This year marks the 12th annual Document Film Festival in Glasgow; showcasing and celebrating the unique power of the human rights documentary. Running from 9 – 12 October it may be over quickly, but by including directors and works from all over the globe it boasts a richly diverse programme. Not discriminating entries in terms of running time or budget -the shortest run for just over 10 minutes- also allows for wide-ranging discussion. More than anything, Document gives voice to those who have dared to stand up to oppressive authority, and gives a platform to more unconventional guerilla styles of filmmaking.
Based at Glasgow’s Centre for Contemporary Arts (CCA), this year includes a number of specific programming strands which allow for more concise discussion. These include the Women’s programme, which is being presided over by the local Glasgow Women’s Library, as well as a Youth programme; created in reaction to the Scottish referendum and the lowering of the voting age.
Friday boasted an impressive line up of films, kicking off with Canadian environmental documentary The Carbon Rush. Directed, written and produced by filmmaker and grassroots activist Amy Miller, this is a human investigation into the effects of Carbon offset projects on poorer communities in the global South. A Eucalyptus plantation in Brazil, hyrdro-electric dam in Panama, garbage burners and wind-turbines in India, andBiogas harvesting through palm oil in Honduras; these are all projects created by faceless corporations to allow them to rack up carbon credits. This keeps them polluting, while these supposedly ‘green’ projects are destroying the lives of people unfortunate enough to live within their vicinity.
Miller goes direct to the the heart of these communities, finding instances of injustice and heart break at every turn. People forced off their land, disenfranchised, and in some of the most severe cases murdered for trying to provide for their families. It is a chilling display of willful corporate negligence, to the extent where one man declares that if there is no change, his entire community will have no choice other than to commit suicide to avoid starvation. Capturing harrowing images of murdered bodies and violence on camera, at times this is very brave filmmaking. It is let down slightly by some perfunctory narration, a noisy score and the extensive use of the dreaded documentary infographics, however it remains compelling nonetheless.
Next on offer was the dual screening of Hong Kong: Out of the Shadows and Amazing Azerbaijan: two films united in their concern for the repression of democracy by corrupt governments. In its 30 minute running time, Out of the Shadows director Sam Wild competently paints a picture of modern Hong Kong and the contempt it holds for ordinary working people. This is partly achieved by demonstrating the differences in lifestyle between a working class Chinese woman and a clueless Scottish male expat. She bemoans her dirty and cramped living conditions, while he happily declares that he knows nothing of Hong Kong’s problems despite living there for 14 years. It is at times eye-opening, but is perhaps a little too lightweight to be truly effective.
Amazing Azerbaijan however is a much more in-depth study of similar issues, this time framed around Azerbaijan winning Eurovision in 2011, and subsequently staging the event in 2012. Pulling back the shiny, superficial façade as presented during this two year period; director Liz Mermin presents the reality of human rights abuses and censorship at the core of this supposed democracy. After declaring independence in 1991 from the USSR, they have remained in the EU under the justification that they are nation at a stage of democratic infancy. However as brave testimonies from bloggers, journalists and musicians will attest, these human rights abuses are being ignored as a result of this supposed excuse.
The night came to a close with the unique and brilliant The Moscow Trials; the brainchild of Swiss director Milo Rau. Inspired by the recent plight of Pussy Riot, he tackles three formative trials in Russia that challenged the right to artistic licence when supposedly desecrating the church. Using real-life people to stage a series of mock trials, Rau creates a space for fair treatment under the eyes of the law.
In doing so, he slowly reveals the insidious nature of the relationship between church and state in Russian politics, and the blind anger and hatred personified by the church’s orthodox followers. Many of these are religious zealots who have been converted while in prison, their neo-nazi predilections fashioned into another outlet for their hatred. The violence of their words and their supposed actions is truly shocking, but their exposure leads to some interesting conclusions from the impartial jury. Towards the trial’s end, the stage is flooded by Russian authorities who attempt to delay proceedings. When this fails, Rau is later issued a travel ban to restrict any possible attempts to return to Russia.
The final film shown was The Hand that Feeds, which was sadly cut short due to technical issues. It was, for as much as can be gathered, a heart-warming and inspiring tale of migrant workers in New York. When their employer Hot and Crusty refuses to pay them even close to minimum wage, the workers unionise themselves with the help of the Occupy Wall Street movement to put pressure on their employers. I remain hopeful that this will become available soon, and when it does it will definitely be one to watch out for in future.
Document: International Human Rights Documentary Film Festival runs until Sunday 12 October. For further information, please check out their website at http://documentfilmfestival.org/ to access their full programme.