Film festival explores human rights

by: Camille Wick – Staff Writer – [email protected]
Portraying human rights violations through the medium of film allows the audience to experience the information differently, said Charlotte Pate, president of the UNCA Amnesty International.
“Films in particular are very sensual,” Pate said. “You see into another world, and you get to hear it. It’s a deeper experience than just reading a book. It provides an insight that you might not get from a news article or a picture.”
The eighth Human Rights Film Festival, hosted by the UNC Asheville Amnesty International, depicted human rights violations across the world through film.
The festival did not take place the past two years.
“As a group, we decided to reinstate this tradition of the Human Rights Film Festival,” Pate said. “It used to be a very popular event not just for UNCA students, but from all of Western North Carolina we would get people traveling to come see it.”
This year’s festival took place Nov. 5 through last Friday, and was comprised of four films. The Invisible War and Bidder 70 were U.S.-based, Taking Root was Kenya-based and Brother Number One was set in Cambodia.
“We tried to balance it out with a couple hard-hitting ones and a couple inspirational ones,” Pate said. “We tried to decide, as a group, what kind of diversity we wanted in the films.”
UNCA Belk Distinguished Professor of political science Mark Gibney is the faculty adviser for the UNCA Amnesty International, and he discussed the importance of the films shown in the Human Rights Film Festival.
“In an important way, they place an emphasis on the human aspect of human rights,” Gibney said. “I find film is an important avenue for making human rights, especially violations of international human rights standards, real.”
Pate said she thought it was valuable to host the festival on a college campus.
“I think it’s very easy, when you’re in college, to live in this bubble,” Pate said.
“We, as a group, thought that it was a very valuable experience for people and just a different way to communicate these human rights violations by doing it through art.”
Pate said Amnesty International received about 10 preview films from the Human Rights Watch Traveling Film Festival, and they rated the films as a group.
“The one that I really wanted to contribute was actually not on the Human Rights watch list,” Pate said. “I saw (Taking Root) when I was studying abroad in India, and it was just really powerful, and so I did the work to get that film.”
Taking Root is about Wangari Maathai, a Kenyan woman who planted trees because she saw women around her did not have a sufficient resource of wood.
“Wangari saw these women around her, and she saw that they were struggling,” Pate said. “They didn’t have enough firewood. They didn’t have enough water. Their children were malnourished and getting very sick.”
Wangari identified a problem and decided to do what she could to fix it, Pate said.
“I think this is kind of a lovely way of taking your human rights into your own hands,” said Pate, a senior anthropology student. “That’s why I really love this one. In our country as well, it’s very easy to not do anything because we feel that it’s not our place because we feel like that’s the government’s job.”
Kelly Giarrocco, a UNCA senior economics student, attended the 2012 Human Rights Film Festival.
“I attended the film festival because I was interested in learning more about the Amnesty club at UNCA,” Giarrocco said. “I think watching films like Taking Root help us become more compassionate and empathetic global citizens.”
It’s important to be aware of these human rights violations because they are often overlooked in the world news, Giarrocco said.
“Documentaries such as this give an intimate and relatable perspective to issues such as human rights violations in Kenya,” Giarrocco said.
Gibney said his favorite film from this year’s festival was Bidder 70, which tells the story of Tim DeChristopher, a Utah native who committed an act of civil disobedience for what he considered to be for the greater good.
DeChristopher bid for land he could not afford in order to highlight the process of the sale, which led to his two-year imprisonment.
“The reason why I like the film so much is that it made me wonder whether I would be willing to sacrifice the life I lead for my political convictions,” Gibney said. “Perhaps it is a question we should all ask ourselves.”
If a film makes the viewers think, then it has done an important service, Gibney said.
“I think it’s been a very successful film festival,” Pate said. “I think it has made people think. There can be little worldview shifts in life, and I think that sometimes even an hour and a half film can change the way we view the world.”
The Human Rights Film Festival connects people because of the rights we all possess, Pate said.
“We’re all human beings, and we all have basic human rights,” Pate said. “They’re important for every person to know, not just those that are constantly being marginalized in their lives and being discriminated against. I think it’s incredibly empowering. I think it’s also incredibly humbling and incredibly connecting.”