Tag Archives: filmmaking

Shared Experience: Document Human Rights Film Festival 2018

With all the political upheaval going on in the UK at the moment, it is tempting to want to just hide under a duvet and sleep throught it all. However, once we look outward and explore people’s lives outside our own living environment, we will often find astonishing parallels and might discover a shared human experience we didn’t realise existed.

Document Human Rights Film Festival Glasgow has been around for a decade and a half and this year’s edition took place from 30 November until 2 December 2018 at the Scottish Youth Theatre in the heart of Merchant City. The festival presented 40 feature length and short documentaries – many prize-winning and all inspirational – from around the world plus a number of intriguing discussions with international filmmakers. As every film was only shown once, it was a tough choice, but I still managed to make it to a good range of screenings, which were all fascinating in their own way.

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On Friday night I picked a special screening curated by Creative Interruptions of restored films from the time of the Palestinian revolution, which was followed by a Q&A with Iraqi filmmaker Kassem Hawal. My own knowledge of this part of the world is fairly limited and it was interesting to see that the PLO with their generally military approach to conflict also worked on preserving the local culture, which included a filmmaking unit, aiming to keep alive a collective memory, so important to the survival of any culture. It was a glimpse into a world which the other side tried their best to hide from the people and the wider world. Listening to Hawal talk about his own experience trying to make and distribute films about difficult or controversial topics and a limited budget reminded me how little we really know about non-Western cultures unless we really do our own research. Document Film Festival was therefore a welcome window into an often hidden, multifaceted world.

My first film on day two was a nearly 2.5 hour long meditative piece by experimental American filmmaker Ben Russell entitled ‘Good Luck’, which explores the differences and similarities of two groups of men working in the mining trade in vastly different conditions in Serbia and Suriname and was shot on Super 16mm film. As there were some tech problems (later resolved) and as I was feeling pretty rotten because of a cold, I decided to leave after about half an hour, but sincerely hope there will be another chance to see this film. It was received very well at the festival.

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I returned to the Scottish Youth Theatre later that night for a screening of Chaos by Syrian filmmaker Sarah Fattahi, who is currently based in Vienna. The film portrays three Syrian women living in exile with very different stories but united in their experience of trauma and all the complexity it involves. Sadly, a workshop with the filmmaker scheduled for the same day had to be cancelled, but we were lucky to have a skype Q&A with Fattahi touching on the topics covered in the film. I was really impressed by Fattahi’s work and approach and will definitely keep an eye out for any future films.

The last film I saw was probably my favourite and was very moving from start to finish. In ‘A Woman Captured’ filmmaker Bernadett Tuza-Ritter had unprecedented access to the life of Hungarian woman Marish for a year and a half and followed her from a situation of what can only be described as modern slavery (like an estimated 45 million people worldwide!) to standing on her own two feet and forging a positive future for herself and her family. I was close to tears several times when I saw Marish getting treated literally worse than any animal and the difficulties she faced escaping this terrible situation. In times where cuts to social budgets are the norm in this country, too, it begs the question what we are doing in our own communities to avoid such terrible abuse. Not easy viewing, but with (luckily) a hopeful ending, it motivated me to keep fighting against injustice. There are certainly plenty of opportunities for all of us to do so.

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After an empowering weekend of films and discussions I highly recommend checking out this small but important film festival, which boasted an incredibly dense programme of brilliant documentaries you won’t see in your local Cineworld. Yes, it can be difficult to take a closer look at issues around the world most of us are lucky not to have to deal with on a daily basis. However, those you care about human rights will instantly find their tribe at events like Document. It was easy to get talking to other attendees and the dedicated and friendly festival producers and volunteers (see pic above), many of them students of human rights and similar degrees. I had never been to the venue before, but will definitely look out for future events there as it is in such a central location and had a nice vibe about it.

I’m already looking forward to Dardishi Festival, a new feminist zine and arts festival happening in Glasgow from 8-10 March 2019. Their fundraising booklet with women’s writing and art (see below) is really beautiful and partnering with Document was a great idea. It’s so good to see smaller festivals supporting each other. They often get less press than bigger events with larger marketing budgets, but like with Document, the programme quality is often at least as high. In fact, finding local festivals and helping them thrive could be your new year’s resolution, how about that?!

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Highway to Adventure: The Adventure Travel Film Festival 2017

The Adventure Travel Film Festival, which took place from 11-13 August 2017, had been on my to do list for a few years now and I finally managed to pay it a visit. It is a film festival showing mostly independently produced outdoor, adventure sports and travel documentaries combined with camping just a tube and a bus ride away from Central London at Mill Hill School. The annual event, which also has sister festivals in Scotland  (September) and Australia (February), is run by adventurers and filmmakers Austin Vince and Lois Pryce and apart from the extensive film programme offers talks by well-known explorers, workshops (first aid on the road, medicinal plants, bushcraft, spoon whittling) and even motorbike trial lessons.

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I managed to make it to two of the three festival days, but even though the films were repeated at different times it was really difficult to choose between them as they all sounded really enticing. Some of them also had filmmaker Q&As at the end, like Liemba (a journey on Africa’s oldest steamship), whose director Julie Clavier came over from Paris to present her film. The first film I caught was called Man with a Pram and featured Swedish adventurer and now family man Mikael Strandberg who set out on a two-month walking journey from Manchester to London together with his two-year old daughter Dana and assistant Georgia Villalobos. Alternating between staying with friends and acquaintances and wild camping along the way, the three encounter an intriguing cast of characters, old and young, friendly and odd, on their journey to figuring out what the English are really like as a nation. Definitely one to watch if you think travelling with children is (nearly) impossible, just put them in a pram, pack some nappies and off you go!

This was followed by a triple bill of shorter films: Kapp to Cape, a three-month high-speed cycle journey from Norway to South Africa by British Iranian Reza Pakravan; Two Bedouins, A Camel & An Irishman follows Leon McCarron and his local guide Musallem Faraj into the Sinai desert where they explore the fascinating landscape and learn about the traditional way of life of the nomads; In The Eyes of God Latvian extreme kayaker Tomass Marnics and a handful of his friends tackle the most dangerous rivers in remote Kyrgyzstan.

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Unlike at most other festivals I’ve been to, the venue provided all the food (and I’m assuming they don’t allow outside vendors), so if you’re planning on attending the whole festival, I highly recommend booking your meal plan in advance (this covered cooked breakfasts on Saturday and Sunday as well as dinners on Friday and Saturday night). As I wasn’t staying the whole weekend, I brought my own snacks and supplemented them with coffees and sandwiches from the indoor café (plus there was a BBQ, which included veggie kebabs and veggie sausages, for extra food options). Talking of practical things, there was a shower and toilet block not too far from the camping areas as well as portaloos and indoor toilets in the venues and plenty of drinking water available. I also picked some lovely blackberries right behind my tent, which made for a delicious foraged snack.

After dinner, it was time to attend a talk and the one by native Sri Lankan Dylan Wickrama was very inspiring. He decided to tackle the Pan American Highway on his motorbike and build his own raft to cover the Darién Gap (where no road exists) between Central and South America, resulting in a 30-day solo boat journey (bike on board), which made for a profound experience, including meeting a pod of inquisitive dolphins. It was a beautiful story illustrated by videos and photos from the trip.

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As the weather was quite windy and cloudy on Friday night, the Starlight Screening, which would have normally happened outside, was moved to the sports hall with hundreds of chairs set up for us. The whole festival was efficiently run by the organisers and dozens of friendly volunteers like Kathy and James, who checked me in on Friday afternoon. The feature on Friday night was called DugOut and was a film by and about Ben Sadd and James Trundle, who ventured into the Amazon enlisting a local man to help them fell a tree, turn it into a dugout canoe and then take it downstream for a river adventure. The film is a beautifully made testament to what can be achieved when you have an idea, follow through with it and are open to learning from the locals thereby discovering a whole new world and skills which our Western societies have largely lost.

After a lovely bluegrass live set by The Jolenes (including festival director and ace banjo player Lois Pryce) by the campfire on Friday evening and a peaceful night in the happy tent, the first sessions of the day started at 10am (sadly clashing with the morning yoga class). I picked the How to Make a Film of Your Adventure by festival director Austin Vince talk, who explained in an hour and a half the rules, pitfalls and ideas around making a TV-worthy travel and adventure documentary. So do remember to work with a shot list, vary your sequences (bits of story) and transitions (bits to link the parts of the story, i.e. maps, local flora and fauna, day counters with commentary and/or music), include children, older people and animals and aim to show interesting places, artefacts and experiences plus try and shoot only what you need.

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I also watched Paddle For The North, a Yukon canoeing adventure which, to my delight, included two puppies, Taiga (a golden retriever) and Zephyr (a wire-haired pointer), who made the already intriguing film even more fun to watch. I somehow managed to see a lot of water-based films during the weekend, another one was Rowed Trip describing Canadians Julie and Colin Angus’ seven months rowing and cycling trip from John O’Groats in Scotland all the way to Aleppo in Syria in 2008, particularly poignant to see given the current political situation.

The final event I attended was a talk by explorer Benedict Allen who, together with BBC Security Correspondent Frank Gardener in his wheelchair (he was shot by terrorists), embarked on a quest to see Birds of Paradise in Papua New Guinea. It was another good example of how having a dream and following through with it is what adventure is all about. And this is what this festival is really good at. Inspiring people to turn their dreams into an adventure, learn from the experts and just go for it. But don’t worry, you don’t have to be an adventurous type to enjoy the event. In fact, the festival was definitely on the quieter side and is suitable for families, more laid-back folks (many of them into motorbikes) and anyone with an interest in travelling and filmmaking.

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Disclaimer: Life is a Festival was provided with a weekend pass for the 2017 festival in exchange for a personal review of the event and mentions on social media. Opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily the same as the official views of the event organisers. All photography used in this blog post was taken by Life is a Festival.