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:: Spotlight :: 2012 Human Rights Arts and Film Festival

By: Carmine Pascuzzi

The fifth Human Rights Arts and Film Festival (HRAFF) will open on Tuesday May 15 with the highly anticipated documentary Under African Skies by award winning filmmaker Joe Berlinger.

Twenty-five years have passed since Paul Simon broke a UN cultural ban and entered South Africa to make the album Graceland. The album would go on to be a global phenomenon, salvaging his career while also polarising audiences. To mark this anniversary, Simon returns to South Africa to reunite with the Graceland musicians, and clear the air with his greatest critic, Artists Against Apartheid founder Dali Tambo. Under African Skies pays homage to this time.

Eleven days later, Jon Shenk’s The Island President will close the Festival. This is the story of President Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldives, a man confronting a problem greater than any other world leader has ever faced. Having brought democracy to the Maldives after thirty years of despotic rule, Nasheed is now faced with an even greater challenge. As one of the most low-lying countries in the world, a rise of three feet in sea level would submerge the 1200 islands of the Maldives enough to make them uninhabitable. The Island President captures Nasheed’s first year of office, culminating in his trip to the Copenhagen Climate Summit in 2009. At the screening there will be a live video Q&A with the former President of the Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed.

Launching the program, HRAFF Director Matthew Benetti said, “Fusing creative expression with human rights content through our program of films, art, music and forums, we hope to inform, fascinate and initiate debate. This year’s film program offers some incredible stories, including a president fighting for his nation’s existence and a legendary musician’s personal confrontation with his questionable past.”

With 15 Australian premieres, other highlights of the 19-film program include:
-Award-winning documentary At Night They Dance which sheds light on the chaotic world of Egyptian belly dancers working in downtown Cairo;
-Wrinkles, an animated feature film based on the award-winning comic novel (Paco Roca, 2007), about Emilio, who, in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, is sent by his son to live in an aged-care facility;
-Beer is Cheaper Than Therapy, a poignant documentary which examines the psychological distress suffered by numerous soldiers, offering a voice to those who are all too often lost in the discourse of war, the veterans themselves.
-Australian feature film Fantome Island by Sean Gilligan which looks at Joe Eggmolesse, who at the age of seven was taken from his family, put on a train, and sent to a leprosarium on Fantome Island, located off the Queensland coast. Many years later, he returns to confront the memory of his childhood on the island, to pay tribute to those who lived and died there and to inscribe his own unique story into official Australian history.

A number of film screenings will be accompanied by Q&As with special guests present at the screening, including: Joe Eggmolesse from Fantome Island; star Andrew Abel and director Adam Pesce of surf film Splinters; director of Buffalo Girls Todd Kellstein; plus Alex Pagliaro (Refugee Campaign Coordinator, Amnesty International Australia), Julian Burnside and Najeeba Wazefadost (Afghanistan refugee) will participate in a special discussion panel following the screening of Special Flight.

The film program also houses a selection of eight Australian shorts including Telegram Man (Dir. James Khehtie) starring Gary Sweet, Jack Thompson and Sigrid Thornton, exploring the impact of war on a close-knit community; and Carmen Rupe (Dir. Lucy Hayes), which documents the life and times of a much loved transgendered icon. There is also a selection of international shorts to be screened as part of the Festival.

FORUM - Extreme Reactions to Creative Expression
Sat May 19, 5.00pm – ACMI, The Cube. Free Entry
Facilitator Richard Watts (3RRR) along with Ajak Kwai (singer/songwriter), Jeff Daniels (filmmaker) and Khadim Ali (artist) will discuss the cultural politics of extreme governmental responses towards creative expression.

FORUM - Off the Wall: Is Street Art an Appropriate Medium to Voice Human Rights Issues?
Wed May 23, 5.30pm – Kaleide Theatre, RMIT. Free Entry
Public discourse surrounding street art is dominated by the continuing debate about cultural legitimacy and notions of ownership of public space. Yet, such discussions conceal one of the most important functions of street art, the creative freedom to be powerfully political and socially current. Partake in a lively discussion with facilitator Fiona Hillary along with Lachlan Macdowall (artist), Boo (stencil artist), Tom Civil (graffiti artist) and Kate Shaw.

FORUM - Flights of Fancy: the Ethics of Travel
Sat May 26, 5.00pm – ACMI, The Cube. Free Entry
For many Australians, travel has become cheap and accessible. Yet, as the world keeps shrinking, and our mobility increasing, the decisions we make, be it as a high-flyer, a backpacker, or even a volunteer, have consequences on the world around us. Hear what facilitator Jeff Jarvis (International Research Unit Monash), and a panel including Jane Crouch (Intrepid), Andrew Abel (Surfing Assoc. of Papua New Guinea), Adam Pesce (filmmaker) and Dimity Fifer (Australian Volunteers International) have to say.

MUSIC - Rhythm & Rights
Sun May 20, 1.30pm–7pm – Abbotsford Convent.
Move your feet, shake your body and feel the beat at HRAFF’s annual Rhythm & Rights event. Tinpan Orange headline a full day of musical entertainment including: Sol Nation, The Hacketts, Alwan Bridgett, Cains Teame, Ersie Wadaiko, Rindo Musiki Manjaro, Leigh Woodburgess, Danny Al Sabbagh with Khaled Khalafalla as MC. Taking over the Abbotsford Convent for one day only, the program consists of an exciting range of performers coming together over their shared commitment to the promotion of human rights culture through musical expression.

The Human Rights Arts and Film Festival occurs from Tuesday May 15 to Sunday May 27 at the following venues: Forum Theatre, ACMI and Abbotsford Convent.

For more information, visit

www.hraff.org.au