FRIDAY REVIEW

Spotlight on human rights

``EACH TIME a man stands up for an ideal or acts to improve the lot of others; or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope and crossing each other from a million different centres of energy and daring. These ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance." — Robert F. Kennedy, Former U.S. Attorney General (1925-1968) from a speech at the Day Of Affirmation at Cape Town, South Africa, 1966.

Since its inception in 1978, Human Rights Watch has become a force in the Human Rights Movement, widely respected for its accurate research and creative advocacy. The capacity to engage the public has always been critical to the ability to influence policy and stop human rights abuses.

Fourteen years ago, the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival was created in recognition of the power of films to educate and galvanise a broad cross-section of interested supporters. And these films have become a tool to showcase fiction and documentaries with distinctive themes through the eyes of committed and courageous filmmakers.

Nothing speaks more of this than the festival conducted by the PCVC (International Foundation For Crime Prevention And Victim Care) and the Office Of Public Affairs, U.S. Consulate General For South India at the Consulate auditorium in Chennai between November 2 and 7. It underlined courage and triumph of the human spirit in the face of repression and difficulties -- any one seeing it could not but be saddened but encouraged. In that sense, they were the ripples that could eventually be the force to bring down oppression and resistance.

Towering over regular films, these eight documentaries were far from gloomy and boring. They provided insights into nations ranging from South Africa to Chile to Palestine and the issues confronting people in a simple but powerful way — and each one of them did not fail to evoke strong responses from viewers — despite the painful security procedures. And that is when one felt that such films need a larger audience where audience participation is vital and the purpose of showing them becomes more meaningful.

Says a representative of PCVC, "We are just a four-woman army. We initiated this festival here and got everything together — we just don't have the infrastructure to screen it outside without financial support. The U.S. Consulate graciously came forward to partner us in this venture and that is how we are here.''

Inaugurating the festival on November 2, Justice Prabha Sridevan said, "We have to recognise the fact that every person in every part of the world has the right to live with dignity.

And the tragedy is that everywhere, typically at all levels, they are the same persons whose rights are constantly being taken away. That is where the urgency lies — in trying to sensitise people against such denial of rights. And these films make us see how we can be aware, and what it means to walk in a denied man's shoes. Only then do we realise that crimes are worldwide and understand what is happening. And such efforts are essential in today's context ''.

Mr. Ravi Candadai, Public Affairs, welcomed the gathering and hoped that every session would be followed by discussions and feedback on the films.

Each of the films — "State Of Denial" (Elaine Epstein - U.S.), "Dans, Grozny, Dans" (Jos De Putter - produced in Netherlands), "Pinochet's Children" (Paula Rodriguez - produced in Germany), "Power Trip" (Paul Devlin - produced in U.S. / Republic Of Georgia) "Rana's Wedding" (Hany Abu Assad - produced in Palestine), "War Takes" (Patricia Castano and Adelaida Trujillo - produced in Colombia / England), "Welcome To Hadassah Hospital" (Ramon Gieling - produced in The Netherlands), "When The War Is Over" (Francois Verster - produced in South Africa) are strong pieces of reality, account of issues and dehumanising acts in developing countries. They are the alternative views of what one gets to see in the mainstream media and are literally voices of protest.

CHITRA MAHESH