07 March 2011

83rd Academy Awards - Winning Documentaries!

From Brooklyn to Brazil, from Israel to Indonesia and China, this year's crop of nominated documentaries are of particular interest for anyone concerned about peace, development and the environment. The short-length movies listed below give voice to refugee children, Muslims who lost family members to terrorism and who challenge extremists in front of the camera, and environmental refugees (the current buzz in UNHCR's policy research). They bring the plight of a remote Chinese village to screens and the attention of thousands around the world. One feature-length and highly acclaimed documentary also tells us the story of a group of people in Rio whose livelihood is to pick recyclable garbage and whose lives change when an artist arrives and together with them, creates highly sought after art out of what they find in the dump.

All of the documentaries definitely deserve to be winners! Yet, I am glad that Strangers No More won the Oscar for Best Documentary Short Subject. It succeeds at showing that refugees are survivors by not showing them as victims, it manages to get viewers in peaceful receiving countries to relate through an experience they are likely familiar with (school and dreams of what they want to do later in life), thereby - whether consciously or not - tackling the fear of "the" refugee as the the unimaginable Other. Also, what this school does is just great peace building!

Everyone who knows me well knows that I am absolutely nuts for documentaries (always happy for film festival buddies!). In fact, I would love to shoot my own (plural!) some day and if there are any other folks out there serious about film, we should get together some time! I did some research on the technical and practical aspects of low&no budget documentary film-making, have some usable equipment at home and am happy to get rollin'!

For now though, sit back, relax and be inspired by the trailers below!


Strangers No More (Winner of 2011 Oscar for Best Documentary)

Produced and directed by Karen Goodman and Kirk Simon
Simon & Goodman Picture Company
40 min. Israel



"In the heart of Tel Aviv, there is an exceptional school where children from forty-eight different countries and diverse backgrounds come together to learn. Many of the students arrive at Bialik-Rogozin School fleeing poverty, political adversity and even genocide. Here, no child is a stranger.

Strangers No More follows several students’ struggle to acclimate to life in a new land while slowly opening up to share their stories of hardship and tragedy.

With tremendous effort and dedication, the school provides the support these children need to recover from their past. Together, the bond between teacher and student, and amongst the students themselves, enables them to create new lives in this exceptional community."

(Quote from the official website where you can also find out about screenings in your city)


Killing in the Name
Produced & directed by Jed Rothstein, Liz Garbus, Rory Kennedy
Moxie Firecracker Films
39 min. USA/Indonesia/Jordan



"Ashraf was celebrating the happiest day of his life when an Al-Qaeda suicide bomber walked into his wedding and killed his father and 26 other family members in front of his eyes. Now, he’s rising from tragedy to break the silence in the Muslim community on the taboo subject of terrorism. From a recruiter for Al-Qaeda, to an Islamic militant behind one of the world’s worst terrorist attacks, to a madrassa filled with young boys ready to fulfill the duty of jihad, Ashraf takes us on a harrowing journey around the world to see if one man can speak truth to terror, and begin to turn the global tide."

"The [Global Survivors] Network grew out of the first ever United Nations Symposium on Supporting Victims of Terrorism on 9 September 2008. The UN Secretary-General gave a platform and an opportunity to 18 victims of terror and ten experts to share their stories and insights, in the hope of influencing delegates from 192 nations to pass resolutions and policies aimed at preventing future acts of terror."
"It is comprised of people from six continents representing many different religions."

(Quotes from the official website of the movie at the Global Survivors Network)


Sun Come Up
Produced/Directed by Jennifer Redfearn
Sun Come Up Productions
38 min. Papua New Guinea



"Sun Come Up follows the relocation of some of the the Carteret Islanders a peaceful community living on a remote island chain in the South Pacific Ocean, and now, some of the world’s first environmental refugees.

When rising seas threaten their survival, the islanders face a painful decision: they must leave their beloved land in search of a new place to call home.

The film follows a group of young Carteret Islanders led by Nick Hakata as they search for land in Bougainville, an autonomous region of Papua New Guinea 50 miles across the open ocean.

The move will not be easy as Bougainville is recovering from a 10-year civil war. Many Bougainvilleans remain traumatized by the “Crisis” as the civil war is known locally. Yet, Sun Come Up isn’t a familiar third world narrative. Out of this tragedy comes a story of hope, strength, and profound generosity.

Sun Come Up tells the story of some of the world's first environmental refugees, the Carteret Islanders. The film follows relocation leader Ursula Rakova and a group of young families as they search for new homes in war torn Bougainville, an autonomous region of Papua New Guinea."

(Quote from the official website)

Winner of a dozen awards including the UNHCR Film Festival 2010 and the (up and coming!) EcoFocus Film Festival 2010.


The Warriors of Qiugang
Directed by Ruby Yang, Produced by Thomas Lennon
Thomas Lennon Films, co-produced with Yale Environment 360
39 min. China



"Zhang Gongli is a farmer who grew up in the village of Qiugang, in Anhui Province; his house and fields lie near the banks of the Huai River. In 2004, private chemical companies took over an old state-owned enterprise that had long produced pesticides and dyes in Qiugang. As production ramped up, black waters disgorged from the plants and flooded the fields of Qiugang. Fish died, crops failed, and villagers grew alarmed by the large numbers of their own succumbing to cancer." "For five years they fight to transform their environment and as they do, they find themselves transformed as well."

(Quote from the official website & IMDB)


Waste Land
Directed by Lucy Walker, Karen Harley & João Jardim
Produced by Angus Aynsley & Hank Levine
Almega Projects & O2 Filmes
99 min. Brazil



"Filmed over nearly three years, WASTE LAND follows renowned artist Vik Muniz as he journeys from his home base in Brooklyn to his native Brazil and the world's largest garbage dump, Jardim Gramacho, located on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro. There he photographs an eclectic band of “catadores”—self-designated pickers of recyclable materials. Muniz’s initial objective was to “paint” the catadores with garbage. However, his collaboration with these inspiring characters as they recreate photographic images of themselves out of garbage reveals both the dignity and despair of the catadores as they begin to re-imagine their lives. Director Lucy Walker (DEVIL’S PLAYGROUND, BLINDSIGHT and COUNTDOWN TO ZERO) and co-directors João Jardim and Karen Harley have great access to the entire process and, in the end, offer stirring evidence of the transformative power of art and the alchemy of the human spirit."

(Quote from the official website)

Winner of the Amnesty International Film Prize 2010, the Berlinale Audience Award 2010 and the Sundance Audience Award 2010.

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