JHR film festival highlights Canadian docs

Rachel HahnTwo Canadian documentaries took top prize at the journalists for Human Rights film festival: A documentary detailing modern-day colonization in Canada and another that follows the long, red-tape-filled stories of Canadian refugee claimants stuck in status limbo. Rachel Hahn reports.

In a small screening room at the National Film
Board, atrocities done to people from around the world were brought to light. The second annual Human Rights DocFest featured “Breaking The Silence: Inside Burma’s Resistance”, which depicts the horrendous conditions of political prisoners, the bloodily mangled limb of a land-mine victim and the refugee camps filled beyond capacity along Thailand’s border. “Audition”, by Afghan-Canadian director Nelofer Pazira, explores the oppression of women in Bamiyan, Afghanistan and shows interviews with men explaining when honour killings are appropriate.

The event, organized by the journalists for Human Rights (jHR) student group at the University of Toronto, showcased the top three winners of their documentary awards in the high-budget category as well as the first place film from the smaller budget category (under $1000) as selected by a special panel of judges who volunteered their time. The first place winners of both the high budget and smaller budget (under $1000) categories are both set right here in Canada.

After watching “Denendeh”, a short about La Loche (an aboriginal community in Northern Saskatchewan), Jefferson Sackey, award-winning Ghanian journalist and host of JS-International Assignment, said he was to a degree “surprised” that human right’s violations happening in a country like Canada.

“Denendeh” was created by a group of fourth-year journalism students from the University of Regina as their final project. Karin Yeske, co-director of the film, grew up in La Loche as the daughter of outsiders – an RCMP officer and a nurse. She says this unique perspective is what forms her belief that the people of La Lache should never have been disturbed in the first place. She and her team captured the complexities and tragedies of life in a small aboriginal community where colonization created many problems that have yet to be remedied.

One central interview subject, local school principal Stephen King, expressed a similar opinion, stating, “Colonialism exists today.”

The documentary will be aired on CBC Saskatchewan on August 28.

Director Karen Cho’s documentary “Seeking Refuge” took first place in the high-budget category and exposes the struggle of several refugees in Canada seeking official status living the reality of wading through red-tape, receiving decisions without the recourse of appeal, spending years in limbo awaiting decisions and being separated from loved ones.

“I try to use the films I make for social debate,” says Cho. “I try to strike some sort of balance so a discussion can be had.”
Ben Peterson, Executive Director and Co-founder of JHR points out Cho’s film makes an “opaque” system more accessible to the average Canadian.

 “Without the media there would be no way to explore those injustices,” says Peterson. “[The refugee system] is far from perfect and that’s the role of the media – to examine it.”

The film, released in 2009, is now being used by several NGOs as an educational and advocacy tool. Screening the film for newly arrived refugees has helped prepare them for the journey that lies ahead.

Rachel is a Toronto-based writer. She earned her BJ at Ryerson and has worked and studied throughout Asia and India in addition to Canada. She writes a sex column for Toro.