss Representation Documentary
parisa

Parisa Zangeneh

14th September 2020

 

The documentary film, Miss Representation, came out in 2011, yet it remains shockingly resonant today. The film exposes how mainstream media and culture contribute to the under-representation of women in positions of power and influence in America. As an American woman, Miss Representation strongly resonates with mebut its message is relevant to women and girls everywhere.  

 

The film makes several vital points: that the media poorly depicts women; that it creates a culture of misogyny; and that it harms women’s and girls’ health, development, and their ability to be seen as intellectuals, rather than sex objects. The first two minutes of Miss Representation features dozens of images showcasing the way mainstream American media portrays women. In response to this visual barrage, a young girl (who reminds me a lot of myself at that agesums it up: “There is no appreciation for women intellectuals. It’s all about the body and not about the brain.”  

 

The poor representation of women in and by the media permeates all aspects of women’s and girls’ lives, including the interests that girls develop as they grow up. The film highlights the many obstacles women face in political participation, not least the searing criticism, objectification, and subjugation. Young girls who have political aspirations are depicted alongside obstacles women face in political participation and the searing criticism, objectification, and subjectification of women in roles of power. This link between the depiction of women in the media and women’s participation in the political process is made clear as the film provides abundant evidence of prominent female candidates for political and judicial office, women in public service, and in hard-hitting news programs who have been reduced to their appearances in media coverageChris Matthews, for example, said of Sarah Palin: “She’s irresistibly cute, let’s put it that way, in the way she presents herself, obviously she’s attractive and all that”Michael Savage  asked“Do you know that ugly hag Madeleine Albright, remember her, the psycho, she was Secretary of State under the Clinton, like a fat moron.” Nancy Pelosi, the former Speaker of the House, was labelled the “Wicked Witch of the West” by one commentator (a google search to track down the commentator reveals too many hits referring to Pelosi as the “Wicked Witch of the West to result in identification), while Lee Rogers stated, “Look at these ugly skanks” (referring to the female Democratic leadership). Chris Baker observed that Pelosi’s perceived facelift was another reason “why it’s very rare to find a woman worthy of serving in political office.” Another, Jay Thomas, stated “I think if you waterboarded Nancy Pelosi she wouldn’t admit to plastic surgery.” 

 

In the years since Miss Representation was first released, progress has been questionable at best.”

 

Some of the language is also racialized: “Cynthia McKinney, the former Congresswoman from Georgia, was another angry black woman“. Notably, Miss Representation does not contain any reference to the negative, racialized media depictions of Michelle Obama, another prominent African American woman, in the 2008 presidential race, which directly relate to Miss Representation’s message. A greater focus on the impact of racialized language and negative media treatment of women of colour would have enriched and added depth to Miss Representation and is a missed opportunity to include the African American community to a greater degree in the film. For example, the 2020 documentary film, Becomingdepicted Michelle Obama’s vilification in the press during the 2007/2008 Presidential campaign. At one point, it cites negative media attention over the fist bump, which was alternatively called a terrorist fist jabbetween Michelle and Barack at a rally, an image of an angry-looking Michelle on the National Review with the headline “Mrs Grievance”, and voices of commentators calling her an angry woman, not warm and fuzzy, among other jabs 

 

In the years since Miss Representation was first released, progress has been questionable at best. One manifestation of this is how women are treated in the political arena. In 2016, then-presidential candidate Donald Trump described his opponent Hillary Clinton as a nasty woman. Recently, Representative Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez recounted on the House floor how Representative Ted Yoho “had put his finger in [her] face” and had called her disgusting, crazy, out of her mind, dangerous, and publicly, “a f****** b****”On the other hand, women made considerable gains in representation in Congress (the legislative branch of the U.S. government) during the 2018 elections. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib were elected to Congress, making history as the first two Muslim women elected.  

 

However, women still face a long battle aheadAccording to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, as of August 1, 2020the United States came in at 85th in the world in a ranking of the percentage of women in parliament. Afghanistan ranked 69th. Recent headlines include coverage of racialized and sexist press attention directed at Kamala Harris, named as Democratic Presidential hopeful Joe Biden’s running mateRupert Murdoch’s The Australian published a cartoon of Biden and Harris, in which Biden states “It’s time to heal a nation divided by racism so I’ll hand you over to this little brown girl while I go for a lie-down”. 

 

The issues depicted in Miss Representation are clearly coming to the fore again in the U.S. election race. Hopefully, more women will be elected to office this fall and women will continue to make strides in the direction of equality. However, systemic barriers, such as the media coverage of female candidatesare very real problems that need eliminating.

 

 

Featured photo by Miss Representation (2011)

 
 

 

parisa
The Innocence Files Review

The Innocence Files Review

Arts & Culture

The Innocence Files Review

US Flage behind barb wire fence

22nd July 2020

 

True crime documentaries are never particularly tasteful. Go on YouTube or Netflix or late-night television and you can enjoy an array of other people’s personal tragedies: documentaries that serve no purpose other than to indulge a desire for horror and tales of human suffering.

Netflix documentary series, The Innocence Files, is a whodunnit with a cause. Repetitive and over-indulgent, the series brings many interesting things to light – only to leave them hanging.

The producers of The Innocence Files must have seen an opportunity to increase the popularity of what might otherwise have been a serious documentary about the flaws in the US legal system, inherent racial bias and progress of DNA science, by putting an emphasis on ‘trashy’ mystery elements and gruesome details. It spends most of its time describing murders to the sound of eerie music, in the style of true crime documentaries found at the shameful end of a late-night YouTube spree.

The series of nine episodes follows eight cases of wrongful convictions. This is to say that it focuses on eight men who were put in prison for crimes they did not commit. Each episode establishes why these men were sentenced in the first place, how to get them out, and who actually committed the crimes. 

The documentary successfully humanises these eight prisoners by spending time with their relatives. A lawyer for The Innocence Project, a legal organisation specialising in getting innocent people out of prison, explains that “it’s only when you see the families and communities that you really understand the prisoner.” 

I think the series here is making the point that the police should have spent longer getting to know these families and communities before they incarcerated innocent men, but it fails to show in what way the families and communities of the real perpetrators were any different.

The series touches on the US’ problem of putting retribution before accuracy or rehabilitation and the way in which racial elements play into this problem. The Innocence Files draws a comparison between the overarchingly black population of prisons and a sort of modern-day slavery: in the second episode, the camera pans to a shocking landscape. Working the cotton fields of a Mississippi prison is a vast, imprisoned, black community, and the series suggests that a number of them are innocent. This is the same prison that, in the years after the abolition of the slave trade, continued to rent out its black inmates to work on plantations. 

 

“The series touches on the US’ problem of putting retribution before accuracy or rehabilitation and the way in which racial elements play into this problem.”

​​

The series has a number of villains but, unlike most crime dramas, the villains are not the murderers: they are the lawyers, the police and the justice system. The series’ first three episodes feature an evil dentist. Often being brought in on trials as an expert witness, and having made numerous mistakes resulting in the incarceration of innocent (black) people, he aligns criticism of his former methods with criticism of Confederate statues. 

The dentist argues that it is as anachronistic to criticise the statues (‘part of history’) as it is anachronistic to blame him for putting innocent people in jail. His argument is that, as DNA testing was not advanced when he gave his expertise, his use of flawed ‘bite mark evidence’ as certain proof of guilt was entirely justified. “I will not be erased” are his parting words to the camera.

The series is about the ways in which the justice system has failed innocent people. Bite mark evidence is its first target, witness identification its second, and corruption and misconduct within the justice system its third. It is clear after an episode that the first two constitute unreliable evidence – but this message is drummed in for over six hours. Admittedly, the series also depicts unsuccessful attempts at changing the laws – where people refuse to discredit evidence that is pretty much proven not to be accurate. But the viewer is on The Innocence Project’s side sooner than the series seems to anticipate.

The most interesting aspect of the series lies in its discussion of misconduct within the justice system. We watch police and DAs fight to keep innocent men in prison, more afraid to admit their mistakes than to do the right thing. The relationship between the police and the DAs described as symbiotic, ‘almost invit[ing] misconduct’. We watch detectives manipulate witness testimonies, hide and ignore evidence and even blackmail witnesses into giving false statements in order to support their unproven and often racially biased ideas. A memorable line is the comparison of witness testimonies being moulded into shape like sausages in a factory. This legal system, coupled with its racial bias, leaves minorities powerless and weak, with the idea that if a black or Hispanic person ‘didn’t do it this time, it’ll be them next time’.

This documentary is weak, but it advocates for change. In a system where we see defence lawyers turn to reporters to set people free, there needs to be a change. The laws need to change. Politics need to change. But most of all the problem is with a racial bias so profound that the series’ many villains simply can’t see their own mistakes.

 

 

Featured photo Barbara Rosner

 

 

‘Stop Filming Us’ – Questioning Neocolonialism through the Camera Lens

‘Stop Filming Us’ – Questioning Neocolonialism through the Camera Lens

ARTS + CULTURE

‘Stop Filming Us!’ – Neocolonialism through the Camera Lens

Isolde MacDonagh

3rd June 2020

 

Posing questions, not answering them – Joris Postema’s Stop Filming Us wants to show us the city of Goma you don’t see in UNICEF’s pity-inducing photos of miserable children. But can he portray the Congolese reality without becoming part of the problem?

 

For me, this question is answered early on. Postema, in this documentary, works closely with several African filmmakers and photographers to capture the ‘real’ Goma, a city in the northeast of the Democratic Republic of Congo.  In a meeting, he asks his Congolese co-workers about his Western team: “Did we do anything neo-colonial in the past few weeks?”. “Of course,” Ganza Buroko replies. He lists Postema’s mistakes. “Ah – so we start again,” says Postema. They laugh. “No, we continue.”

 

This film doesn’t try to be perfect. Postema is as much of a student as his viewer, and the documentary comes across as a work in progress. In Stop Filming Us, Postema follows the lives of three Congolese filmmakers and photographers. The first of these is Mugabo Baritegera, an artist and photographer who roams the streets looking to capture the Goma he himself experiences. Baritegera explains that when he looks at the sad Congolese faces in photos released by the media, he does not recognise himself. Happiness is a significant part, not only of the Congolese life but of the Congolese identity (already so attacked by colonialism). When Westerners portray Goma as an unhappy place, they continue to destroy the Congolese identity. “We don’t even know what we have forgotten”: this is a phrase that stands out, as Postema watches the Congolese discuss their history. Baritegera is filmed building a new art gallery, where he can display his work. When the gallery is completed, at the end of the film, we see for the first time the people of Goma taking photos of one another that are not loaded with political messages – they are simply enjoying themselves.

 

“When Westerners portray Goma as an unhappy place, they continue to destroy the Congolese identity”

Unsurprisingly, there is a strong feeling about photography in Goma, many seeing it as the exploitation of their faces for money. Ley Uwera, a photographer working for NGOs, takes the photos she is paid to take, knowing that they do not represent her country. We watch her photographing a refugee settlement, where she moves children aside, stages photos, and asks people to stand in awkward positions in order to capture exaggerated unhappiness. Her photos ignore the life and the happiness that is also present in the environments she photographs. 

 

Stop filming us” is a familiar cry in Postema’s 90-minute film, and every time we hear it, we are aware of Postema’s contradictory position. “Go Home”, Postema is told. But he does not. Instead, Postema films the filmmakers. He films those who have exploited the Congolese with their cameras. He films the prison-like appearances of the high-security gates to the countless NGO headquarters, in what are arguably the most powerful shots in the film. Postema’s documentary watches the people who are creating videos that shape the world’s understanding of Goma. There are two primary examples of this. Postema’s observation of Uwera’s work for the NGOs, but also an episode where Postema films Baritegera making a (beautiful) film showing the positive side of Goma but omitting a street fight and the arguments that happened during his shoot. Although this film was the aesthetic highlight of the documentary, it omitted perhaps what a Westerner would describe as the truth.

 

Photo by: Joris Postema, Stop Filming Us

 

But can a Westerner criticise the Congolese for not being truthful enough in their representations of their own cities? Westerners, naturally, have no right to define truth, but Postema’s documentary wants to understand why these more negative aspects of Baritegera’s film do not come into Baritegera’s depiction of the ‘real Goma’. Postema asks his Congolese film crew why Baritegera might have omitted what, for a Westerner, would be important details. They give varied answers – the violence is boring, normal, not something to talk about. 

 

Stop Filming Us is a discussion. Postema’s opinion is visible in the editing and what he has chosen to film, but he includes different perspectives wherever he can. This makes for the film’s strange structure: it is a film that ends several times. Twice Postema shows his latest version of Stop Filming Us to the Congolese and asks them what they think of it, and twice the ensuing discussion is included in the film. This, of course, symbolises that this discussion has in no way ended with this film. We think again of Buroko’s words, at the beginning of the documentary: “we continue”.

 

There are questions that remain by the end of this film. Should Postema have just gone home? Should the NGOs, arrogant and unwanted, go home? Or do Westerners have a responsibility to fix what they broke? A scene of Baritegera chanting “if you watch, you are complicit” targets the film’s audience: we, also, are part of this discussion. But to what extent?

 

 

Featured photo by Joris Postema

 

 

The Obsession with Activism in Acceptance Speeches

The Obsession with Activism in Acceptance Speeches

As the dust settles on the 2020 awards season, we are left to wonder whether Ricky Gervais, who implored stars at the Golden Globes to avoid making their acceptance speeches political, may have been right. Many of us may agree with his point that millionaire celebrities collecting awards from other millionaire celebrities may not be a group best placed to preach to the general public about issues such as climate change and human rights. It has now become a mainstay of almost every award show, with celebrities (or possibly their publicists) seeing this platform as a challenge to make the most impassioned speech of the night. 

 

This season’s winners certainly did not shy away from politicising their acceptance speech, addressing a variety of issues with a variety of approaches. It is definitely a feature of these acceptance speeches to make them as political as possible without ever explicitly addressing the issue. While it only requires a small amount of reading between the lines to understand what they are referencing, this tactic could allow them to speak up for important causes in their speeches without rocking the boat too much within the establishment which employs them and presents them with awards. At the Golden Globes this year, Michelle Williams made a passionate speech about ‘a woman’s right to choose’ without explicitly mentioning abortion, and Robert DeNiro made a speech criticising the US Government without mentioning Trump. Do celebrities feel pressured to breach these subjects in their speech but want to remain as neutral and uncontroversial as possible? 

 

Joaquin Phoenix was one winner this season who did not shy away from difficult topics with his acceptance speeches. While his speech about climate change at the Golden Globes was a little clumsy, his calls for diversity at the BAFTAs was uncharacteristically explicit. His Oscars acceptance speech, while a bit of a jumble of different issues; the parts about the meat and dairy industries were also incredibly direct . With Phoenix’s speeches, along with wearing the same Stella McCartney suit to every award ceremony; the improvisational feel, coupled with the fact that Phoenix has been a lifelong supporter of animal rights, makes it harder to be cynical about his motives for making his speeches political. 

 

One thing which Phoenix’s speeches did achieve, whether on purpose or not, was to change the narrative which had been surrounding his movie Joker, which had been garnering its own form of controversy. Joker’s legacy may have been rewritten by the focus on Joaquin Phoenix’s passionate speeches about climate change and diversity, rather than the debate about whether the movie glorifies violence as a reasonable response to trauma. Using acceptance speeches as a way of changing a narrative is a method that has been employed by many stars. Successful speeches at earlier awards ceremonies such as the Globes or the SAG Awards can put them in good stead for the Academy Awards and can help to build on goodwill within the industry. The Hollywood Reporter outlined the formula which many stars employ for a good acceptance speech which appears to be appealing to the Academy; address the acting ‘community’, be thankful and humble, and then make reference to something bigger than you. This formula appeared to do well for Brad Pitt this award season, in which he appeared modest and likeable, and solidified himself as a favourite of the industry. 

 

Many acceptance speeches may appear formulaic; simply an attempt to foster or build on goodwill within the Hollywood community, rather than any attempt to create any meaningful change. While most speeches graciously thank the Hollywood establishment, calling out injustices in other arenas in which they have no jurisdiction; some stars also use this platform as an attempt to call out injustices within their own industry. Joaquin Phoenix’s Best Actor speech about diversity at this year’s BAFTA ceremony was not the first to call out problems at the heart of the film industry, and will surely not be the last. Michelle William’s speech at the 2019 Emmy Awards addressing wage inequality in Hollywood, a subject broached by Patricia Arquette in her Oscars speech 4 years earlier, did not hold back from addressing the importance of achieving wage equality in Hollywood and the fact that it is not yet the norm. 

 

Of course, the 2018 awards season, just weeks after the Time’s Up movement was founded in response to the Weinstein allegations and the explosion of the #MeToo hashtag, could not escape politicisation. The uncovering of the (perhaps not so) secret underbelly of the film industry and the continued anticipation of which titan of the industry the next allegations would expose, has created a new normal for awards shows. It no longer seems possible for awards shows to simply honour talent and pass awards out amongst each other, while the foundation which much of the industry had been based on is crumbling away. Stories which had been held in silence for decades were only just now coming to light, and where better to address this than on stage accepting an award from the very establishment embroiled in this controversy? Speeches at the 2018 Golden Globes, especially Oprah’s famous speech in which she honoured the strong women who spoke their truth and spoke of hope for the future; set the tone for the rest of an awards season focussed on lifting up women who speak out against inequality. One of the most memorable was Frances McDormand’s Best Actress speech at the Oscars. While uplifting all the female nominees in the audience, she also did something which many acceptance speeches avoid when she clearly outlined what she saw as the answer to the failings of the industry. “Two words…’inclusion rider’”. 

 

Whether they make a difference or not, and whether you view them as an earnest use of a huge platform or a cynical ploy by publicists; it is clear that in the era of Trump and #MeToo, political acceptance speeches are going nowhere. At the Golden Globes this year, Patricia Arquette claimed that with all the huge news stories happening at that time; the Australian bushfires and growing tension between the US and Iran would be more likely to be remembered than the awards show. This could be true, most acceptance speeches, no matter how passionate or well-written, are mostly forgotten by the next news cycle alongside lists of the best and worst dressed. Some speeches do become legendary, as they act as a device to frame a particular moment in time, linking the biggest movie stars of the period to the most pressing political issues. The Apache actress Sacheen Littlefeather reading the acceptance speech for Marlon Brando’s 1973 Oscar, for example, asking for support for American Indian activists at Wounded Knee, made a powerful statement. It is hard to know which modern speeches might have the same effect, surely the speeches about Time’s Up and the climate emergency will reflect their particular moments in time. As these industries remain notably steadfast in their lack of diversity, perhaps more stars will take a leaf from Brando’s book and simply boycott the event. There is always a lot to be said, as Adѐle Haenal proved at this year’s César Awards, for a good old-fashioned walk out.

 

 

 

Photo by Oscars

 

 

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Miss Representation (2011) Reveals a Glaring Reality Still Relevant in 2020

The documentary film, Miss Representation, came out in 2011, yet it remains shockingly resonant today in 2020. The film exposes how mainstream media and culture contribute to the under-representation of women in positions of power and influence in America. As an American woman, Miss Representation strongly resonates with me, but its message is relevant to women and girls everywhere.

The Innocence Files Review

STAND News reviews the Netflix documentary series, The Innocence Files, a whodunnit with a cause. How does the series that covers the failures of the U.S. judicial system holdup?

‘Stop Filming Us’ – Questioning Neocolonialism through the Camera Lens

In Stop Filming Us (2020) Dutch filmmaker Joris Postema travels to the city of Goma in the northeast of the Democratic Republic of Congo, where numerous conflicts and even more Western aid organizations have been in the past 25 years. The problem is, sometimes these Westerners would rather define Goma and its people on their terms. Can Postema portray the Congolese reality without becoming part of the problem?

The Obsession with Activism in Acceptance Speeches

Many of us may agree that millionaire celebrities collecting awards from other millionaire celebrities may not be a group best placed to preach to the general public about issues such as climate change and human rights. It has now become a mainstay of almost every award show, with celebrities seeing this platform as a challenge to make the most impassioned speech of the night.

Merchant’s Quay Ireland launches “The Lived Experience of Addiction” Exhibition

Merchant’s Quay Ireland (MQI) has launched a new exhibition of photographs and stories by people with experience of addiction titled “The Lived Experience of Addiction”. Aiming to start a conversation about addiction and its surrounding stigma, the work created is personal, meaningful and unfortunately all too relatable for many.

UCDVO Development series: Review of Gaza, Push and For Sama

The 8th UCDVO Development Film Series is a yearly event which ran throughout January and February 2020. The series includes 5 high-quality feature documentary films on subjects relating to global justice and development issues.

Merchant’s Quay Ireland launches “The Lived Experience of Addiction” Exhibition

Merchant’s Quay Ireland launches “The Lived Experience of Addiction” Exhibition

Merchant’s Quay Ireland (MQI) has launched a new exhibition of photographs and stories by people with experience of addiction. Titled “The Lived Experience of Addiction”, the Photovoice project was collaboratively created by people who have previously or are currently engaged in MQI services. Aiming to start a conversation about addiction and its surrounding stigma, the work created is personal, meaningful and unfortunately all too relatable for many. 

 

It has been overtly known that the numbers of those requiring support and medical help for their addiction do not match up with the number of detox beds, places on day programmes or staff available for outreach and open access services. Funding is frequently cut, while drug epidemics continue to grow beyond the cities, expanding into rural areas and local communities. Media coverage often vilifies people in active addiction, while our judicial system criminalises them. Public support, campaigning for harm reduction facilities, and positive change stems from voluntary or underpaid services. 

 

The exhibition, alongside the publication accompanying it, is the culmination of six months of work. All contributors come from a variety of backgrounds; from those presently in active addiction to people in recovery. People fighting their way through homelessness, to families coping with loved ones in addiction. As cited on the MQI website, the project “provides an alternative platform for people who are often silenced or marginalised in society to express themselves, and hopes to shed light on the reality of addiction – and in doing so to increase the sense of compassion and empathy all of us in society have for people who are affected by it”. 

 

Located for a short time only at Copper House Gallery, Dublin 8, the project formally launched yesterday, March 5th, 2020, followed by a panel discussion on stigma. Chaired by Joe Little, the audience heard from MQI Chairperson Mick Price, Minister Catherine Byrne, photovoice facilitator Dr Maria Quinlan, and two of the participants in the project.

 

There are plans by the organisation to launch in the Midlands and the East Coast soon, following positive reception from both attendees and those who contributed. The exhibition is open to members of the public on Saturday, March 7th from 11am to 5pm, and Monday March 9th to Wednesday March 11th from 9.30am to 5.30pm. No booking is required, and the display is free of charge. The exhibition is well worth a visit, offering insight and perspective into one of modern Ireland’s most upsetting and widespread issues and struggles. 

 

 

Exhibition photos sourced from MQI website

 

 

Browse more stories below or sign up to our newsletter to receive our top news straight to your inbox!

 

 

 

Miss Representation (2011) Reveals a Glaring Reality Still Relevant in 2020

The documentary film, Miss Representation, came out in 2011, yet it remains shockingly resonant today in 2020. The film exposes how mainstream media and culture contribute to the under-representation of women in positions of power and influence in America. As an American woman, Miss Representation strongly resonates with me, but its message is relevant to women and girls everywhere.

The Innocence Files Review

STAND News reviews the Netflix documentary series, The Innocence Files, a whodunnit with a cause. How does the series that covers the failures of the U.S. judicial system holdup?

‘Stop Filming Us’ – Questioning Neocolonialism through the Camera Lens

In Stop Filming Us (2020) Dutch filmmaker Joris Postema travels to the city of Goma in the northeast of the Democratic Republic of Congo, where numerous conflicts and even more Western aid organizations have been in the past 25 years. The problem is, sometimes these Westerners would rather define Goma and its people on their terms. Can Postema portray the Congolese reality without becoming part of the problem?

The Obsession with Activism in Acceptance Speeches

Many of us may agree that millionaire celebrities collecting awards from other millionaire celebrities may not be a group best placed to preach to the general public about issues such as climate change and human rights. It has now become a mainstay of almost every award show, with celebrities seeing this platform as a challenge to make the most impassioned speech of the night.

Merchant’s Quay Ireland launches “The Lived Experience of Addiction” Exhibition

Merchant’s Quay Ireland (MQI) has launched a new exhibition of photographs and stories by people with experience of addiction titled “The Lived Experience of Addiction”. Aiming to start a conversation about addiction and its surrounding stigma, the work created is personal, meaningful and unfortunately all too relatable for many.

UCDVO Development series: Review of Gaza, Push and For Sama

The 8th UCDVO Development Film Series is a yearly event which ran throughout January and February 2020. The series includes 5 high-quality feature documentary films on subjects relating to global justice and development issues.

UCDVO Development series: Review of Gaza, Push and For Sama

UCDVO Development series: Review of Gaza, Push and For Sama

The 8th UCDVO Development Film Series began on the 27th January and will continue until February 2020. The series includes 5 high-quality feature documentary films on subjects relating to global justice and development issues. The event’s highlight is that each screening is followed by a guest speaker with an opportunity for an open discussion. This takes place over 5 consecutive Monday evenings.

 

 

Gaza 

The series began with the screening of Gaza. This angry and heartfelt documentary truly captures the sense of ordinary life. As quoted by the taxi driver in the documentary, “Most of the people here are ordinary people like me. They just want to be left alone to live their lives. They just want to take care of their families and educate their children.”

 

The opening credits give a geographical and a brief history of the narrow strip of Mediterranean coastline bordered by Israel and Egypt that is home to nearly 2 million Palestinians.  The Islamic resistance movement Hamas came to power over the course of three elections and has been governing Gaza since 2007. Since then, Israel has imposed a blockade on Gaza, completely sealing its borders. The  film was shot during the Israeli war in 2014 and the border protests in 2018. Gaza, directed by Garry Keane and Andrew McConnell, received a complex reaction in some quarters when it premiered at Sundance in 2019. Some criticize that it only fleetingly mentions Hamas, while others found it to be manipulative.It is important to ponder the reason behind why an immobile child is shown with her eyes closed and the audience is encouraged to think she is dead but in a later scene, she opens her eyes.

 

However, Gaza definitely tries to avoid direct political engagement. The film shows ordinary people courageously going on with  their lives despite living in some of the most challenging conditions in the world. A young woman practises the cello, a young man records rap tracks, a theatre director rehearses a performance piece, a fisherman broods over the oppression of his industry – they are not allowed to fish more than three miles out, and the amount of fish that can be caught so close to shore is pitifully meagre. The film also showcases Deir Al- Balah, Gaza’s smallest refugee camp which hosts about  21,000 refugees who fled from villages in central and southern Palestine as a consequence of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. This is where the audience is introduced to the largest family in Gaza where Ahmed Abu Alqoraan and his 13 brothers and 23 sisters live.

 

The film is a striking piece of film-making. Beautifully shot by McConnell as he manages to capture stunning images that draw out the characters we are introduced to during the film. The images are powerful enough to set forth the mood and intent. Unfortunately, the intrusive score tips the film more so towards manipulation rather than observation. I didn’t want the background score to direct me to think or feel in a particular way, I wanted to feel this emotion myself from the scenes that were unfolding. 

 

Watch the trailer here

 

 

Push

Push documents UN Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing, Leilani Farha, as she travels the world in an attempt to figure out the reason behind the housing crisis. The documentary rightly explores why housing is considered to be a market instead of a fundamental human right. Push offers a worldwide wake-up call as it examines  the rapidly shifting patterns in the “financialisation” of housing. This crisis, as the film suggests, goes behind gentrification and the concept of financialisation was an eyeopener to me! Private equity firms are now the biggest landlords and houses are considered to be the assets. As prices go up while income stays the same, people are being pushed out of their homes and governments don’t seem to do anything about it. This has become a worldwide phenomenon, which has been particularly evident in Ireland over the last number of years.

 

“You know it’s time to move out of your neighbourhood when vintage shops open, poor people start to dress well (…)  prices go up and you get the push.“

 

Director Frederick Gretten follows Farha through her investigation that takes her to an interconnected pattern of hidden capital with networks in Toronto, Barcelona, Seoul, Berlin, London and other cities revealing just the tip of the iceberg. Her investigation further discloses  the process in which affordable housing becomes a token for hedge funds, investors and criminal networks to increase their profits while driving out ordinary citizens. The familiar sight of empty condos, homes and apartments, owned by anonymous foreign buyers who never set a toe in their luxury homes, paints the cities nothing less than ghost towns.

 

Farha, alongside the United Cities Local Government and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights,  started the new worldwide movement The Shift to ‘reclaim and realize the fundamental right to housing – to move away from housing as a place to park excess capital, to housing as a place to live in dignity, to raise families and participate in community’. Gertten’s film captures the community spirit that endures and gives life to the cities. Push is ultimately an empowering story of resistance and the question the film poses is, “ Who are cities for ?”

 

Watch the trailer here

 

 

For Sama

Is the world listening? Are we getting used to documentaries based on Syrian war? Have those stories  that seem to plead with the world fallen on deaf ears or has the world decided to look in the other direction? Despite these questions clouding my mind often, For Sama may be the most powerful plea yet. Syrian filmmaker Waad al-Kateb began a video diary to keep record of events when nobody knew what it was like to live in Aleppo, Syria. Caught between the Assad regime and the Islamic state, every day seems  like a new chapter in the lives of Syrians. This documentary that captures al-Kateb’s life through five years is a human story with no propaganda in sight. It’s a simple appeal from people who bravely stayed behind to fight against the atrocities.

 

In collaboration with British filmmaker Edward Watts, Waad al-Kateb tells us the most compelling story of how this conflict negates  everyday life. The documentary is named after Waad’s daughter, Sama (Arabic for Sky). Through assembled extracts of her video diary, For Sama captures moments of loss, laughter and survival as Waad has to decide between fleeing Aleppo to protect the ones she loves or staying in the city.  Scenes where the new mother struggles to put her baby to sleep and dialogues like, “Lots of airstrikes today…but they didn’t hit us” when she talks to her baby is a sign that we have been silent spectators for far too long. The unforgettable moments come through at every other scene – the tense nighttime drive to get through a regime checkpoint, the time when Assad’s forces are just one street away and the Caesarean section to remove a baby from its wounded mother’s womb may probably be the most miraculous and intimate scenes. The most dramatic scenes unfold  inside hospitals as the documentary shows how they are being systematically blown up one after another. In 2016, airstrikes by Russian and Syrian government forces destroyed eight out of nine hospitals in rebel-held East Aleppo

 

The normalisation of conflict to this level is clearly depicted in this documentary. In my opinion, For Sama that recently won a BAFTA and was nominated for Best Documentary at the Oscars this year is a must-watch.

 

Watch the trailer here

 

 

 

Photos from Twitter

 

 

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