Human Rights Film Festival Berlin 2022
Industry Report: Europe and the Rest of the World
At the Human Rights Film Festival Berlin, panellists discuss how film and media narratives can help us to heal as societies
The aim of the discussion was to reflect on decolonised perspectives and help communities to cope with their past
On 18 October, the Forum of this year’s Human Rights Film Festival Berlin (17-19 October) hosted a panel discussion titled “How Do We Tell Stories -Status Quo and the Effects on Society.” The talk, moderated by activist and cultural projects consultant Peggy King Jorde, focused on the role of cultural narratives in pushing the status quo and helping us to heal as societies. The panellists were German filmmaker Lars Kraume, Namibia’s Deputy Minister of Information, Communication and Technology Emma Inamutila Theofelus, and environmental and cultural heritage consultant Annina van Neel, who appeared together with Jorde in Joseph Curran and Dominic Aubrey de Vere’s documentary A Story of Bones.
Before introducing the panellists, Jorde defined them, along with other journalists and storytellers carrying out similar activities, as “memory workers.”
Kraume explained how he ended up making many films about Germany’s “violent history” and spoke about his feature Ein Platz an der Sonne, which revolves around German colonialism in Namibia and the subsequent genocide, told from the perspective of the perpetrators.
Inamutila Theofelus stressed her work with the local film industry to preserve the country’s history, while trying to increase available funding and cooperating with private players to boost production and nurture young talents.
Van Neel touched upon her career and her participation in A Story of Bones, wherein she reclaims and honours the neglected history of St. Helena after the remains of thousands of formerly enslaved Africans are uncovered on the island. “I had to fight and climb over many hurdles in order to prove that my relationship with that heritage is, first and foremost, legitimate,” she said, adding that going through these efforts is also the result of “a form of continuation of colonialism.”
Inamutila Theofelus later mentioned how she grew up in a country dominated by apartheid, and that “portions of society wish to forget it and move forward.” She explained that little research has been carried out to understand how trauma is rooted and remains alive through subsequent generations, with people now experiencing “certain feelings without even knowing where they come from.” “Storytelling validates these traumas. […] It helps to identify patterns and behaviours. That's the beginning of the healing process.”
Speaking about his feature, Kraume said he filmed it with a mixed team of German, Namibian and South African professionals, but he wishes for Namibia to develop its independent infrastructures, without relying on American productions “exploiting the landscapes, coming with their huge Mad Max trucks and leaving their waste behind.” He also called for “collaborations on a bigger scale” and suggested the idea to start shooting in Namibia and outside of Europe with German and European subsidies, without the need to necessarily spend the money nationwide.
Van Neel pointed out that the entire film industry needs to be decolonised, and how rare it is for two filmmakers to asl questions and to someone directly involved share their experiences, as happened in A Story of Bones: “[We need] to raise the voices of those around the world who don’t have a filmmaker or a platform following them.”
Kraume explained that he decided to focus on the perspective of the colonialist, highlighting how important it was not to depict him as a “white saviour” or creating “a false hero.” Rather, he chose to portray the character’s degeneration in order to bring historical awareness to Western audiences. The lead character, a young ethnologist, initially appears naive, but after witnessing the horrors of the genocide he is asked to cross “certain lines,” eventually starting to kill and to do other terrible things.
Van Neel agreed about the importance of shedding light on these hidden stories and, to further prove her point, revealed how shocked she was after visiting a German museum on Namibian history that featured no mention of the genocide and its 70,000 victims.
Inamutila Theofelus cited the example of the heated debate about toppling German statues, such as that of Chancellor Bismarck. She called for “a constructive conversation among communities” for them to come to terms with reality.
On the same topic, Van Neel said that “how the other party receives that acknowledgement defines how the [healing] process will go further.” “Acknowledgment, acceptance, accountability and responsibility are something you can internalise – I wouldn’t say positively, but constructively,” she concluded.
The panel was rounded off by a Q&A session.
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