The Chennai International Human Rights Film Festival screened films that documented the common man’s struggle for survival across the world

The documentary began with Shahool Hameed’s thundering declaration: “This is god-given water. Nobody has the right to take it.” Shahool is an inhabitant of Plachimada in Kerala — a small town that caught the imagination of the nation with its peaceful protest against a Coca Cola bottling facility that came up in its premises. The documentary 1000 Days and a Dream captures the struggle of the people to save their precious water resources that the company polluted. It was screened at The Chennai International Human Rights Film Festival 2013, a three-day event jointly organised by film journal Padapetti, film movement Marupakkam, and the Periyar Self Respect Media Department. Over 20 documentary films curated by documentary film makers Amudhan R.P. and Paul Lee were screened at the festival.

The fight for equality, dignity, acceptance, a life free from struggle… the handpicked documentaries showcased the battles of common man from across the globe. “She just returned from her bath” wailed a father as he saw his daughter who was bombed to death in Someetharan’s Mullaitivu Saga. The film documented the war in Sri Lanka in the backdrop of a Kannagi-Kovalan koothu in Nandikadal. The screening was followed by an interactive session with the director who spoke of the thought-process behind the making of his film.

Did you know that in Thailand, people used their blood as a tool to protest against the government? Blood documented the Red-shirt political party’s rather shocking means of expressing their remonstration against an oppressive rule.

In Camp Unity, director Ryan White showed how music united some American teachers and Arabic, Kurdish, Muslim and Christian students in Iraq. They develop strong bonds during the days they practise together for a stage show. The film subtly explored the effects of America’s war on Iraq in the setting of song and dance.

She was being watched all day. Her every move was under scrutiny in the prison. Yet, political activist Silvia Baraldini endured it all. The life of the lady with nerves of steel was portrayed in Freeing Silvia Baraldini. The film traced the life of the activist who played an important role in the resistance movements of African-Americans and Puerto Ricans. Silvia was sentenced to 43 years in prison. As a political prisoner in the U.S., she went through untold suffering and Freeing Silvia Baraldini documented it effectively.

The film festival aimed at creating a platform for activists, students and filmmakers to discuss human rights issues. It also gave people from various walks of life an opportunity to observe the different kinds of documentary filmmaking. If one addressed an issue directly, another (Camp Unity, for instance) did so using a completely different tool. “Films that follow a pattern of investigation are uncommon in India,” explained Amuthan. This was because documentary films are directly affected by funding and film festivals. “They all tend to fall in a trap,” he said. Amudhan hoped to make the film festival a yearly affair. The event also featured documentaries that sometimes shocked the viewer with their starkness. “We have to face reality,” reasoned Amudhan. “The films only show what actually happened.”