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Amsterdam: Films, Debates on Middle East Challenges

Human Rights Weekend at De Balie

(Amsterdam) – Human Rights Watch will present the third edition of the Amsterdam Human Rights Weekend from January 30 to February 1, 2015 at De Balie. The theme is “Reporting Change: Behind the Scenes in the Middle East and North Africa.”

The weekend will include films, a play, and panel discussions with Human Rights Watch experts, film directors, photographers, and journalists. Topics include “emergency cinema” in Syria, revolution and repression in the digital age, the Islamic State (also known as ISIS), Libya, front-line journalism, conflict and refugees, and Egypt’s forgotten revolution.

“The huge challenges facing the Middle East made this an obvious focus of this year’s Human Rights Weekend,” said Anna Timmerman, senior Netherlands director at Human Rights Watch. “We want to raise awareness and spark critical reflection with an interesting array of films, discussions, theatre, and photography about key human rights issues in the Middle East that also directly affect Europe.”

Partners of the Human Rights Weekend are: De Balie, ASN Bank, the Dutch Postcode Lottery, De Groene Amsterdammer, World Press Photo, and BKB.

Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch, and Marcel Kurpershoek, senior fellow in Arabic poetry and culture at New York University Abu Dhabi and former Netherlands special envoy for Syria, will open the Human Rights Weekend on January 30 with a discussion of the greatest challenges facing the human rights movement in the Arab world. The festival’s films kick off with “Syria: Bullets and Countershots – A Selection of Short Films by the Abounaddara Collective.” Abounaddara is a collective of filmmakers that opposes the prevailing representations of Syria by the Western media through “emergency cinema,” presenting ordinary men and women.

On January 31, the documentary “Virunga” will be presented. A combination of investigative journalism and nature documentary, “Virunga” is the true story of a group of courageous people risking their lives to save Africa’s first national park, showing the realities of life in the Democratic Republic of Congo. “Virunga” received an Oscar nomination for best documentary.

Human Rights Watch will hold a master class on “Research with Open Source Information” with Ole Solvang, senior emergencies researcher at Human Rights Watch, and senior reporters Jan Eikelboom of Nieuwsuur and Lex Runderkamp of NOS. 

Human Rights Watch, in collaboration with Rena Netjes, Egypt & Libya correspondent, and BKB, will present “Egypt, the Forgotten Revolution” on January 31. With video fragments, letters from prison, music, lectures, and panel discussions, the program will show the turmoil in Egypt since 2011 and include a discussion of the current political situation.

The weekend will also include, on January 31, the documentary “The Wanted 18”, a humorous account about a group of Palestinian activists who decide to create a cooperative dairy farm during the first intifada, and “First to Fall”, about two young Canadian men who run recklessly toward the war in Libya, fuelled by their hatred of Muammar Gaddafi and their desire to be part of history.

The documentary “Evaporating Borders” will be shown on February 1. This film displays the lives of asylum seekers and political refugees on the island of Cyprus, one of the easiest points of entry into Europe. It explores tolerance and immigration practices throughout the Western world.

The festival will end with the screening of “E-TEAM”. The award winning filmmakers Ross Kauffman and Katy Chevigny followed four researchers in the Human Rights Watch emergencies division, or E-Team, as they interviewed witnesses and gathered other evidence of rights abuses and war crimes in Syria, Libya, and Kosovo. The film highlights the personal commitment of researchers Peter Bouckaert, Anna Neistat, Ole Solvang, and Fred Abrahams.

Finally, on February 1, a discussion program on revolution and repression in the digital age will be presented, as well as the play “We have seen a revolution.” about two women witnessing revolution in the Middle East, starring Nazmiye Oral and Jacobien Elffers.

Each program will be followed by a panel discussion or question-and-answer session featuring activists, Human Rights Watch researchers, filmmakers, and journalists.

Program:
Friday January 30, 2015, 8:30 p.m.
Opening night: Behind the Scenes in the Middle East and North Africa

In Syria, the civil war has lasted for almost four years, but the world is looking the other way. Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch, and Marcel Kurpershoek, senior fellow in Arabic poetry and culture at New York University Abu Dhabi and former Netherlands special envoy for Syria, will discuss the greatest current challenges in the Middle East and North Africa for the human rights movement, followed by the screening of Abounaddara Collective Shorts from Syria.

"Syria: Bullets and Countershots - A Selection of Short Films by the Abounaddara Collective":
Abounaddara is a collective of filmmakers working toward providing an alternative image of Syrian society. It was founded in 2010 in opposition to the prevailing representations of Syria in the Western media. Since April 2011, the collective has produced one short film every week, using a very particular cinematographic language–a sort of “emergency cinema”. Working in a state of emergency, the collective’s members are subject to certain constraints: access to film sites, safety of those filmed, even the state of the Internet connection. They present ordinary men and women who are not heroes or victims, political opponents or loyalists. The films show the other side of the armed conflicts that have been the media’s main focal point. For the Abounaddara Collective, “films should burst out like bullets to break the silence. They should tell the Syrian story with great narrative intensity and make the viewer look at reality differently.”

Human Rights Watch will screen a series of short films from the Abounaddara Collective, which won the Short Film Grand Jury Prize at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. The films will focus on three themes: citizen-journalists and the media, women's and children's rights, and armed groups. In each section, the films of the Abounaddara Collective provide a "countershot" to what is seen in the mainstream media.

Discussion: Charif Kiwan, spokesperson for the Abounaddara Collective; Ole Solvang, senior researcher in the Emergencies Division at Human Rights Watch; and Anna Neistat, recently appointed senior director for research at Amnesty International.

Moderator: Andrea Holley, deputy director of the Human Rights Watch Film Festival.

Saturday January 31, 2015, 12:45 p.m.: Virunga (USA, 97 minutes)

A powerful combination of investigative journalism and nature documentary, Virunga is the true story of a group of courageous people risking their lives to save Africa’s first national park, and a window into the realities of life in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In the forested depths of eastern Congo lies Virunga National Park, one of the most bio-diverse places on Earth and home to the planet’s last remaining mountain gorillas. A small and embattled team of park rangers – including a former child soldier, a caretaker of orphan gorillas, and a dedicated conservationist who is a member of the Belgian royal family - protect this UNESCO world heritage site from armed militia, poachers and the dark forces struggling to control Congo's rich natural resources. Virunga received an Oscar nomination for best documentary.

Discussion: Anneke van Woudenberg, Africa advocacy director at Human Rights Watch; Philipp Kauffmann, founder of Original Beans.

Moderator: Marije Ligthart, De Balie

Saturday January 31, 2015, 2:30 p.m.: Master Class: Research with Open Source Information

On the Internet one can find many films and other footage that document human rights violations. YouTube especially facilitates the massive distribution of such material. As a result, the Internet has become a major source of information, yet how can users effectively make use of it? How can one verify the authenticity of footage? How can one do research in areas to which the access has been limited or even prohibited? Human Rights Watch has been making use of open source information to provide the evidence that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was behind the chemical weapons attacks in August 2013.

Ole Solvang, senior emergencies researcher at Human Rights Watch, will share how he collects trustworthy information through forensic video analysis and satellite imagery. With these techniques, research can be done in areas where journalists and human rights researchers have very limited access, such as Syria, Ukraine and Egypt. Jan Eikelboom of Nieuwsuur and Lex Runderkamp, NOS correspondent for the Arab region, will talk about reporting in war zones and other crises.

Moderator: Nienke Venema, director Stichting Democratie en Media.

Saturday January 31, 2015, 4 p.m.: Egypt, the Forgotten Revolution

In collaboration with Rena Netjes and BKB, Human Rights Watch has organized the program, “Egypt, the Forgotten Revolution.”

On January 25, 2011, after years of oppression, people in Cairo stood up against Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. After 18 days they brought down Mubarak’s government. Almost four years later, the situation in Egypt causes concern. With video fragments, letters from prison, music, lectures, and panel discussions, the program will explore the forgotten revolution: Why is there so little media attention for the situation in Egypt? What does oppression under the government of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi mean? What role could international journalists play? How much freedom do the Egyptian media have? What happens to press freedom in conflict areas? And what could, or should, the Dutch government do?

Discussion: Rena Netjes, former correspondent in Egypt; Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch; Marietje Schaake, member of the European Parliament, D66; Michiel Servaes, member of the Dutch Parliament, PvdA (Labour Party); the Bruning, secretary of the Dutch Association of Journalists, André Seebregts, criminal defense lawyer, and with music from Rami Essam and Rami Sidki.

Moderator: Leon Verdonschot, journalist

Saturday January 31, 2015, 6:45 p.m.: The Wanted 18 (Canada/Palestine/France, 75 minutes)

With humor and passion, this film captures the spirit of the first Palestinian uprising through the personal experiences of those who lived it. It’s 1987, and the first Palestinian popular movement in the West Bank, the intifada, is rising. Residents want local alternatives to Israeli goods, including milk, which they have been buying from an Israeli company. Activists in filmmaker Amer Shomali’s village of Beit Sahour, a suburb of Bethlehem, decide to create a co-operative dairy farm. They purchase 18 cows from an Israeli kibbutz and transport them to the West Bank. These are pacifist intellectuals and professionals. They know nothing about raising cattle or operating a dairy. After some trial and error, the newly minted “lactivists” succeed, and the population comes to depend on the “intifada milk.” But this act of defiance doesn’t go unnoticed. The dairy is raided, the cows photographed and declared “a threat to the State of Israel.” Although there are numerous films on Israel and Palestine, “The Wanted 18” succeeds in offering a refreshing view on this conflict.

The acclaimed Palestinian artist Amer Shomali illustrated “The Wanted 18” and co-directed it with the veteran Canadian filmmaker Paul Cowan, combining stop-motion animation, interviews, drawings, and archival material to bring to life one of the West Bank’s strangest chapters.

Discussion: Filmmaker Amer Shomali (on Skype) and Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch.

Moderator: Anna Timmerman, senior Netherlands director at Human Rights Watch

Saturday January 31, 2015 9 p.m.: First to Fall (USA/UK, 80 minutes)

Two friends abandon their peaceful lives in Canada and return to their home country of Libya to fight in the revolution. Hamid, 26, and Tarek, 21, have never fired a gun, but in 2011 they run recklessly toward the war, fuelled by their hatred of Muammar Gaddafi and their desire to be part of history. Untrained fighters in an unconventional war, these young men risk everything to reach the front lines of battle. For eight months, the cameras document raw moments of personal and breathtakingly dangerous acts of war and sacrifice as Hamid and Tarek join the rebels taking on Gaddafi's army.

Discussion: Filmmaker Rachel Beth Anderson, and Hanan Salah, Libya researcher at Human Rights Watch.

Moderator: Anouk Eigenraam, freelance journalist for NRC and Sprout.

Sunday February 1, 2015, 1:30 p.m.: Evaporating Borders (USA/Cyprus, 73 minutes)

A visual essay in five parts, “Evaporating Borders” is told through a series of vignettes that explore the lives of asylum seekers and political refugees on the island of Cyprus. Nationalism and xenophobia frequently lead to hate, even violence, against refugees. Cyprus is one of the easiest points of entry into Europe. Refugees from all over the world, particularly the Middle East, come to the island. Through the microcosm of the current situation in Cyprus, the film explores intolerance and immigration practices throughout Europe and the Western world – where migrating populations have become subject to a variety of human rights abuses. The film looks at what it means to be displaced and examines the idea of belonging and notions of diaspora, exile, and migration.

Discussion: Filmmaker Iva Radivojevic (on Skype) and Izza Leghtas, Western Europe researcher at Human Rights Watch.

Moderator: Doutje Lettinga, fellow at Strategic Studies, an initiative of Amnesty International Netherlands.

Sunday February 1, 2015, 4 p.m.: Revolutions and Repression in the Digital Age

The Internet and mobile phones now play a major role in protests and revolutions. People are mobilized through social media, and mobile phones document everything, including many previously unseen crimes. However, the Internet can also be used against activists and exposes them to grave dangers. How did social media affect activism? How can activists protect themselves against repressive regimes?

Discussion: Mohammed Al-Maskati, Human Rights Defender and Digital Security expert, Esra'a Al Shafei on Skype, founder of Mideast Youth and recipient of the Human Rights Tulip 2014, Ole Solvang, senior emergencies researcher at Human Rights Watch.

Moderator: Mirthe Frese, De Balie.

Sunday February 1, 2015, 4:30 p.m.: Theater: “We have seen a revolution.”

This play, starring Nazmiye Oral and Jacobien Elffers, was written by Anna Maria Versloot and directed by Pieter Athmer for Human Rights Watch and World Press Photo. It is a narrative performance in the style of De Gesluierde Monologen and De Vagina Monologen. The play tells the experience of revolution in the Middle East through the eyes of two women, an Egyptian photographer and a human rights researcher in Libya. The photographer documents the events at Tahrir Square in Cairo and in so doing challenges prevailing ideas about female photographers. The researcher finds herself in a country that is slowly falling apart, beyond the media’s notice. The play highlights the important work of women in the Arab world. The play is written by Anna Maria Versloot and directed by Pieter Athmer.

Discussion: Hanan Salah, Libya researcher at Human Rights Watch, and Eman Helal, Egyptian photographer, World Press Photo, whose stories inspired the characters of the play.

Moderator: Naema Tahir, human rights lawyer and writer.

Sunday February 1, 2015, 7:30 p.m.: E-TEAM” (USA, 89 minutes)

In 2011, independent documentary makers approached Human Rights Watch to film the Emergencies Team, the E-Team. The Emergencies Team is a group of researchers at Human Rights Watch who conduct research in conflict areas and areas where humanitarian crises take place. The award-winning filmmakers Ross Kauffman and Katy Chevigny followed investigations in Libya and Syria, and visited the homes of the researchers Peter Bouckaert, Anna Neistat and Ole Solvang, and Fred Abrahams. The film shows how difficult, rewarding, illuminating, and at times, dangerous, their work can be. This film offers a unique insight in the work and private life of the emergencies team researchers. Rachel Beth Anderson, co-cinematographer, will be attending on behalf of the filmmakers.

Human Rights Watch allowed the filmmakers unprecedented access, but was not involved in the film’s production.

Discussion: Ole Solvang, senior emergencies researcher at Human Rights Watch; Anna Neistat, recently appointed Senior director for research at Amnesty International; Rachel Beth Anderson, co-cinematographer.

Moderator: Xandra Schutte, chief editor, De Groene Amsterdammer.

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