Ottawa festival highlights films on human rights’ issues

By: Patrick Butler

Kym Vercoe in For Those Who Can Tell No Tales, a film from Bosnia-Herzegovina that screened Oct. 4 at the festiva
Kym Vercoe in For Those Who Can Tell No Tales, a film from Bosnia and Herzegovina that screened Oct. 4 at the festival

Human rights cinema from around the world was front and centre at the University of Ottawa Human Rights Film Festival.

The festival, which was held Oct. 2 to 5 at the University of Ottawa, was a collaboration between the Canadian Film Institute and the university’s Human Rights Research and Education Centre. It featured six films profiling human rights issues on six continents.

“We’re trying to explore cinema that either exposes human rights abuses or that can be an agent of change in some way, to spur action among people who watch the films, no matter what they’re about,” said Tom McSorley, executive director of the film institute.

According to McSorley, this year’s festival profiled experiences of people affected by Williams Syndrome, depression, trauma, violence and political conflict. It also featured a seminar on using digital media as a tool for human rights advocacy and research.

Jerrett Zaroski, a programmer at the film institute, said it can be difficult to get people interested in human rights cinema.

“Some of these films are demanding and not everyone wants to go into that space. But we’re hoping, you know, it’s only the festival’s second year and we’ve already seen an increase in people coming to see the films,” Zaroski said.

“It’s hard to get people out to films that are not escapist fare, that are not these kind of fantastical big blockbusters, but part of the reason behind the festival is being here on campus where we can reach people who are very politically engaged and very engaged with these topics already.”

McSorley said the film institute hopes to show films screened at the festival at local high schools over the next few months.

“These are films that kind of disappear. I mean we’re aware of them and we screen them here at the festival, but then they’re gone,” McSorley said. “The idea is to get younger people aware and exposed to these kinds of issues and in fact speak directly to them at their age.”

Sonya Nigam, the director of the University of Ottawa Human Rights Office, said the main goal of the festival is to get people talking about human rights issues.

“We do it to help people consider these issues and try and raise awareness about particular issues, but we also do it to help people process them,” said Nigam.

“I think we all see a lot of things on the news and in our newspapers and things that even happen to our friends and family and within the community. Having a film festival like this allows us … to take the time to talk about it afterwards.”

Miss Representation: The Portrayal of Women in the Media

By Amna Pervaiz 


Emma Watson, a powerful and prominent celebrity, garnered a lot of media attention after her UN speech about feminism. As the ambassador to UN women, Watson spoke about women’s rights, equality and the need for action.

Jennifer Siebel Newsom, the creator of the 2011 documentary Miss Representation, makes a similar plea. However, her focus is on the under-representation of women in the media. Her documentary depicts Hollywood, advertising, politics and news as degrading the perceptions towards women.

For instance, Newsom uses a clip of a woman in a music video gyrating in a cage while men threw money at her. Another example was in a newscast in which Sarah Palin was discussed as looking “attractive” in her hat instead of discussing the content of her words. Both these examples illustrate women being treated like objects in the media.

Also, Newsom interviewed a host of successful, powerful, and accomplished women for her film. These women speak about issues and problems they’ve had while being in the public sphere. For example, Katie Couric discussed how people focused more on her physical appearance, like if “she [was] showing too much leg,” rather than her the quality of her reporting.

Most of the film’s rhetoric revolves around the influential power of men in the media. This leaves little room for powerful women, which leads to a demeaning portrayal of women. In the film, there’s a scene that shows women in politics being described as ‘whiny’ in news articles. Erike Falik, one of the interviewees, said that women are twice more likely to be described as emotional compared to men.

Overall, the film shows that women are often mistreated and under-represented in the media. However, there are flaws to the documentary. All the women interviewed in the film either have PhDs, lots of credentials, or are accomplished actresses like Jane Fonda. This is great, but it doesn’t give a proper representation of all women. For example, ordinary women, women with disabilities, and women of colour were not a part of this project. Yes, it does have Margret Cho and a few others, but they come in for bits and don’t take up as much screen time as the others.

The film’s premise is to address the issue of stereotyping women, by taking them out of the box that the media constantly put them in. But in addressing the issue, Newsom makes it a ‘them’ vs. ‘us’, intelligent vs. unintelligent, respectable vs. slutty, educated vs. uneducated battle between women. She doesn’t lend a voice to the other side of the issue. The film almost suggests that you can only be powerful or successful if you’re not the other type of women. What about those women who might be portrayed as archetypical characters in movies but are making a difference in the real world? For example, empowering women like Emma Watson, or those that don’t have the ability to get a PhD beside their name. It would be essential to talk to them and get their insight and experiences.

Miss Representation is an inspiring film. While you watch you pump your fists in the air and cheer — but it doesn’t offer a solution. It just states a reality most of us are already aware of.

Here’s to You: An Ode to the People Who Made Me a Feminist


By Emily Fearon 

Here’s to you, Dad,

You who loved your girls

Taking on fatherhood

With an air undaunted

And raised us with the knowledge

That we were wanted.


Here’s to you, Mum,

Who wouldn’t buy me Barbies

Even though I was upset

You didn’t sit idle

You bought me books because you knew

that Barbie shouldn’t be my idol.


Here’s to you, gym teachers,

Who made us play with the boys

It wasn’t always fun

We would trip and we would fall

But you know girls run just as fast

And you were right, I beat them all.


Here’s to you, my best friend,

You were always the wise one

In seventh grade girlishness,

I thought he was hot

You pointed out my objectification

And that is a moment never forgot.


Here’s to you, my guy friends,

Thank you for not thinking twice

About hanging out with us girls

You are the brothers I never had

We could talk, cry, laugh together

We were different, but that wasn’t bad.


And here’s to you, cat callers,

Who remind me of the cause

I can’t be angry, you’re a product of this world

You’ve believed the lies at a cost

No woman will ever appreciate your jeers

In the end, it’s you who’ve lost.

Pope Francis and Moving Past Tradition

By: Anna Sophia Vollmerhausen

On Sept. 14, Pope Francis married 20 couples in St. Peter’s Basilica — including one couple that already had a daughter together, another where the groom had already had a previous marriage annulled and several other couples that were already living together.

This represents an important step for the notoriously old-school Roman Catholic Church. The church has, for the most part, remained highly secretive and closed off from the outside world. Religion and change tend to not go very well together. When you’ve spent thousands of years preaching the same virtues and lessons, it’s hard to suddenly change the way that certain things are done.

In contrast, Pope Francis has been heralded by the media as a more moderate and progressive pope, who is ushering in an era of a “new, more forgiving church,” according to an article in the New York Times.
Veteran Vatican reporter John Thavis describes Pope Francis as “the ‘who am I to judge?’ pope, who doesn’t want to turn people away and instead wants to find a way to bring people in.”

By marrying couples who don’t fit the marriage requirements of the Catholic Church, the Pope is showing that relaxing some of the strict doctrines is not a bad thing. Instead, it’s important to remember that nobody is perfect, least of all the church.

Why should somebody be denied the right to get married simply because they have, for example, been living with their partner before getting married? If anything, this would make a relationship, and eventual marriage, stronger. Living together is an important step in any relationship. How else are you going to find out if you can handle all the little annoying things that your partner does, such as leaving hair around the sink or never helping with the dishes? It’s better to find these types of things out before getting married.
When talking about marriage, Pope Francis said that “the path is not always a smooth one, free of disagreements, otherwise it would not be human. It is a demanding journey, at times difficult, and at times turbulent, but such is life.”

Instead of making people feel guilty and making them suffer the consequences of not always being perfect representations of the Catholic faith, the church should relax its stance on marriage. Having a child outside of marriage, or having an annulled marriage in no way reflects on your level of commitment to your faith, nor should it affect whether or not you should be allowed to get married by the church or not.

Running in Your Own Land: Baharka Refugee Camp

By: Jessica Gehring

More than 41 million people are currently fleeing conflict or persecution around the world. They flee because their homes are no longer a safe place to live and their governments can not provide them with protection. But what if you’re on the run in your own land?

They’re homesick in their own country. They’re angry, they’re vulnerable, they’re Internally displaced persons (IDPs). Unlike refugees, IDPs have not crossed an international border to find sanctuary but have remained inside their home countries. In refugee camp Baharka there are mainly Iraqi refugees, fleeing from Islamic State (IS) terror militia which are occupying their hometowns. The camp near the Kurdish capital Arbil in Iraqi-Kurdistan, which is not an official camp by the government in Baghdad, is now their hometown – canvas covering a ten square kilometre small room under a concrete building is their home.

The neighbors are just a thin meadow away, also refugees. But they are lucky compared to other refugees, protected from the always shining sun below the building. Refugees are mainly living in tents standing on rubble and sand. Because of the heat inside they are trying to find shade beside. “It’s so hard to make them believe that they are refugees now,” said Rebaz Baban, a 30-year old worker for the UNHCR, the UN’s refugee agency. Some of the IDP’s are Palestinians, Turkmen or Syrian – they fled to Iraq, now they’re on the run again. Continue reading

Mobilizing Media. Changing Lives.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 769 other followers