By Chloe Darnaud
“The only reason we make films is for the impact they have,” said the director of Lost in Lebanon Sophia Scott.
The 21st edition of the London Human Rights Watch Film Festival showcases 16 political documentaries from devoted brave filmmakers traveling from Lebanon to Guatemala to shine the light on forgotten causes.
Of them all, one really stood out. It was Ben Lear’s They Call Us Monsters 90-minute-long powerful case for young offenders. Shot in California, the documentary conveys how young teens are tried as adults for violent crimes and seen as monsters by the public. Following the cases of three young boys, all tried for attempted murder and often affiliated with gangs, the film goes into their troubled past underlining bigger issues of vulnerability.
The film is heart-breaking, making us realise that in the end, these young offenders are really just kids. But the film isn’t just a big argument to decriminalised these kids. One of the teens is captured admitting he has “no remorse” for the crime he committed and the film also includes the point of view of the victims, cleverly balancing the narrative. A tough challenge for director Ben Lear.
“I felt in love with them but I was keeping in mind that if the movie was just a love letter to the kids, people would be suspicious, which would have defeated the purpose of the film,” explained Lear.
But the biggest challenge was probably getting access to the story, he said, which he mainly got through the NGO Human Rights Watch. He managed to get inside the Los Angeles jail to film.
“They felt like they always got a bad rep from the media and they realised that I wasn’t going to do that, so they let me film. They took a big leap, they don’t normally let anyone in to film,” the director said.
Another powerful film was 500 years, a documentary shining the light on the Malaysian people of Guatemala and their fight for Guatemala to recognise the genocide of the community, in a country where no children in any class learn about its country’s history. The film, that is actually part of a trilogy of documentaries by Pamela Yates, mostly shows the trial of the former president of the country for genocide.
“We wanted to film the trial to make sure it was documented,” said director Pamela Yates.
But the film also gives the mike to all generations, telling personal stories and going both in the past and future of the conflict.
“One of the challenges as a filmmaker is how do you tell the same stories from different perspectives,” said Yates.
The Scott sisters wanted to do something different with Lost in Lebanon, a powerful account of the lives of Syrian refugees in Lebanon.
“Too many films have been made about the political aspect of the conflict and remove that human aspect. We didn’t want to add to that,” said Georgia Scott.
The film has an intimate, human, and emotional approach to both the narrative and the camera handling, following four Syrians stuck in a country they are not welcome in.
Between compromised women rights in Pakistan, forced marriage in Yemen, and dreadful working conditions in China, theses filmmakers who come from all around the world have chosen their battles and found a pacific way to fight: engaging audiences by diving into touching human stories.