The Uncondemned (2016) Review.

Originally written for and posted on Film Inquiry.

The Uncondemneddirected by Michele Mitchell and Nick Louveltells the story of a group of young international lawyers and activists who fought to have rape recognised and prosecuted as a war crime. Underfunded, inexperienced and overwhelmed, they faced huge hurdles as they pursued their first case against a small town mayor in Rwanda.

THE UNCONDEMNED: A Heartbreaking Real-Life Courtroom Drama That's Slow To Start

Crimes of war against humanity had not been prosecuted since post-WWII, and surviving witnesses feared to come forward amongst death threats against them and their families. The film documents the brave Rwandan women who came forward to testify and win justice for the crimes committed against them.

A Bit of Context

Despite rape being recognised as an international war crime since 1919, no one had ever been prosecuted for it prior to 1997 during the trial of Jean-Paul Akayesu, which was part of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. However, even though rape during war has been a recurrent feature of wars throughout history, it has always been looked upon as a by-product of conflict, and not an effective military policy.

THE UNCONDEMNED: A Heartbreaking Real-Life Courtroom Drama That's Slow To Start
source: Abramorama

As explained in the documentary, these systematic sexual assaults are something that destroys not just the individual but the familial fabric, the social fabric and the economic fabric of a society. It is something that is used against a population to make it submit. Due to the tireless efforts of the men and women shown in this film, rape was tried for the first time as a war crime and as an aspect of genocide.

Legal Jargon and a Dull First-Half

The structure is in the style of courtroom dramas, moving between archival footage, sound from the testimony and court proceedings, as well as recent interviews with the integral people that are part of the operation. They describe the push-backs from the tribunal to include rape as a war crime charge for the trial of Jean-Paul Akayesu.

Whilst some of it was very interesting, I found the first half of The Uncondemned difficult to follow. I had little knowledge of the events that occurred in Rwanda in the 1990s other than being aware of some of the terrible events that had occurred against the Tutsi people. The documentary offers little information about the events leading up to the tribunal and subsequent trial. Many different faces and places are mentioned without much contextualisation that would help the viewer understand the twists and turns of this plot coherently. There are no names or titles overlayed during the modern interview sequences that could help you grasp who is who, and I believe that would have helped a lot with getting to grips with the story. A lot of legal jargon is used, which made it difficult for someone with little to no legal knowledge understand what was going on.

Heartbreakingly Human Conclusion

The last half is where The Uncondemned reaches its climax – during the buildup we are introduced to four Rwandan women who have formed a support group for the rape victims of their village spurred by the victim herself, Godelieve Mukasarasi, and some of the lawyers and activists supporting the case. She realised that it was killing the women to be silent about their trauma, due to culturally not talking about their bodies and the shame associated with the violent assaults they had endured. You immediately are rooting for these women to testify against the mayor Jean-Paul Akayesu and to break the cycle of silence and shame for these victims, especially when they are flown to speak in front of the UN. It makes you feel uplifted and inspired by these amazing women.

Overall, this is a subject matter that outshines its documentary. It lacks contextualisation for the interviewees and makes the first half hard to follow. However, it is the brave women and the inspiring conclusion of The Uncondemned that makes it a heartbreaking, human, and empowering watch, and it reveals an important part of forgotten history.

Do you think it’s important for a documentary to give you the context of the subject matter? Or do you think you should do some research before you watch it? 

The Uncondemned was released on October 21 and 28, 2016 in NYC and LA. 

 

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The Fight For Freedom of Expression: Sonita and Female Empowerment Through Music

Originally Commissioned by The Time is Now and posted here.

“Let me scream I am tired of the silence” raps Sonita in her internationally viewed music video filmed as part of the new documentary Sonita by documentary filmmaker Rokhsareh Ghaemmaghami. The subject of the documentary; her name self-defined in the film as a “swallow, a migrant bird.” Afghan-born, Sonita fled to Iran as a child with part of her family to escape the Taliban. She works in a refugee community centre as a cleaner and studies there with a group of other girls. Sonita is a talented young rapper inspired by western influences such as Rihanna. When she is 15, her mother visits her in Iran to tell her that she is being sold as a bride for $9,000 in order for her brother to pay for a bride of his own. The relationship between self-expression and female empowerment here is incredibly important, Sonita raps around poverty, women’s rights and her own struggles as an Afghan refugee.queensofsyria

This is similar to documentary Queens of Syria by Yasmin Fedda as both films use a personal filmmaking approach that ends up exploring the relationship between the female filmmaker and the subject. In Sonita, the filmmaker is constantly encouraging her to use her voice and to express how she is feeling and blurs the line between a passive filmmaker and an active participant in the events that unfold. Both in Sonita and Queens of Syria women share their experiences through performance. In Queens of Syria, a group of refugee women in Jordan rehearse and perform a modified version of the Euripides’ play Trojan Women, to tell their stories and empower each other by standing together in the face of all the pain they have gone through. “I have a scream I want the whole world to hear…But I wonder if it will be heard?” However, throughout Queens of Syria, many women drop out of the play and are reluctant to take part due to their faith, culture and community pressures that don’t wish them to express themselves in this way as women, as it is seen as detrimental to their family lives. However, in many ways, Sonita is the opposite. She often happily rebels against her society and her gender role through her rap music and questions the norms of her culture asking “what will happen if I sing?” when told by family it is indecent for a woman to do so. She is not ashamed nor does she shy away from writing and performing songs about uncomfortable subjects such as poverty and the Afghan tradition of selling women as brides.

Similarly to the protagonist in animated memoir Persepolis (2007); also set in Iran, Sonitadocuments a struggle for identity. Both Sonita and the protagonist, Marjane in Persepolisare fiercely spirited and outspoken as well as in their youth using music to both escape their reality and confront it. Both using music to challenge their societies and their gender roles as Islamic women in Iran. However, Persepolis is set much earlier than Sonita. In the 1980s/90s, the young Marjane uses punk – even wearing an iconic handmade jacket with the slogan “punk is not dead” in the streets of Iran, as her medium of expressing herself. She risks her life and freedom purchasing western music tapes on the black market to feel a sense of identity in a society that oppresses her. These tapes are described as “symbols of Western decadence”, which is something that in Sonita, the young rapper aspires to. She spends time scrapbooking her perfect life and superimposing her face on images of Rihanna. However, for Marjane, music has its limits. It is not the saviour of her identity struggles or a full escape from her current life. Her punk music only works as a young girl in Iran, once she is sent away to Europe she no longer finds the need to rebel or seek out empowerment through music.

persepolis

Sonita takes a very different approach to using music to express yourself and empower yourself as a woman in comparison to more western films about this subject. Ladies & Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains made in 1982 at the height of the punk movement but before the Riot Grrrl movement took off, shows a teenage female punk band fronted by Corinne Burns, an angry, disillusioned girl using music to deal with her emotions surrounding her mother’s death. Throughout the film, girls thank her for speaking what they were thinking or what they were afraid to say. In a rant after a poorly received show she says to the women “be yourselves, These guys laugh at you. They’ve got such big plans for the world. but they don’t include us!” She spends the film carving out a place for her and her band in the music scene ignoring the patronising advice of the male bands she is touring with and empowers herself and the women around her expressing herself her own way.

Similarly, Swedish film We Are the Best! also set in the 1980s but made in 2013, follows a band of misfit young girls who form a punk rock band (with no experience in playing music) as a means of escape from their lives and to express their feelings and identities. They are androgynous and reject their femininity but are often taunted –  sarcastically called the “prettiest girls in town”. Music gives them an outlet against a world that makes them feel like they don’t belong. This is not a world away from Sonita, who uses her rap music to get her voice heard and by doing so uplifts the voices of the silent and the abused. Whilst Sonita’s struggles include seeking justice against sexist traditions and laws by wanting to stay in school and rap; which is illegal for her to do in Iran both Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains and We Are The Best! do the opposite – rejecting certain privileges such as school and supportive peers due to angst and disillusionment with their lives. These films are also set in a different era, where punk is the method of expressing these emotions. Sonita is a much more contemporary way of looking at female empowerment through music using rap/hip-hop arguably the modern protest music form to express herself and empower women.

Something the protagonists share in all these films is a need for female self-expression. Wanting to share their experiences through music and uplift the women around them. Sonita is a fantastic modern tale of this and gives a voice to the women she wishes to empower through her music.

Sonita is in UK cinemas from 21st October.

The Hard Stop (2015) Review.

Directed by George Amponsah; and opening with the quote “A riot is the language of the unheard”- Martin Luther King Jr, The Hard Stop documents the events leading up to and the aftermath of the killing of Mark Duggan by London police in 2011 which sparked the huge unprecedented riots across the country.

thehardstop

Filming over 28 months, the film shows an insider look into the  lives of the people in London where young black people feel permanently persecuted by the police. Marcus Knox- Hooke who was blamed for instigating the riots and Kurtis Henville, childhood friends of Mark Duggan are the eyes and voice of this film describing the anger and frustration felt by them and their community at what they feel is an injustice to them. Henville is a big-talker, expressive and a hard worker whereas Knox-Hooke comes across as quieter but bitterly angry about what has happened. They are first shown in The Hard Stop as they drive through Tottenham, near the Broadwater Farm estate where Knox-Hooke, Henville and Duggan grew up. they neighbourhood is most well known for the death of a police officer during earlier London riots in 1985, which were also sparked by anger at police brutality against the black community. There is purposefully no attempt to show the side of the police officers involved in Mark Duggan’s death as this is a film about a very particular perspective, one which we are rarely shown in the media.

The Hard Stop is an important film in the time of the movement Black Lives Matter against Police Brutality. The film closes with a statistic stating that despite approximately 1,500 U.K. deaths following contact with the police since since 1990, not a single officer has been charged in any of these cases.It’s an emotionally charged film but an incredibly current analysis of racial politics in the UK.

Film Review Round Up Vol. 2

I’ve been catching up on some of the oscar nominated female led documentaries recently, here are some of my mini reviews.

girlintheriver

A Girl in The River: The Price of Forgiveness 

Directed by Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy (Song of Lahore, Saving Face), this film won the Academy Award for best short documentary film. Set in Pakistan, Saba is the victim of an attempted honour killing committed by her father and uncle for marrying without parental consent. The documentary follows her story and the legal proceedings that followed. The story is both human and political, showing the unfair and sexist legal process and the pressure upon her to forgive her attempted murderers (which would grant them their freedom). Throughout the film Saba is shown struggling with her decision, her community and village elders demanding she make peace despite it putting her in danger. Overall, A Girl in The River: The Price of Forgiveness is both compelling and infuriating.

the hunting ground

The Hunting Ground

Directed by Kirby Dick, the film explores the epidemic of sexual assault on college campuses in the United States, the ways in which the college’s try to hide it and the effect it has on the victims. The majority of the film is young men and women describing their experiences at college cut together with horrifying statistics and statements from college current and former staff. Whilst it has some questionable statistics present in the film the raw emotional core is one of anger and betrayal by the college system one which I believe can be felt here in the UK as well. The Hunting Ground is a battle cry against the colleges who have tried to keep these women silent and is a compelling documentary to watch.

Work Update: “Zinester” and “Lunch Date”

ZineDoc.Still002

I am currently working on a short documentary called Zinester about the feminist Zine community in Manchester. I have already finished shooting it and I am currently in post-production and should be finishing it early next week. I am directing, filming and editing the project and it features Zine makers such as Ingrid Boring, Cherry Styles, Seleena Daye and Natalie Bradbury.

The other project I am working on is Lunch Date (Working Title) on which I am the producer. We finished shooting the short narrative film last week and we are in post-production with the project.

It has been great working on both projects and to practice the skills I will need for the graduate film in 2016.

She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry (2014) Review.

On Friday the 21st of August I attended a screening of She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry at the London Feminist Film Festival in the Rio Cinema. Directed by Mary Dore, this documentary celebrates the almost forgotten history of the women’s liberation movement from 1966-1971.

Shes-Beautiful-When-Shes-Angry-Screenshot

She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry is a mix  of modern day interviews weaved together with archival footage of protests, meetings and political speeches. Whilst it mostly focuses on gender it also touches on the intersectionality of race and lesbianism and the conflicts that did arise through these issues within the feminist movement and continue to today. The best thing about this documentary is that it encapsulates the spirit of the 1960s-70s without romanticising the time period, it is both funny, infuriating and heartbreaking at times, particularly when discussing the illegal Jane Collective who helped thousands of women have safe abortions. I found the film particularly interesting as most of what was shown was completely knew to me, it’s scary really how much of women’s history can be lost.

The film is both exhilarating in energy and poignant about highlighting these issues in a modern context and even points out that some rights gained during this time period are now being taken away in the USA (for example, reproductive rights).  As discussed in the panel after the screening the film did have some problematic elements, barely covering racial tensions in the feminist movement and leaving out trans women altogether. I do sympathise however, as this was a huge topic to cover in a feature length film.

Overall, I very much enjoyed the film and hope it gets a UK distributor so more people can see it!

The Tale of The Princess Kaguya Review.

Another farewell film from Studio Ghibli as Isao Takahata (Grave of the Fireflies, Only Yesterday) calls The Tale of the Princess Kaguya his final film. Today I went to a double bill screening at the Cornerhouse with Morayo to see The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (English subtitled version), and Isao Takahata and His Tale of the Princess Kaguya which is a documentary about the making of the film.

kaguya

Based on a famous 10th Century Japanese folktale titled The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, which is considered the oldest existing Japanese prose. The Tale of The Princess Kaguya centres around a tiny princess who is found by a bamboo cutter inside the bamboo, she turns into a baby and is raised by him and his wife. It’s a tragic story about life and regret that is very much rooted in Japanese culture.

Like Hayao Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises it was a very personal project for Takahata. The animation was beautiful, I’ve never seen anything like it. They used messy, rough lined sketches to animate the characters and bring them to life against watercoloured backgrounds. Breaking away from Studio Ghibli’s usual cel animation technique, Isao Takahata explained in the documentary that this was to give the animation passion. The style definitely worked for this film as they could show the character of Princess Kaguya with so much spirit and life. The film is completely unique in its style and mesmerising to watch. The documentary was incredibly interesting, it showed the animation process and all the set backs production had. The film took 8 years to make because of how different the animation is in this film but they definitely ended up making something special.

I loved the character of the Princess Kaguya. She was such an interesting character, longing to live life to the full. She, as a character was very relatable and had a lot of depth and personality which was great to see. She spends much of the film locked up in frustrating traditions and customs that she is desperate to escape from. The whole film was very human centred, it was about human emotion, life and desire.

Overall, I really enjoyed this film. It’s very different to other Ghibli films but very beautiful.

Best Worst Movie (2009) Review.

Best-worst-movieThe “Best Worst Movie” is a documentary about the making of the film “Troll 2” (1990) and how it went from being named the “worst film of all time” to a widely popular cult classic. It was made by Michael Paul Stephenson who was a child actor in the film itself. The documentary mainly follows dentist-by-day George Hardy who became a cult star due to the sudden popularity of “Troll 2” in the past few years, 20 years after the film was originally released with little response.

Whilst I have not seen “Troll 2” the documentary tells basically all you need to know about it to fully enjoy this strange cult classic phenomena. Directed by Italian filmmaker Claudio Fragasso, the film was originally titled “Goblin” But was then changed to “Troll 2” to give it more comercial value despite having no connection to “Troll” (1986) and not even mentioning the word “Troll” throughout the film. From the clips shown in the documentary the film looks hilariously bad. From the acting to the costumes even the plot line and dialogue. None of it connected, and none of it making any sense.

The documentary is a great look into the making of a cult classic. It reiterates many times that “Troll 2” is a bad film, and there’s no reason that it should be this popular. But somehow it is. I think there’s something very interesting about what attracts people to genuinely bad films, there’s obvious aspects such as comedy and making fun but what’s different about a bad film in comparison to say a bad novel is that dozens of people were involved in the making of it. This isn’t just one persons creation, lots of people came together and created something terrible. Which possibly just adds to the hilarity of the concept of bad films.

There are points in the doumentary that do make you feel  bad for all the laughing. Most of the actors in the film have never worked again, there is even one point in which Connie Young who played the daughter in “Troll 2” knows that if  at an audition someone recognises her from “Troll 2” she knows she is not getting the part. That must definitely be  a frustrating thing  for her to be haunted by a role she played 20 years ago when she was a teenager. Not to mention that the director, Claudio Fragasso completely believes that he made a good film. As someone who wants to make films I did sympathise with him, it must be difficult for your project to be laughed at when you truly believed in it.

All in all, I did thoroughly enjoy the documentary. It was funny, thoughtful and interesting. I recommend!

Blackfish (2013) Review

This is a documentary by Gabriela Cowperthwaite about the Orcas in captivity at Seaworld, the documentary went viral on the internet reaching a huge audience of (in particular) young people. This meant that these issues were being discussed at great length through the mediums of social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. One of the most interesting things about this documentary is that it has got a variety of people thinking about whether animals, particularly Orcas and Dolphins due to the other viral documentary “The Cove” (2009) should be in captivity and should be performing stunt shows at amusement parks around the world. Blackfish follows an Orca called Tilikum who has killed 3 trainers in his lifetime. The Documentary explains the cruel captivity of these Whales and how this can effect the animals psychologically. It suggests that Tilikum’s captivity essentially drove him mad and led to three people’s deaths. Blackfish goes on to show how Seaworld tried to cover this up, blaming the trainers each time for their accidents. Blackfish is a very thrilling film, it has interviews from the people who captured whales in the wild and former Seaworld trainers. It definitely has an agenda in persuading people that Orcas should not be kept in captivity so this has to be kept in mind (even if I, personally agree with this). Shortly after this Documentary went viral, Seaworld replied saying that:

“We object to Blackfish because its two central premises are wrong: (1) that life at SeaWorld is harmful for killer whales and for trainers working with these animals, and (2) that SeaWorld has attempted to cover up the facts surrounding the tragic death of trainer Dawn Brancheau in 2010, as well the history of Tilikum, the killer whale involved in that accident.  Nothing could be further from the truth. To make these ultimately false and misleading points, the film conveys falsehoods, manipulates viewers emotionally, and relies on questionable filmmaking techniques to create “facts” that support its point of view.  ” 

http://seaworld.com/en/truth/truth-about-blackfish/?from=Top_Nav <– the rest can be found here.

However, I think the question should be asked that if Blackfish really was lying the way Seaworld claims wouldn’t Seaworld have sued the filmmakers?

All in all, this is an incredibly interesting documentary and I highly recommend it.