This past Thursday and Friday the United Nations, IFP with various other supporters, partnered up to bring an annual forum event. The United Nation’s Department of Public Information and the Independent Film Project, according to their website (www.envisionfilm.org) “…seek to combine film presentations with substantive, live-audience (real and virtual) discussions on pressing global issues.”
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to attend Thursday’s program which included an opening by United Nation’s Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, screenings of Rough Aunties and Pray the Devil Back to Hell, amongst others and various panel discussions with titles like “A Case Study on Envisioning the Impact of Pray the Devil Back to Hell”. (I saw Pray the Devil... on a previous occasion and it is magnificent)
I did end up going to the first half of the program on Friday and I wish I could have stayed for the rest of it. Friday morning opened with a conversation with Jonathan Demme. He was extremely enthusiastic to the point that the monitor didn’t get much of a word in edge-wise (he didn’t seem to mind). Mr. Demme spoke a lot about his documentary the Agronomist , his 2003 film shot in Haiti about this profile of Haitian radio journalist and human rights activist Jean Dominique. Mr. Demme spoke generic footage of third world countries and how this creates a disconnect He brought up the importance of essentially bringing the world closer together by way of sharing culture through film.
The real treasure of the morning though, was a screening of a documentary film by Hamid Rahmanian and Melissa Hibbard, entitled The Glass House. This story follows four young Iranian girls who participate in a unique rehabilitation center in Tehran. The film is remarkable in many ways, most being how much the filmmakers capture both the vulnerability and courage that exist in each one of these girls. There was obviously an amazing trust built, for the camera ventures into the heart of the rehabilitation center, the streets of Tehran and the girl’s home lives. It’s their homes that tell the real stories. All are terribly dysfunctional, some in ways difficult for Americans to fathom, but most are abusive situations that know no cultural boundaries. What is great about The Glass House (similar to Sisters in Law by Kim Longinotto, see below blog) is the hope, both the characters and their audience are left with. Although there isn’t a happy ending, feel good package for everyone, most of the young women do come out ahead and there is a definite sense of hope not just for these characters, but for the female gender, who always have an uphill climb ahead of them, regardless of where they live. A young lady fiercely strives to record a rap album in a country where it is illegal for women to sing at all, which is one example of an interesting theme that runs underneath all the girl's stories. The cultural battle between tradition and what is now referred to as globalization is clearly ever present here and a very topical subject in general.
I was able to stay for the follow up discussion panel Establishing The Safety Net for Girls in Traditional Societies, which consisted of the filmmakers and representatives from both the Omid Foundation and Vital Voices. It was definitely mainly a filmmaker audience as most of the questions were for Mr. Rahmanian and Ms. Hibbard, but Mr. Rahmanian’s points ran from shooting technique to a filmmaker’s responsibility toward their subjects.
I would have like to stay for the rest of the program, but there's just never enough time in a day for everything. What I got out of this event? A further understanding of how film can elicit positive change and foster activism, how a filmmakers can capture a great story while remaining respectful to their subject, and how the United Nations would like to be helpful in the process but doesn’t want to give you any money to do it. Such is the life of a person in the film production business.