Human Rights Film Festival Berlin 2022
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At the Forum of the Human Rights Film Festival Berlin, the panellists ask how to make unheard perspectives visible
Journalists and filmmakers shared their takes on decolonising media narratives and how to promote stories from unheard voices
On 18 October, the Forum of the Human Rights Film Festival Berlin (17-19 October) hosted an important discussion about decolonising media narratives and giving visibility to marginalised voices titled “Who Tells The Story – Making Unheard Perspectives Visible.”
The event was moderated by festival director Anna Ramskogler-Witt and saw the participation of director Clive Patterson (who attended remotely); Raki Ap, of the Free West Papua Campaign, Annie Slemrod, of The New Humanitarian, and filmmaker and journalist Bernadette Vivuya, of Yole!Africa.
In her contribution, Vivuya spoke about Stop Filming Us, a Netflix documentary directed by Joris Postema. The film was born out of the idea of making a movie dissecting whether an “accidental filmmaker” (an outsider, in this case) could really show the local reality of Congo. In detail, the picture takes a stance against the usual Western reporting on war and misery, investigating how Western stereotypes are the result of a skewed balance of power. The Western pictures were therefore given to local filmmakers and journalists so that they could express their point of view.
Next, Ap stressed the importance of educating Dutch historians and institutions about their colonial past – in the specific case of Papua Guinea, the West was occupied by the Dutch, the East by the Germans – and make them realise that “colonising structures are yet to be disrupted.” He added how often, the so-called “civilised nations” depicted the “uncivilised ones” as cannibals and in other derogatory ways, even though such “uncivilised” 5% is “still guaranteeing 80% of the world’s biodiversity.”
He also pointed out how it is necessary to understand the bond between colonialism and the ineffective efforts of environmental organisations and institutions, stressing that giving the same attention to indigenous lands as to other topics wouldn't have brought us to this point: “[We should ask ourselves] what stories do we share? That’s why we’re here. We can change that system, [...] to change society.”
Later, Patterson spoke about the challenges of making of Sing, Freetown! as a foreign journalist: “I had this pre-established relationship with him [journalist Sorious Samura] when he decided to go back to Sierra Leone. He asked me to join him and make the film.”
He also highlighted the collaborative nature of their partnership, which made him feel comfortable stepping into the role of producer and director of the film. “It’s a story about his country, and the film is very much about changing narratives and reclaiming narratives,” he said, adding that the work aimed to escape the narrative paradigms of the “international gaze on Africa.”
“The new narrative drew upon a really astonishing history and back story they we felt had been forgotten or misconstrued. [...] They tried to revive, to rediscover for their own people a version of history which could empower them and give them a great sense of pride. I was just there to document their efforts. I was almost a recipient of their work. [...] I was learning about the country with them and in the way they wanted,” he concluded.
Next, Slemrod touched upon her work in the Middle East and said how today’s headlines from the region are dominated by the famine situation, wars, the Syrian crisis and other tragic events. She finds it extremely important to challenge these narratives without denying the existence and impact of such issues, in order to subvert the traditional gaze of the North telling stories about the Global South. Among the perverse effects of this gaze, she cited the case of some journalists feeling more empathy towards Ukrainian refugees “because they look like us, they dress like us” and “because they are White.” Later on, she placed great emphasis on the importance of listening when it comes to reporting and storytelling: “When you go into a country to work on a story, you have the power to drive the narrative, whether you realise it or not, even by just choosing the questions you ask. During Covid, I spent much more time listening to people and the stories they wanted to be told.”
The panel was rounded off by some contributions and questions from the audience tackling topics such as the role of education in decolonising academia and institutions, disrupting colonial narratives and the struggles of distributing content boasting unheard perspectives.
A full recording of the event is available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oYGz0-nrU2U&ab_channel=HumanRightsFilmFestivalBerlin
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