Raising awareness through film

By 
  • November 10, 2012

TORONTO - In Mervi Junkkonen’s After Life: Four Stories of Torture, we are told the plight of four survivors seeking refuge in Finland but never finding complete peace of spirit.

Their story is one of 12 “inspiring and heartbreaking” films playing this month at the seventh Amnesty International Reel Awareness Human Rights Film Festival, running at Toronto’s Carlton Cinema Nov. 15-18.

“Each film was chosen because they focus on a specific Amnesty International concern or priority campaign,” said festival co-ordinator Elena Dumitru.

Amnesty International is a global movement to protect and promote human rights.

The festival kicks off with A Whisper to a Roar, a film shot over three years about democracy activists in five countries — Egypt, Malaysia, Ukraine, Venezuela and Zimbabwe.

“It’s a positive film, it’s uplifting,” said Dumitru.

Festival organizers say they always try to begin with a film that is not well-known.

“It’s a film that looks at activists, at people who are doing the work our volunteers do every day,” she said. “So we hope it will be an inspiration to our own members and to the public to take action on human rights issues, get involved, do more.”

The festival’s two main goals are awareness and engagement. So at the Carlton Cinema there will also be an action centre where festival-goers can find out how to become involved with Amnesty International.

“We still find that people are surprised when they come and see a film and they find out about the specific human-rights violation,” said Dumitru. “Many times the reaction is ‘Oh my God, I didn’t know that this was happening.’ ”

But films like After Life demonstrate how it is possible for suffering to go unnoticed and ignored by many.

Loneliness, isolation, depression, anger and helplessness are all expressed in the steady voices of the men featured.

There is Kebi, who is fighting deportation; Serge, whose will to live hinges on seeing his three surviving children again; Musa, who spends less time at home because he fears being rough with his two kids; and Hector, the artist who found it difficult at first to paint anything beautiful.

“Problems are not like clothes that you can take off and wash,” says Musa.

Their faces are never fully visible, at times blurred, with the only exception being the elderly Hector who has had 40 years to settle in the country.

The film is intentionally often out of focus. It’s as if the lives the men are living now are mere dreams, as if they are really still imprisoned in their home countries, as if the world around them is in focus while they are not.

As the men speak about the real life nightmares they suffered and the memories that still haunt them at night, the moviegoer will see extreme close ups of eyes, lips and hands. These images make the men’s existence seem concrete and yet still keeps their identities anonymous. They each could be almost any immigrant walking the cold streets of Finland.

“This is an outstanding lineup of films that... show deeply compelling personal struggles against difficult odds,” said Dumitru in a press release.

Each man’s deep, contemplative thoughts and reflections, the real draw of After Life, can be seen on Nov. 18.

For more on the festival, see www.aito.ca/reelawareness.

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