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Film festival documents human rights around the world

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Film festival Document is in its 12th year and helping to build an international reputation for Scotland as a defender of human rights

“Working my way through the films on offer for this year’s festival was a humbling experience for many reasons,” says Tommy McCormick.

“Not only because it had me travel the world through cinema and challenged the way I view the human struggle but also because the quality of films was so high. Selecting a few from such a well-crafted body of work took a lot of debate.”

McCormick sits on the selection panel of Document – the only dedicated international human rights documentary film festival in Scotland. Held annually in October, it’s a grassroots initiative using film to raise the profile and promote debate of human rights and social issues across the globe.

Founded in 2002 in the hope of offering an alternative to the then near total negative media bias of asylum seekers and Roma people in Glasgow, over the years Document has gained a dedicated audience with an interest base as broad as the themes it now covers.

Now in its 12th year, organisers believe the event, which runs from 9-12 October, will be the biggest and best yet. Document 12, has been nearly a year in the making, and offerings a range of films from Venezuela to Kazakhstan touching on issues from democracy, women’s rights and free speech to human trafficking and mental illness.

Often bleak and sometimes harrowing, Document picks the best and most topical films from across the globe to highlight issues of importance often in countries where democracy and free speech has been oppressed.

In the wake of the independence referendum, it is apparent that a renewed engagement with social and political questions has arisen among us

And organisers say this year’s programme is one of the busiest they have ever staged. Screenings include 475 Break the Silence, a film about a little known law in Morocco that was not repealed until earlier this year and which meant some victims were forced to marry their rapists. Tales of the Organ Trade exposes the grim world of forced organ donations in South East Asia for wealthy clients in the west and Birsen is about a young Dutch/Turkish girl who lives with autism.

Lindsay Reid, festival organiser, says Document has grown in stature over the years to branch out from its roots.

“In the wake of the independence referendum, it is apparent that a renewed engagement with social and political questions has arisen among us,” she says. “It is our hope that this makes Document more relevant than ever.

“It provides a unique platform that attracts Scottish, UK and international documentary filmmakers and promotes local and international discussion, cultural exchange and education.

“By screening thought-provoking work from every continent and by attracting international directors and guest speakers to Glasgow, Document has become a significant player in the field of international human rights.

A Goat for a Vote
A Goat for a Vote

“And, in so doing, we’ve helped to promote the image of Scotland abroad as a politically engaged, tolerant and multicultural society.”

On display will be a range of styles of film, from reportage to cinematic essays, from investigative journalism to more experimental forms.

Although the film screenings are the focal point of the festival, the programme includes a well-rounded selection of special events involving workshops, special guests and panel discussions.

One of the highlights will be Child Soldiers and Life After the Lord’s Resistance Army – a journalism masterclass with journalist Marc Ellison.

A native of England, Ellison has worked around the world but has recently focused on stories of survivors of soldiers in Uganda.

His masterclass will include case studies of his time in Uganda, the ethical, cultural and logistical challenges of working with women who have survived trauma, and his active campaign against the superficial tactics of “parachute journalism” – the practice of thrusting journalists into an area to report on a story without prior knowledge or experience.

And Glasgow’s own human rights activists and Document Festival stalwarts, the Camcorder Guerrillas, will be hosting a screening of their work then a discussion with the message: don’t complain about the media – be the media.

For a younger audience there’s the Youth Film-making Workshop from youth-led production company Fully Focused.

“We try to reach a balance,” says Reid. “We know that a lot of the issues and topics are emotionally fraught and touch on subjects that folk find difficult not only to understand but to accept.

“So we try and break up the films with discussion as well as workshops which will appeal to a wider audience – people from all age groups and from all backgrounds.”