To a film fan, festivals are a lot like being offered a box of chocolates under pressure. Will you get lucky with a well-shot, beautifully-edited caramel cup? Or will you be stuck with a long and stodgy, tasteless toffee? Fortunately, the Human Rights Watch international film festival is one of the few that can always be trusted to provide a box full of tasty titbits. Since 1996 it has given a popular platform to the cream of documentaries, many of which manage both to be engaging and to highlight vitally important global issues.
This year’s festival of 25 films opened in London in March with Persepolis, an animated film based on the hugely successful graphic novel of the same name by Iranian artist Marjane Satrapi. It tells the moving, autobiographical tale of young Marjane’s life in Iran after the fall of the Shah and at the start of the rise in fundamentalism. In black and white, shadowy, and with no attempt to fool the audience into believing they are watching real life, it still manages to be more gripping than any big-budget Hollywood cartoon. Satrapi candidly describes Iran’s deterioration under successive regimes, each promising freedom but delivering only pain, prison and death to the people she loved.
It is the kind of subject that can get depressing, but she relieves the tension by weaving in comic anecdotes of being a teenager in post-revolution Iran, trying to enjoy punk music and parties while escaping nosy passers-by. Creative animation, Persepolis also proves, has a special power in being able to offer an insight into someone’s dreams, thoughts and memories in a way that actuality struggles with. The look on Marjane’s face as a girl, when she spies her dead neighbour’s hand in a pile of rubble after a bombing, looks hauntingly like Munch’s Scream retreating into shadows.
One of the other juicy offerings at this year’s festival was Manufactured Landscapes by Canadian filmmaker, Jennifer Baichwal. This follows the work of celebrated photographer Edward Burtynsky as he snaps mind-blowingly grand industrial scenes, from factory floors that stretch out into the horizon to hollowed-out metal canyons left behind by extractive mining companies. Burtynsky provides only a thin web of narrative, but the scale and natural noise of the industrial vistas that he silently photographs fill the calm completely.
iIt makes perfect, logical sense that billions of people consuming the resources of our giant planet would leave behind rivers of waste and football fields of cogs and wheels, but seeing them in their simple vastness is nevertheless awe inspiring. It feels like looking at a field of crops – except none of it is natural.
This is strange fruit with strange colours, all entirely the product of man. Most disconcerting are the hundreds of Chinese factory workers who open the film, like identical worker ants, buzzing away at their tiny allocated tasks on a gigantic assembly line. Nature and person, person and machine all melt into one.
As well as delivering unique films such as this, one of the other claims of the Human Rights Watch film festival is to ‘celebrate the power of the human spirit and intellect to prevail’. Iron Ladies of Liberia is a documentary that fulfils this promise completely. In a continent written off by some as a basket case, Liberia has become a symbol of progress, largely thanks to its inspirational new president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Liberian journalist Siatta Scott Johnson and Daniel Junge followed Sirleaf closely during her first year in power, along with her other appointed ‘iron ladies’, including the national chief of police and finance minister.
The result is an honest account of their struggle to repair a country in social and economic ruin, which suffers under a
cancer of corruption infecting even the highest echelons of government. Sirleaf tackles this challenge with the force of a rock star, turning those around her into quivering wrecks by using the pure strength of her no-nonsense personality.
From Chinese diplomats to George Bush, everyone seems to be a fan. Filmmaker Siatta Scott Johnson is clearly among them, railing against the sexism and arrogance of Sirleaf’s opponents. Whether this means that we only get to see the president in her most positive light is unclear. But the film is nevertheless a fascinating glimpse into the real Liberia, from someone who has a vested interest in its future.
The Human Rights Watch international film festival took place in London from 21-30 March. Persepolis and Manufactured Landscapes are currently showing around the UK and available on DVD. Iron Ladies of
Liberia is due for release this summer. www.hrw.org/iff
Hilary Wainwright argues against reclaiming populism for the left and for a leadership that supports people’s capacity for self-government
It may seem as though these apps are working for us, but we are also working for the apps, writes Kurt Iveson
It's over 100 years ago that domestic workers began to organise to demand the same rights as other workers. Yet with LSE cleaners on strike this week, historian Laura Schwartz asks: how much has really changed?
Omar Barghouti asks whether Donald Trump, in his recent break with America’s long-standing support for the two-state solution, has unwittingly revived the debate about the plausibility, indeed the necessity, of a single, democratic state in historic Palestine?
Glenn Greenwald was interviewed by Amandla Thomas-Johnson over the phone from Brazil. Here is what he had to say on the War on Terror, Trump, and the 'special relationship'
In 1972 David Widgery wrote about the bitter intensity of love in capitalism
Andrew Dolan on how the left must match the anti-establishment rhetoric of the right, but with a different politics
Emma Snaith speaks with directors Emer Mary Morris and Nina Scott about the power of theatre to encourage community resistance to estate demolitions.
In the first of a series of interviews with migrants' rights and racial justice activists from the US, Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Peter Pedemonti, co-founder and director of the New Sanctuary Movement in Philadelphia
Photos from The World Transformed festival in Liverpool, by David Walters
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change
Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself
Secrets and spies of Scotland Yard
A new Espionage Act threatens whistleblowers and journalists, writes Sarah Kavanagh
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces
How progressive is the ‘progressive alliance’?
We need an anti-austerity alliance, not a vaguely progressive alliance, argues Michael Calderbank
The YPJ: Fighting Isis on the frontline
Rahila Gupta talks to Kimmie Taylor about life on the frontline in Rojava
Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond
On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network
Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter
#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement
Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.
Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees
Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides
The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari
Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next
Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace
Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill
Report from the second Citizen’s Assembly of Podemos
Sol Trumbo Vila says the mandate from the Podemos Assembly is to go forwards in unity and with humility
Protect our public lands
Last summer Indigenous people travelled thousands of miles around the USA to tell their stories and build a movement. Julie Maldonado reports
From the frontlines
Red Pepper’s new race editor, Ashish Ghadiali, introduces a new space for black and minority progressive voices
How can we make the left sexy?
Jenny Nelson reports on a session at The World Transformed
In pictures: designing for change
Sana Iqbal, the designer behind the identity of The World Transformed festival and the accompanying cover of Red Pepper, talks about the importance of good design
Angry about the #MuslimBan? Here are 5 things to do
As well as protesting against Trump we have a lot of work to get on with here in the UK. Here's a list started by Platform
Who owns our land?
Guy Shrubsole gives some tips for finding out
Don’t delay – ditch coal
Take action this month with the Coal Action Network. By Anne Harris
Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen
Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant