Acoalition of international NGOs have chosen to commemorate the 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights with a slate of films that highlight the fronts where those rights are being threatened.
The screenings taking place during the first week of December at the Russian Cultural Center are dominated by 'NGO films,' an oft-disparaged genre that attracts a long list of criticisms: tepid political comment, a reliance on talking heads, creative decisions by committee and a crippling didactic bent.
In that aspect some of the films occasionally live up to expectation. In Nepal: A Life in Limbo, a documentary on the Bhutanese refugee situation, gorgeous and affecting footage is undercut with an odd narration that feels as if it's been extracted from a brochure or a text book. Yet, when its subjects speak-the very refugees themselves-it acquires that necessary quality to connect with its audience.
Herein lies the strength of the documentary form, the ability to cut through the limitation of the screen, and it is best exemplified in Between the Lines. Consisting solely of interviews with internally displaced refugees in the decades-long Ugandan conflict between the government in Kampala and the Lord's Resistance Army in the north, the film sketches the history of the conflict and conditions at the camps. The interviewees relate personal stories of torture and rape, which provoke a quiet explosion in your heart. The delivery is heart?breakingly matter-of-fact and dignified.
Another section of the program is dedicated to women's issues, where films focussing on Nepal fare quite well.
Women Vote for a New Nepal captures the mood of the country during the recent elections and highlights the optimism felt at the same time as underscoring the particular concerns and serious inequalities women face. Mirchi ko Patheghar Khasecha, Aba Ke Garne?, perhaps with unintentional melodrama and camp, engagingly explores the all ?too-common prolapsed uterus condition afflicting over-worked and young mothers. Also included elsewhere is Pranay Limbu's Forgive, Forget Not!, a first-person dramatisation of a journalist's detention in the Bhairabnath Barracks for 15 months during the Maoist insurgency. Bold, effective and wise it was deservedly much feted in previous film festivals and not to be missed.
What's striking, listening to people whose rights have been trampled register their dignified protest, is that one hears the inherent concept of a universal set of human rights. The courage that these people display in their lives and in telling their stories demands that we listen at the very least. That 60 years on, human rights abuses continue, excused or denied by governments across the planet, cannot be taken as a sign of the failure of the idea, but rather as an impetus for its continual renewal and expansion.
The UDHR60 in Kathmandu Human Rights Film Festival runs Dec. 1st ? 5th at the Russian Cultural Center. Schedule is available at http://www.alliancefrancaise.org.np