Refugees, abortion debates and Afghan women’s rights: A Human Rights and Arts Film Festival review

Human Rights Film FestivalBetween 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.

I-was-worth-50-sheep4The 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.

Scott Foyster

Scott Foyster lives in Mpartnwe/Alice Springs where he writes and collects stories to share. He is one of the editors of Wai, an independent quarterly national newspaper on social jusice and environmental issues around the country/region, and is also one half of Black Kite Press, an independent press that is currently working on it's first publication.

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  1. If fifty years ago the U.S. had adopted a policy of withdrawing support of regimes that are abusive to women (no “cultural” excuses), we’d be faced with a far less grim situation now.

  2. Admittedly I haven’t seen 12th and Delaware, but I can assure you that the topic is important. Women’s rights, particularly in the States, are under relentless attack, and women are now losing access to safe abortions around the US – a right supposedly enshrined in their federal law.

    I don’t think we should underestimate the consequences of not covering abortion under Medicaid and defunding Planned Parenthood. If you live in a state like Ohio, where there are NO abortion providers, and you can’t afford time off work to travel interstate for a consultation, and then get more time off to return after that state’s legally specified ‘waiting time’, your solutions are limited.

    These pro-life clinics are responsible for exploiting vulnerability and making a choice that is difficult for many women, impossible. Which is their purpose. If people don’t know these clinics exist (and they don’t because they regularly turn to them for consultation on abortion), isn’t that reason enough to include a film about them in a human rights festival?

    Before abortion was legal in the States, backyard abortions were the highest cause of death in women; in Australia, the second.

    Apologies for the rant, Scott, but, IMO, this is a significant, ongoing issue.

    1. that’s okay jack. I think its an important issue that needs to be covered.

      I’m just not sure though that 12th and Delwarre does cover it properly. None of the issues you raised are mentioned in the film.

      I think the film worked well in showing the inside workings of a pro-life pregnancy centre and the way the staff manipulate the women who attend those clinics but I’m not sure the film worked in placing the issue in a wider context. There was mention at the end of the film of the fact that there is 5 more pro-life clinics than abortion clinics but the issues you spoke about in Ohio were not mentioned.

      I don’t mean to belittle the issue of abortion and the right of women to have that choice. I think its important issue. Just wondering whether the film did enough to raise all the issues around it rather than just give an outside observation.

      I don’t know. Thanks for your reply

      1. Well as I said, I haven’t even seen the film! But I did see their earlier film Jesus Camp, and that was pretty unsettling.

        After reading your review, I watched an interview with the filmmakers. They seemed alarmed about the fact that these ‘clinics’ exist, and how effective and organised they are. Unfortunately, it doesn’t sound like these concerns were contextualised in the film.

        1. Also, must correct myself. I meant to use South Dakota as an example, not Ohio. While Ohio is facing much more restrictive abortion legislation at the moment, you can still get an abortion there. (Sorry, I’ve been reading too much on the topic lately and all the states and laws are burring into one.)

        2. I wasn’t aware of that link but now that you mentioned it it makes sense. The link between the church and the pregnancy centres is shown with a priest talking about abortion clinics being a new temple and makes an unsettling comment about the abortion table being an altar.

          Thinking more about it there are unsettling moments and it does expose and show these clinics.

          I’ve been thinking that maybe I was too curt in my review and that there’s layers to the film that are now being fleshed out more.

          1. You’re probably tired of this discussion … But I was just reading the Feminist Majority Foundation’s annual report on clinic violence in the States and Canada. They found a substantial increase in clinic violence in 2010, and concluded the report with:

            Moreover, the extremists’ tactics appear to have shifted toward the targeting of individuals, including the stalking of both doctors and clinic staff, in a clear effort to intimidate and create a climate of terror. Additionally, the significance and increased presence of Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs) was evident in the 2010 survey. Of the clinics surveyed, those located near a CPC were almost three times more likely to experience severe violence than those not near a CPC.

            The film is sounding more and more interesting. Thanks for the heads up.

            Btw, a few years ago I went to the Human Rights Film Festival at the Capitol in Melbourne. I saw a film about homeless children in Moscow that broke my heart, and I hadn’t yet worked up the courage to return. You’ve reminded me of what I’m missing.

  3. Not getting sick of the debate think it’s hoping me flesh out my thoughts on the film and see more of the complexities of the film.

    There was a part watching the 12th and Delwarre where I found myself yelling at the screen. It was when one of the protestors was stalking and following the car from the abortion clinic so that he could find the doctor and then public defame him. I found myself yelling that he was stalking and should have been arrested for what he was doing.

    In the film the doctors who perform the surgery where a sheet over there head to keep anyonmous as the arrive in the car park of the clinic.

    if you get the chance to watch the film i’d like what you think.

  4. Induced abortion has a long history and has been facilitated by various methods including herbal abortifacients, the use of sharpened tools, physical trauma, and other traditional methods. Contemporary medicine utilizes medications and surgical procedures to induce abortion. The legality, prevalence, cultural and religious status of abortion vary substantially around the world. Its legality can depend on specific conditions such as incest, rape, fetal defects, a high risk of disability, socioeconomic factors or the mother’s health being at risk. “:’..

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