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.”

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