At Cultures of Resistance, we view filmmaking not only as a way of documenting social injustices but also as an important part of the effort to change things for the better. We have been proud to work with leading social justice organizations to use the Cultures of Resistance feature documentary and our CoR short films to advance a variety of important human rights campaigns. From the international movement to ban cluster munitions, to efforts to raise awareness about our consumption of Congolese conflict minerals, dedicated and inspiring activists have been able to use CoR films as effective educational and organizing tools. The following is a sample of some of CoR’s successful partnerships and how they helped strengthen the efforts of committed citizens working to protect human rights and the environment:
For more than fifty years, England has maintained military training facilities in the Samburu region of its former colony, Kenya. Women from various indigenous communities filed more than 600 official rape claims against British soldiers. Despite the overwhelming evidence, Britain’s Royal Military Police (RMP) cleared all soldiers of wrongdoing and have quashed past efforts to seek justice for these women.
Our short film, The Rape of the Samburu Women, features the voices of some of the victims and explains how they have worked to rebuild their lives. The film also attempts to reinvigorate appeals for justice. Since its release in March 2011, the film has been shown widely online, used by a number of local campaigners, and even inspired a local human rights group to investigate the claims and initiate rape-prevention efforts. The director of CoR ally KARE, Tina Ramme, reports that “the film has had a profound impact on the situation in Samburu. The Truth and Justice Commission has taken notice, is investigating and planning on prosecuting, as well as developing better safety implementations for women there for the future.”
On February 16, 2010, the international campaign to ban cluster bombs achieved a historic victory when it reached the 30 ratifications necessary to enter into force. On August 1, 2010, the agreement to ban cluster munitions became binding international law, and today over 100 countries have signed on.
Cultures of Resistance partnered with the Cluster Munitions Coalition (CMC) to use our film, Banning Cluster Bombs: The Campaign and the Treaty, as an organizing tool at the international ratification conference in Santiago, Chile. During the June 2010 conference, participants from 98 governments and over 120 civil society members met to discuss how to expand and strengthen the treaty. Our film was translated into Spanish and edited to reflect a Latin American regional focus, while a 30-second preview version was also created for the gathering. The films were shown in downtown Santiago at CMC's open air installation and to campaigners from over 50 countries, and a major theater played the short film as a trailer before its feature films. As Conor Fortune, then the Cluster Munition Coalition's Media and Communications Officer said, "[t]he videos were a huge hit with CMC campaigners in Chile." Since the conference, more governments have signed and ratified the treaty, and the international movement to ban cluster bombs continues to grow.
In May 2012, director Iara Lee participated in a press delegation to the Turkish refugee camps housing Syrian exiles, where she interviewed those who have been most affected by the bloody conflict. Some who fled to the camps identify as militants, others are committed to nonviolent tactics, and many more are just trying to live in peace without repression. Interviewees disagreed on many important issues, such as the decision of some actors to take up arms, and whether the international community should try to topple the regime. Out of this experience, CoR released a documentary called The Suffering Grasses. It argues that, in the end, any understanding of the Syrian conflict and its costs should be rooted in recognizing the humanity and suffering of these refugees.
Since its launch, The Suffering Grasses has screened at film festivals internationally, as well as on university campuses and in community venues. The film, along with director Iara Lee's article at the Huffington Post, has provoked spirited debate about violence and nonviolence in the Syrian revolution. Groups such as the Institute for Policy Studies and CodePink have collaborate to host screenings and encourage debate, and the film has been used as a fundraiser to help displaced families in refugee camps get through the harsh winter. Viewers who have attended screenings of The Suffering Grasses have gone on to support nonviolent activists by donating to WITNESS and sending medical supplies to the country. Foreign policy expert Phyllis Bennis says that the film is "powerful, comprehensive, and includes all the key contradictions and complications of the Syria crisis." And at the 2012 Elevate Festival in Graz, Austria, Lee was nominated for the International Award for her advocacy for nonviolence and peace in Syria and beyond.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo's (DRC) wealth of mineral resources continues to be a curse, fueling an ongoing conflict that has claimed the lives of over 5 million victims. The United States government has not taken the diplomatic steps in the region that could help temper the conflict, while North American and European electronics corporations have consistently used conflict minerals from Congo to manufacture the ipods and cellphones that we use every day.
Cultures of Resistance’s close ally Friends of the Congo (FOTC) has taken up the short film Breaking the Silence: Congo Week, and has used it as the official promotional video for their annual week-long festival, which is an international effort to raise consciousness about the devastating situation in the Congo and mobilize support on behalf of the people of the Congo. FOTC encourages members of their network to screen this and other CoR shorts in their local branches’ gatherings. As Maurice Carney, Executive Director of Friends of the Congo said, "The CoR shorts are invaluable in portraying Congolese as agents of change in the face of enormous challenges and human suffering."
The Xingu, a tributary of the Amazon that is home to over 10,000 indigenous people, has for years faced threats from the Brazilian government to build what would be the world's third largest hydroelectric dam. If carried out, the dam would destroy the biodiversity of the Xingu River basin and deprive these people of their rights to a sustainable future.
Cultures of Resistance was in Altamira for the Xingu Alive Encounter—one of the largest-ever gatherings of indigenous Brazilians—to witness the determination of the Amazon people to protect their way of life. The short film that came out of this, Battle for the Xingu, was taken up by leading advocacy group International Rivers, which hosted a screening of the film. The organization also posted the film to its website so people interested in becoming more informed and taking action could learn about the issues at stake through film as well as the written word. Director Iara Lee also wrote a piece at the Huffington Post about the predictable negative impacts mega-dams are having across the globe. Later, CoR networked with human rights video ally WITNESS and Lee wrote an article about the Belo Monte struggle on the organization's blog. WITNESS was created in the aftermath of the police beating of Rodney King as a way to harness the power of video for human rights advocacy. Since releasing the film, the movement opposing the dam on the Xingu has only escalated, and CoR continues to be involved.
In 2003, on the eve of the Iraq war, director Iara Lee embarked on a journey to better understand a world increasingly embroiled in conflict and, as she saw it, heading for self-destruction. After several years, travelling over five continents, Iara encountered growing numbers of people who committed their lives to promoting change. From Iran, where graffiti and rap became tools in fighting government repression, to Burma, where monks acting in the tradition of Gandhi take on a dictatorship, to Brazil, where musicians reach out to slum kids and transform guns into guitars, the Cultures of Resistance feature documentary explores how art and creativity can be ammunition in the battle for peace and justice.
The feature documentary continues to screen in large and small venues all over the world. Linda Kennedy, a reporter for BBC World Service's The Strand, was on hand for the film's screening in Beijing: "This is a country where state run media showed very little of the Arab Spring uprising.... This kind of documentary is effectively beautifully photographed news.... I think the best way of describing [the response to the film] is that the audience--there must have been a hundred people or so in this venue--was moved." Elsewhere, when the film screened in Beirut, an audience member remarked that the film "helped put a perspective on our lives in Palestine and give us hope that we are a part of a global movement to end occupation everywhere." Click here to see what others have said about the film, or check out our past and future screenings and a list of awards the film has received.
Since as far back as 2005, the Israeli government has imposed a blockade on the people of Gaza, restricting basic goods to civilians as a way of punishing their elected government. After Operation Cast Lead, in late 2008 and early 2009, medical and reconstruction supplies were withheld entry into the Gaza Strip, thus paralyzing citizens’ efforts to rebuild their communities and lead healthy lives. In an act of nonviolent civil disobedience, people from all around the world organized the Gaza Freedom Flotilla to deliver needed humanitarian supplies and to challenge the illegal siege on the Palestinian territory. The Israeli military responded by attacking the convoy in international waters and killing nine passengers.
Cultures of Resistance director Iara Lee was one of hundreds of participants in the Gaza Freedom Flotilla. Despite the Israeli government’s thorough efforts to confiscate all footage taken during the attack, Iara Lee's crew was able to retain some of the raw footage they captured, which Lee released to the world at a major press conference at the United Nations in New York and hosted by the United Nations Correspondents Association. The video was used by major news organizations around the world and was featured in outlets including Democracy Now!, The New York Times, and The Guardian.
Like any undemocratic government trying to stifle dissent, the Ahmadinejad regime in Iran has tried to repress controversial artists. Particularly in the context of a broad-based pro-democracy movement, the avant garde work of contemporary Iranian artists poses a great threat to the regime by challenging the political and cultural status quo. Despite the regime’s best efforts, whether these artists’ work appears on the streets of Tehran or in the galleries of New York, their impact will not be muted.
Cultures of Resistance filmed the work of Iranian artists in both world cities. Our short film Iran Inside Out: Explorations at the Chelsea Art Museum profiles the museum’s exhibit that featured work by 56 Iranian artists living both inside the country and throughout the diaspora. CoR collaborated with the exhibit’s co-curator Sam Bardaouil, who led us on a tour of the exhibit’s five sections, explaining themes that ranged from consumerism to sexuality to the suppression of ideas. In another short film, Tehran Ratz: Graffiti for a New Iran, we hear a street-art duo discuss their efforts to use graffiti to challenge the legitimacy of the Iranian regime and to change international assumptions about their country’s people. The National Iranian American Council (NIAC), which advocates for a commitment to diplomacy between the U.S. and Iran governments, highlighted the films on their inSight blog. As NIAC commented, the artists' work and the films themselves are powerful for their “relentless questioning of assumptions and challenging of the stereotypes, whether it is in Iran against its government or on the international level, against the preconceived ideas about a particular country or a global issue. And for a time when a non-violent democratic movement is the only option for the Iranian youth, what better tool than art to carry the cries of a nation for democracy?”