Up-to-date doco ‘The Square’ opens Human Rights Film Festival

YOU have only a day to go before the Canberra edition of the Human Rights Arts and Film Festival opens tomorrow, Tuesday June 3, with the up-to-date film “The Square.”

Still of Ahmed Hassan in The Square

Still of Ahmed Hassan in The Square

That’s Tahrir Square in Cairo, and Jehane Noujaim’s movie comes direct from the 2014 Academy Awards, where it was nominated in the Best Documentary Feature category. Assembled from footage filmed in Egypt. It follows a small band of Egyptian activists and in its focus, matches the festival’s purposes precisely.

I’m talking to Ella McNeill, the film festival’s director, who tells me of the hierarchical organisation of the idealistic festival that is now in its seventh year.

While the main festival, of which we in Canberra will just get to see a selection of just three films out of 38, is a once a year event, these days the festival secretariat also coordinates round-the-year schools and community visits giving members of the wider community an opportunity to look at these films in some depth.

“You have to be careful,” McNeill says when you introduce kids to the human rights concepts depicted in the films shown. While theoretically  there are  no holds barred, you need to find “a balanced way” of introducing sensitive issues.

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An easy choice this time around will be one of the films we’ll  see, “Light Fly, Fly High,” an inspiring documentary that follows the story of Thulasi, a Dalit or ‘untouchable’ Indian girl who find liberation from inequality as she trains as a professional boxer. That’s one  the kids will relate to easily, but it is also an incredible film, McNeill says that has been winning the attention of judges at festivals.

When you get out into the wider community, she says there is no way they want to attack their audiences.

“We have no personal agenda,” she tells me, “we’re not political, but we are a platform for ideas community organisations asked to see.”

But, of course, the Melbourne-based Festival itself does have criteria for selection and one of those is to open up absolutely contemporary issues to do with abuse of power, hence the opening film “The Square,” along with which they’ll  have an ANU academic conducting a Q&A on the current issues.

Then there is the closing night film, the 2014 Sundance Grand Jury Prize-winning “Rich Hill,” which deals with rural poverty and mental illness as we followed three boys living in decrepit circumstances in middle America. “These issues are relevant to Australia,” McNeill points out, but then again it also gives us a look at a community we know little of. “Their belief in a brighter future makes this an extraordinarily moving film,” the festival believes.

The Human Rights Arts & Film Festival, at the Arc Cinema, National Film and Sound Archive, 7pm nightly  June 3-5. Bookings and information at hraff.org.au and tickets at the door. Full $16 | Conc $13 | Festival Pass $33

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