Between 26 and 28 May, the Human Rights and Arts Film Festival visited Alice Springs. Over three nights, three feature films and a selection of Australian short films played under the cold open skies at the Olive Pink Botanical Gardens. Having attended a previous HRAFF in Melbourne, I was interested in seeing the shortened travelling version of the festival.
Friday began with three short Australian films: Jacob, The Kings and The Game. The first, Jacob, was one of the best-shot short dramas I’ve seen in a while. Set on a station in Central Australia in the 1940s, it shows the affect of a birth on an Aboriginal stockman and his family, the baby being born white as a result of an alluded rape. Told ‘in language’, the film transports you to that era, exploring the disempowerment Aboriginal woman must have gone through. The second film, The Kings, was a short about two visually blind parents raising a visually blind child, while the third, The Game, was a montage of interviews with African youth in the Western Suburbs of Melbourne talking about racial prejudice and the police.
The Feature film Moving to Mars followed the journey of two Burmese refugee families as they moved from a refugee camp on the Thai-Burma border to Sheffield, UK. Tracing the journey over the course of a year or more, the film shows the families and their lives in the camp, as they prepare to leave their home of the past decade. The film follows the families as they adjust to life in Sheffield and having to find work. At one stage, one of the father’s talks about the difficulty he faces walking down the street because it means someone will address him in English, but he cannot reply. The film ends nine months later, returning to see how the adjustment has gone. As one may well expect, the children adjusted to life in Sheffield more successfully than their parents.
Saturday night saw three more shorts and the feature film, 12th and Delaware. Unfortunately I missed the shorts but I did get along to the feature, which was a cinéma-vérité style film based on the corner of two streets where an abortion clinic and a pro-life pregnancy-care clinic are located. The film follows the workers, the pro-life supporters and the women who go to those clinics. The main focus of the film, though, is on the pro-life supporters and the tactics they use when talking to women and teenage girls about unwanted pregnancy. As good as it is in creating a natural environment (not once do you hear or feel the presence of a narrator or cameraperson), the film did nothing but reinforce my opinions on the subject matter. It made me wonder why this film was chosen. I may be wrong, but part of choosing a film for a festival like the HRAFF is to help educate on issues that people are not aware of; if the film failed to do that, perhaps another film should have been chosen in its place.
Sunday saw three more shorts and the Afghan feature I was worth 50 sheep. The first short film was a reflective piece by an Iranian women (now living in Melbourne) about the Iranian Green Revolution of 2009. The second film, The Keepers, was based in Ceduna and focused on the life of a 16-year-old Aboriginal girl, Jacinta Haseldine. Her family history was interspersed with information about the impact of mining and the significance of cultural protection, offering an insight into a group of traditional owners campaigning around the mining industry, revealing just how Native Title and mining agreements can split families. The third in this series was a short drama based on the life of a young rent boy in Sydney and his relationship with a Salvation Army officer. It was a film that only ever seemed to touch the surface of the darker subject matter, with an ending that anyone who has ever worked in social services would a find a little farfetched.
The feature film, I was worth 50 sheep, followed the life of a 16-year-old Afghan girl in the process of getting a divorce from her middle-aged husband after six years of abuse. Starting in a safe-house, it follows her attempts at getting the divorce, the trials and tribulations of the court process and her recounting of some of the more severe beatings she’d received. Meanwhile, her 10-year-old stepdaughter is to be sold to a man in his fifties for 50 sheep. There was a moment watching the film in which I realised how far traditional beliefs still need to change in Afghanistan. The young woman’s stepfather, who was supportive of his stepdaughter’s divorce, described how he had to sell his daughter because that was tradition in Afghanistan, and without that, he had little way of earning money. As the film points out, this issue stems from the fact that women in Afghanistan still do not have level of access to education that they deserve; and that women are – to this day – still treated as a commodity for the family to trade. Watching this film made me realise how slow progress can be and how important films and festivals, such as the Human Rights and Arts Film Festival, are in raising awareness of such issues.