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2011 Human Rights Watch Film Festival At MOPA

January 18, 2012 2:37 p.m.


Amber Lucero-Criswell, Director of Education at the Museum of Photographic Arts

Professor Huma Ahmed-Ghosh, is chair of Women Studies at SDSU

Related Story: Human Rights Watch Film Fest At MOPA


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. Hearing and reading about human rights abuses like the conditions of detainees or international sex trafficking and important. But seeing the conditions that abuse victims endure can make that information crystal clear and undeniable. The human rights watch film festival comes to the San Diego museum of photographic arts for a second year. The festival includes six films covering a wide range of human rights issues. My guests, Amber Lucero-Criswell is the museum of photographic arts director of education. Amber, welcome to the show.
LUCERO-CRISWELL: It's a pressure to be here.
CAVANAUGH: And professor Huma Ahmed Ghosh is professor of women's studies at SDSU. And may I call you Huma?
TINSKY: Yes, please.
CAVANAUGH: And let me start with you, Amber. This is the second year that MOPA is screening the human rights festival. What would you say separates this festival from others we hear about?
LUCERO-CRISWELL: It's a good question. We have a number of festivals throughout the year. This one specifically focuses on films that directly deal with human rights abuses around the world. So it's really our chance as a museum to use the medium of film to raise awareness about what's going on globally, and how we can participate in the benefit of others.
CAVANAUGH: And what's the span of these films this year? Tell me about some of the films that you're going to be showing?
LUCERO-CRISWELL: Well, we're going to be taking a walk around the world, but also starting right here in the United States. We have two films that deal directly with civil issues. One related to environmental terrorism. And the other related to the human rights of detainees in Guantanamo bay. We're turning the camera right on us here in the US to start off with, and really raising the question what it means to be a terrorist. Those are if a tree falls, and also you don't like the truth. . Four-days inside Guantanamo. We'll also be looking at sex trafficking with an incredible film that looks at European women who have been drawn into the world of sex trafficking. It's called the price of sex. And we're looking at films made by teen film makers, teens around the world showing us what's going on in their communities what they believe in, what they stand up for, and what they want the rest of us to care about as well. And that's a cycle of films, short film, called youth producing change.
CAVANAUGH: It really spans a great deal of not only subjects but the world as you say. Now, I'm wondering how the films are selected. And I ask that question because I understand one of these films was made in 1982. So is there any kind of idea of being current, or is it just the quality of the film itself?
LUCERO-CRISWELL: It's a little bit of both. Human rights watch receives submissions from independent film makers throughout the world every year. And then they evaluate the films based on their artistic value, and their accuracy. So they do a number -- a lot of research to make sure that what we are presenting is accurate. But then it is also engaging, and that's at artistic value component. The film you mentioned from 1982 is a special one. And I hope that everyone will be excited to see this because it's rare that we show one that's from 30 years ago. And it's from part of a special double feature on Saturday. When the mountains tremble was filmed in 1982, and it's a really incredible look into the Guatemalan civil war, which is a 36 year military campaign against the indigenous peoples of Guatemala. That's been updated in the film that will proceed it, which is called granito: How to nail a dictator. And that tells the story of the footage from when the mountains tremble is being use the as evidence against one of the military commanders in his genocide case in Spain. It's one of the first instances in which a documentary which is traditionally used to raise social awareness is now impacting social justice and is being used as evidence.
CAVANAUGH: Now, amber after each film, the audience can participate in a discussion. That must be very powerful. What's the intent of those?
LUCERO-CRISWELL: Well, we want these films to have an impact. It's not simply about a viewing experience, but it's about making sense of it am so we've invited various experts. But also the film makers themselves to help us put these films into context, help us decide how we can act upon what we've just seen. But how do we continue the conversation, how do we stand up for those that we've seen in the film, and how do we make change? We'll be having those rich discussions after each film.
CAVANAUGH: I'm going to be bringing professor Huma on Amed gosh into the conversation in just a minute. On Friday, you're going to be screening a film called love crime was Kabul. Tell us about that film.
>> It takes place in a women's prison in Kabul, Afghanistan. And it tells the story of three women who have been imprisoned for what's called moral crimes. So moral crimes are essentially -- essentially but not exclusively having sex outside of the bounds of marriage. And that might be before marriage or what not. And so these women have been imprisoned for those crimes. So it's really an unprecedented look into the lives of these three very vibrant, expressive women in prison as they are working to resolve their cases
CAVANAUGH: Now, Huma, you are -- you've spent some time recently in Afghanistan over the last few years at least. Are the experiences of the women in this prison shown in love crimes in Kabul something that you've seen or you've heard about?
TINSKY: Yes. The film is really interesting. Of as far as the prison stories are concerned from Afghanistan, especially the women's prisons, they're mainly based in the cities. So I do want to make a distinction between what happens in the city of Kabul and what happens outside the situation of women are very different. But in a very interesting way, women as you were talking earlier, do not sometimes mind going to prison because it's an escape from the hash reality of their lives. So this film does justice to that. It shows how women who are very vibrant, the strong women, they have some agency, do get-together to discuss their issues and fight for their rights in the prison. But as the film shows, it's not a common story that women would be imprisoned for crimes of love because only a very few women have access to a prison.
CAVANAUGH: Well, let me ask you something. There's one woman in who is profiled in this film, love crime was Kabul, she's turned herself into police when she discovered that the man she'd fallen in love with, and whose baby she is carrying, had no intention of marrying her. So basically, she went to the police and told them I've done this, and so has he. And they were both imprisoned, right? Is this a common practice?
TINSKY: This -- I don't want to call it a common practice. But it isn't uncommon for those who have access to prison. I mean, as bizarre as this may sound. And she was one of the smartest women that -- in the film, because she realized that she did not do this to force him to marry her, necessarily. But also to regain the honor for her family. And another interesting twist with her story is that she also belongs to one of the lower tribes in the hierarchy, she's a Hazara, and they are, like, equivalent to a lower caste, if I compare it to India. And her boyfriend is a Pashtun. He's of the majority community. So she needed to regain the honor of her family. And so she turned herself and her boyfriend into the police. And both were put in prison. And she comes across as a very strong character in the film and is able to resolve the issue by having the Courts agree for the two of them to get married.
CAVANAUGH: Now, of course we don't want to put too fine a point on it. These women are prisoned for crimes and face some kind of sentence for them. But the film maker of love crime was Kabul says she made this film in part because we in the west don't really have a good full idea of what it is to be a woman in Afghanistan. She says we think it's all grim. We think it's all -- people are sad all the time, and -- but this is not what we see in this film.
TINSKY: And you're very right. The film maker is very right. In fact, her film is -- really contributes to the whole issue and the discourse on women's lives in different countries and cultures because there is, even many times, I get questions from people who go to India. They're so poor, and yet they're smiling. And you know, everybody, they're all regular people like you and me. And they live their daily lives. They get married, have children, and whatever else, and party. So what the film maker has definitely convinced the audience through this film is that they are regular people, and they have real issues. And they fight for them in cooperative manners. And the prison interestingly, also, is very clean, open-air kind of well-lit place. It's a better location than their homes.
CAVANAUGH: And all the wardens are women.
TINSKY: Sympathetic women to their causes. It's remarkable, yeah.
CAVANAUGH: What if any role does the American role in Afghanistan play in this film?
TINSKY: Yeah, I mean -- it's not overt in the film. But all of this is the culmination of the centuries of tradition. What I do want to point out is that we have been there for now almost ten years. And we went there to liberate women, and none of that has really happened. And the biggest issues that Afghanistan needs to be concerned about and us too is really the poverty and the situation with security, which makes it worse for women. So at some level, just looking at women per se outside of this bigger picture becomes problematic because their lives are impacted by the war, the poverty, the insecurity, the justice system. There is none. And also our support for malitia and police, which in interesting ways, we have armed. But they act as little tribal war lords and perpetuate a very tribal traditional culture, and a misrepresented interpretation of Islam also. Unfortunately, I want to say that the US presence in Afghanistan has not helped the situation of Afghan women, and may have inadvertently deteriorated the situation. And I also want to make a point that for all the billions we have spent in Afghanistan, I think we have spent about over 2.5†billion, only 3% has gone to humanitarian aid. And to be more precise, only 200,000 for women's issues and NGOs. In the bigger picture, I want to say we have failed.
CAVANAUGH: And this sounds like part of the discussion that will probably follow this film. One last point about love crimes of Kabul, does this film illuminate in some way how these women can find such joy and vibrancy in such dark places?
TINSKY: Well, I don't know if this is going to sound odd, but the prison doesn't look like lie dark place in this film. So it is very much conducive to joy. But to refilm the question is with the kind of social pressures and cultural pressures, how can women look so joyful? I think it's about every human being adapting to their circumstances. And when you've had a recession and nobody is really weeping that much, we try to make --
CAVANAUGH: Good point!
TINSKY: We try to make the best of what we have, and if that becomes their normal lives, then they adapt! Everybody is adapting and moving on.
CAVANAUGH: Amber, one might get the idea that human rights watch film collection would be sort of downbeat and grim and difficult to watch. Is that the case?
LUCERO-CRISWELL: Certainly some of the films are difficult to watch. And I don't want diminish that point. The 1982 film of when the mountains tremble put me in tears. It really is tragic. But there's also the wide range of the human experience displayed in the whole festival. It is about connecting us with our common humanity, and really encouraging us to stand up for the rights of all, because we are -- the only people that we have to rely on is ourselves.
CAVANAUGH: Human rights watch is such ape serious organization with such an important goal, to try to monitor human rights abuses around the world. Why would you want to put on a film festival?
LUCERO-CRISWELL: Well, film is an incredible medium for engaging us on important issues. We can think back to our own experience of films that just hit us at an emotional level. So film and photography specifically, these lensed-based media that the museum of photographic arts specializations in are powerful ways to get us emotionally invested in the stories and places of others, and rallying us to the common cause of humanity.
CAVANAUGH: If listeners want more where can they get it?
CAVANAUGH: Human rights watch film festival begins on Friday, runs through Monday, January†23rd, at the museum of photographic arts in Balboa Park.