Human Rights in the frame at Oxford Brookes international film festival

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Powerful films from around the world with a focus on human rights and justice screened in venues across Oxford.

Powerful films from around the world with a focus on human rights and justice will be screened in venues across Oxford at the eighth annual Human Rights Film Festival organised by master's students at Brookes' Centre for Development and Emergency Practice. Entrance is free and open to everyone.

From 26 February to 5 March, 15 of the best and most diverse films related to human rights issues currently around, will be showcased at the Vaults and Gardens Cafe, Oxford Synagogue, Phoenix Cinema and Oxford Brookes University.

This years' selection blends the illuminating, the entertaining and the shocking and is a mixture of feature films, documentaries, live footage and shorts with each addressing a different aspect of human rights. They range from headliner 'Milk', the inspiring biopic of Harvey Milk, California's first openly gay elected official, to short films made by young film-makers who won a competition launched by pressure group Ctrl.Alt.Shift. Top UK directors have mentored this young talent and the films, on topics including child soldiers and attitudes to HIV and asylum seekers, feature leading TV names (Martin Freeman – The Office, Julian Barratt – The Mighty Boosh).

The films are introduced by leading human rights experts or the films' directors and there is an opportunity to discuss with them the issues the films raise.

The festival will be preceded this year by a play, performed by a Manchester based theatre group, at the North Wall Arts Centre on Friday 19 February. 'The Burma Play: A Comedy of Terror' explores Burma's troubled past and present through the eyes of a popular entertainer and introduces some of the compelling themes - compassion, identity, protest, survival, hope and justice, which are explored in the festival.

The launch event on 26 February at Oxford Brookes is a screening of 'To Shoot an Elephant'. The film is an eye-witness account of events during the Gaza war in 2008. It is preceded by a drinks reception and followed by music at Baby Simple bar in Oxford performed from rap poet Dizraeli, R & B singer Sarah Williams White and the jazz-inspired Toyface and the Crash Bang Boom.

A film highlighting the struggles of Buddhist monks in Burma was made at the risk of torture and imprisonment by a young video journalist determined to tell the story from the streets and smuggle footage out of the country. The inspirational Burma dissident Ko Aung will chair this session.

Other films depict life in a Western Sahara refugee camp, dispossessed women in Kenya, Rwanda revisited and the child sex trade in Bombay. The festival will finish with 'Guantanamo Stories' attended by Omar Deghayes, recently released from Guantanamo Bay.

Festival coordinator David Woodward (pictured on the left) said: 'The festival is a great opportunity for people not only to see some fantastic films but also to increase their awareness of injustice and oppression. We have some amazing speakers attending who will provide first hand testimony and an opportunity for the audience to really get a feel for the facts behind each film.'

Fellow organiser Joel Davis (pictured on the right) added: 'We can often feel isolated and powerless in the face of what we see in the media but we have a natural empathy and it is good to have the chance to come together and explore this through films.'

Manmeet Kaur (centre), a Brookes scholarship student from India, said it had been fascinating to be involved in the festival: 'It is not just any festival but is about human rights which affect each and every one of us. I am sure people will feel empathy for the subjects of the films and will learn about the issues. I hope they will have fun too listening to the music we have arranged for the launch event.'

The Human Rights Film Festival has played host to some of the biggest names in film, music and activism. Former Beirut hostage John McCarthy presented his film Out of the Shadows in 2005 and we were joined by legendary musician Annie Lennox in 2006. Folk punk hero Billy Bragg opened the festival in 2007 and human rights activist, Oxford Brookes Chancellor and director of Liberty, Shami Chakrabati in 2009.

Oxford Brookes' Master's in Development and Emergency Practice attracts a diverse cohort of students from around the world every year, many of whom have experienced working in countries that have witnessed war, disaster and poverty. This year there are 45 students from The US, Canada, Australia, India, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Sudan, Ethiopia, Uganda, Spain, Portugal, Switzerland, Slovakia, Norway and the UK. The course achieved the prestigious Queen's Anniversary Prize in 2001.

For full film listings and venue information please click onto the Centre for Development and Emergency Practice web page.