At the end of last month I attended the Movies That Matter Festival in The Hague. I didn’t find the time to write about it until now, but better late than never.
I found the festival a bit more modest than in previous years. But even then, I still didn’t get to see everything I wanted to see. It is a full time job to organize such an event and it is also a (temporary) full time job to attend everything.
Here is a bit of what I did see:
1. Eufrosina’s Revolution (directed by Luciana Kaplan, 2012) is a film about this genuine local ‘warrior’ from Santa María Quiegolani Mendoza, an indigenous Zapotec community in the remote and poor mountain area of Oaxaca, in southern Mexico. The film is not purposefully inspirational, but it does inspire by telling an universal story about tenacity and believing you can make a difference.
Eufrosina won the local election but her votes were cancelled because she was a woman. She didn’t accept defeat, she rang the public bells loud and pointed at this unfair process. She talked everywhere about what happened because what happened was nothing personal, it was the mark of a mentality that silences women. And she kept doing the good work, involving communities in debates and making projects and applying for funds to build houses. She put the community’s well-being on a higher place than her personal success. And personal success did come. In 2010, she was the first indigenous woman to be elected as delegate and president of the Congress for the National Action Party and her political career is still going up. But there’s a twist. In the film she has her doubts, she questions what she is doing sitting at meetings and just talking, when she is actually used to getting things done on the ground.
I really enjoyed the film, the message of her story goes beyond the borders of Mexico and beyond local circumstances to tell about what it means to lower your ego to become someone big, and actually become someone by doing good things.
Eufrosina came at the festival but unfortunately I missed her. She had to go back the day I watched the film. Luciana Kaplan, the director, was there for a Q&A after the screening. It was not the first time I saw people leaving right after the end of a film, but one of the times in which it was truly embarrassing because the room was small and she was there, a little bit uncomfortable. The presenter thought the ones leaving didn’t understand there was a Q&A coming so she told them. But they had understood. And left.
2. An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker ( directed by Danis Tanovic, 2013) is a fiction film that illustrates so well the circle of poverty. I wish it was a documentary. It would be the best documentary on the subject of poverty I saw in a while. A film that doesn’t squeeze feelings out of you but it makes you do so voluntarily.
The story is simple. Senada and Nazif live with their two daughters in Bosnia, in a small remote village. They are both Roma. He makes some money by picking iron and selling it somewhere. Their life is simple and modest, with small joys. The food Senada cooks. The two daughters. Having each other. There’s a certain sad beauty in this simplicity. This is not to romanticize poverty, but the quietness of the surroundings covered in snow, their relationship and the household life, the solidarity between them and their neighbors, they all create a feeling that life is in the details. And in small things.
But they definitely need more of everything, especially money. When Senada gets sick, there is so much concern in the few words they exchange and a certain acceptance that is really touching. They end up bringing Senada to the hospital with much effort and there’s nothing they can afford, no care, no medicine. Every contact with the hospital and any authority puts them in a position of humbleness. Because maybe that would do what their financial circumstances cannot allow. Her life is in danger and there is no option. And on top of that, their electricity is cut.
The film makes a point about how difficult it is to live in the circle of poverty where everything is so tight, and everything reinforces something else. Not being able to work means even less money, less money means even more trouble and unexpected events mess up the whole fragile equilibrium of expenses-time-money. And time, hand labor and few resources is all that is at hand, there’s nothing more such a family can chip in. Without more options, the outcome of every unexpected event is not in their hand.
The film has no music soundtrack, the scenes are often slow but the feeling of it kept me there. I really loved the ending, when they do find something new to chip in, the last option to solve Senada’s problems. And then the circle begins rolling again, even more tight.
Something good is that the director, Danis Tanovic, had a Masterclass at the Festival which I missed, unfortunately.
3. Disruption (directed by Pamela Yates, 2014) is a documentary that does something that I think no documentary should do. It takes a side, glorifies that side’s ‘heroes’ and pretends to give a balanced account. Disruption is not a film about poverty and change among women in Latin America. It is a film about Fundacion Capital, an organization with a new approach to poverty alleviation and empowerment. It’s about how other approaches failed and theirs doesn’t.
Without a doubt Fundacion Capital’s work is meaningful, important and has some new elements, but what I don’t like is that the film doesn’t make explicit that this is what it does, push their approach further. The film focuses on the stories of several women who’s life improved from the program.
I also don’t like the dramatic close-ups in the film, especially the ones of Fundacion’s Capital employees working in the field, their face comprehending and empathizing with every suffering they encounter. The film talks about other programs for poverty alleviation but it does so only to highlight the merits of Fundacion Capital. It is subtle, but it is there. I truly believe Fundacion Capital does good work and their approach and ideas are constructive. What I don’t like is going to see a film different from what it said it was.
Another issue the film has is that it takes for granted the audience’s understanding of concepts such as ‘conditional transfers’ and everything related to the system that allows women to save money and the questions at the end of the screening showed that many people in the audience didn’t understand the basics of the programs. Concepts like ‘financial inclusion’ sound good but they should be cut in pieces small enough for the audience to comprehend.
The film made me wonder if good intentions and good work can justify such a film. It is a bit like those humanitarian campaigns that claim higher numbers of victims and people affected by something, for them to get more money. That money is used for good causes, but does the cause excuse the means?
To end, I am really sorry I missed Dangerous Acts Starring the Unstable Elements of Belarus, a film I missed at IDFA as well. Andrei Sannikov was there for several talks. He is the man who came second in the presidential elections in Belarus. After the elections he and other presidential candidates took part in a mass demonstration and further on he was arrested and sentenced to jail for 15 years. He now lives in the UK after he received amnesty in 2012.
I saw him in a talk show together with Inna Shevchenko from Femen and I simply couldn’t understand how the two can be mixed together in a talk about peaceful protesting. I am not a fan of Femen, I think it’s an organization with no particular goals, gluing itself to the idea of fighting against something so broad such as ‘patriarchy’ in order to surf the public and the media’s thirst for scandal. And seeing Inna Shevchenko, I found her rather inarticulate and far from charismatic or inspirational. She spoke about peaceful protests, making a difference and all those big things people talk about at such festivals. I would have liked to ask her about Femen’s latest stunt, with the girls pulling their panties down and peeing on Ukraine’s ex-president photo in front of the Ukrainian Embassy. I was curious how does peaceful protesting and making a difference can be related to such a degrading act. She has standard circular answers for any question. She was there to put herself in a bright light. So there was no space for questions.