Collaborating with Ahmad Fauzi & Azalia Syahputri
“To contribute to a wider understanding of, and respect for, human rights and international humanitarian law”
The sentence above is Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law’s main objective. Named after a Swedish diplomat who saved thousands of Jews in Hungary during the end of World War II, RWI strives for equality among genders and human rights for all. These ideals became the base of what shapes the nominees for the Raoul Wallenberg Institute Asia Pacific Awards. Five nominated films deal with humanity and its wide array of attachments. Six filmmakers that came from different countries, backgrounds, and ethnicity, creating a diverse selection of films that fit in a program that tells the collective burden of humans from all over the world.
The first entry of the program comes in the form of an observational documentary about the dynamic relationship between man and nature. Director of Citarum, Ali Satria Effendi invites us to observe and feel the mundane, minimalistic life of a brickmaker on the riverbank of the Citarum River. Citarum River is one of the largest rivers in West Java, whilst also being one of the most polluted rivers in the world. Many people still rely their lives on the river, including the Brickmaker. The river gives the Brickmaker the materials to make the bricks, while the river also takes the Brickmaker’s hard work during the floods, engulfing his bricks.
The state of the river and its impact on the people that live along the river was reflected in this film in a subtle way. With no narration, exposition, or context, the film was presented similarly to poetry. The intervention of the filmmakers was minimal. It feels spontaneous, actual, yet still poses the filmmaker as the Other, reminiscent of the methods of Cinéma Vérité and direct cinema. It may feel slow for the regular viewer, especially for an opening of a program, but it’s definitely an eye-opening short documentary.
GOD’S DAUGHTER DANCES
The next film poses the internalized transphobic and homophobic sentiments of institutions. God’s Daughter Dances (2020) tells the story of Shin Mi—a transgender who’s also a dancer—attempting to prove herself as a woman in the health inspection unit of a Korean military institution. However, she was misunderstood as a man who’s trying to avoid the military draft.
Sung-bin BYUN, the director, captures the experience of being shunned as a transgender in Korean society. Negative sentiments towards LGBT are still present in many parts of the world, including South Korea. Those sentiments have been long embedded in society, including government institutions. Shin Mi fights for her rights alone. Even fellow members of the LGBT choose to conform to the conservative views of the society in order to fit in. This was shown in the film in a scene where one of the health workers who was an avid visitor of a gay bar where Shin Mi likes to perform, discriminates against Shin Mi. He dismisses Shin Mi, even subtly shuns Shin Mi in order to keep his identity as a homosexual a secret.
The film manages to capture the confusion and desperation of fighting for one’s rights. This shows a cruel system that’s deeply rooted in homophobia. Gender equality is achieved from the individual understanding of human rights. People who are part of the LGBTQ could discriminate against other members of the LGBTQ, in order to have the same rights as anyone else. It is also hard to achieve if the higher-ups of the system or institutions still support anti-LGBTQ sentiments, forever condoning the internalized transphobic and homophobic views.
GOLD IS EATING PEOPLE
Gold is Eating People (dir. Su Xia, 2020) is the first and only animated short film in this program. The short animation has the narrative style of a children’s tale and the visual style of ancient Chinese paintings. This visual style supports the narrative very well, creating an impression of listening to a campfire story, telling the ancient tale about the pursuit of gold.
Essentially, the film talks about a trait that is present in every human; greed. As the title suggests, we can conclude that greed eats people. It consumes people’s beliefs and distorts their morals. The film critiques the impact of obsessive desires, such as wealth on different classes. The thieves betrayed each other, the authorities tried to split the gold but ended up in betrayal, and the wise master betrayed his own wisdom. The only one that sticks to their moral stance is the child; the Apprentice.
The Apprentice did not fall into the temptation of gold like his old and wise master. Ironically, the naivety of the Apprentice makes him the most righteous of all the characters. This poses the idea of a child being a blank slate, feeding children morals through fairy tales and stories to develop them as better human beings. This film acts as a wake-up call to remind the viewers of childhood teachings that are actually still relevant, embracing the good-hearted naivety of a child and implementing it in daily life.
THE LAST BREATH OF THE TONLE SAP
Quite similar as interactions between man and nature in Citarum, The Last Breath Of The Tonle Sap (dir. Thomas Cristofoletti and Robin Narciso, 2020) brings a man tested by his own environment. This ten-minute documentary introduces us to Piseth, middle-aged fisherman in Tonle Sap Lake, Cambodia. The documentary circled around Piseth daily life, not just focusing on his life as fisherman, but overall as a human; that interacted with other living things around him.
Piseth seems to be the only center of the attention in the documentary, as we found him depending on his life on the Tonle Sap. It seems to be a usual habit to link documentaries like Tonle Sap to topics such as lower class hardships. Not just noting on the lower class hardships, it also makes audiences reevaluate on how their relations with nature, may take effect on a much bigger picture outside their frame of world.
The date is July 12, 1984. Ivon Ray Stanley’s execution is set to begin at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison, when a grainy mugshot image of him slowly appears on screen. Willis Marable, assistant to the warden, begins his real-time audio testimony of the scheduled execution on a loud tape recording. The electric chair will be used as a form of execution. That’s the whole thing about the film directed by Jeroen Van Der Stock, The Execution (2019).
Jeroen Van Der Stock in his shorts experimental film use Stanley head-shot photo and audio record to show the face of humanity that is slowly being covered by the many death penalty cases. The audio record is detailing what assistant of the warden sees through a one-way mirror. The voices are dispassionate and quiet. The assistant and the other authorities are all intent on following the procedures outlined in the standard procedure guides. Rigid and unsympathetically, it was as if Stanley were no longer human. Along with the audio recording, Der Stock put an army of painted dots appear all over Ivon Ray Stanley photo, slowly and steadily burying his face, his identity.
The dots are a symbol. Every death penalty case in US, is symbolized by one dots. And there were 1452 death sentences in the period from 1984 until the film was made. However, the use of the death penalty is highly inappropriate. Whatever the reason. Because basically, every human being has the right to live and be free. As stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which is the basis for human rights. With so many dots that slowly appear, it didn’t just wipe Stanley’s face. But it also finally wipes the face of humanity.
A broader understanding of, and respect for, human rights and international humanitarian law has always been a vision that is proclaimed, in various ways. It’s always progressives, full of obstacles, and celebratory at the end. The collective burden that comes within these five films portrayed its own kind of struggles. It can be its audience’s own reflections, to rethink once more about how humanities has progressed, how we can improve more on being human.