Zakhme Dil – A Scarred Heart

On Wednesday 25th June 2008 at the Lord Mayor’s Hospitality Suite in Coventry, Save the Children launches a ground-breaking film entitled ‘Zakhme Dil – A Scarred Heart’ – telling the story of a young unaccompanied refugee in the UK.

Written and directed by Shakila Taranum Maan in collaboration with the young people from The Positive Press Project based in the West Midlands, the film tells the story of Ali, a young unaccompanied refugee from Afghanistan and It portrays images of life both in Afghanistan and UK.

There was once a time of no war, of everyday the sun-rising and children going to school. When fathers and mothers would do their job and sisters and brothers played and learnt about how to be in the world. When beautiful buildings stood proud; ancient, historical, with memories. And fragrances that were Greek, Persian, Chinese, Afghani, unimaginable.”   Extract from Zakhme Dil – A Scarred Heart ©Shakila Taranum Maan 2008

The Positive Press project has been running for the past year with an aim to give young people a voice on issues affecting them and to challenge representations of young refugees through the media. Young people participating in the project are drawn from both refugee and non-refugee backgrounds from Coventry and Birmingham. The project was funded by Comic Relief

The DVD is being officially launched by Save the Children in Coventry and will feature in the “Refugee Week” festival in London.

For further details contact Joanna Turner on 0121 555 888 or email her on j.turner@savethechildren.org.uk

Save The Children, Save the Children West Midlands, Afghanistan, Asylum Seekers, Refugees, Comic Relief, Refugee Week

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The Cinema of Santiago Alvarez

Santiago Alvarez was a Cuban filmmaker who began making films in his forties, so there is hope for all of us!

Born in Cuba, Havana 1919, Alvarez studied at the University of Havana and at the Columbia University, New York. After the Cuban revolution in 1959, Alvarez served as vice president of newly formed Instituto Cubano del Arte e Industria Cinematograficas (ICAIC) and later as the director of the Latin American ICAIC newsreel, from 1960. He died in 1998 in Havana of Parkinson’s disease.

Since so much emphasis is being given to feature length documentaries recently, it would be interesting to see the work by Alvarez released just as Battle of Algiers, serving as an example of filmmakers creating a political film language for future documentary filmmakers. ‘Now’ made in 1965 is a profound document of political film making at the time.

“Not intended as a work of great subtlety, Alvarez wields other people’s images with perhaps more artistry than those who created them, and builds a remarkable piece of rhetorical cinema in the process… ‘Now!’ is strident, yes; but breathtaking” Tom Sutpen

Alvarez also produced a large number of short films which illustrated his enormous talent as a filmmaker.

I came across this excellent write up on him on from Cinema Texas Film Festival 2002, presented by Travis Wilkerson. The festival was co-sponsored by the Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies. The Cinema Texas presented a retrospective of Alvarez’s short film, seldom seen outside of Cuba.

SANTIAGO ALVAREZ RETROSPECTIVEHE WHO HITS FIRST, HITS TWICE: THE URGENT CINEMA OF SANTIAGO ALVAREZ

The films of Cuban director Santiago Alvarez are inextricably linked to the United States, and nearly all of his key works concern some matter of American history: the civil rights movement, the wars in South-East Asia, U.S. interventions in the Americas. They exist as a kind of fractured mirror to the last 40 years of American history-a subversive, alternate history. Alvarez’s first exposure to radical politics came while he worked briefly as an immigrant coal miner in Pennsylvania in the 1940s (with the outbreak of war, he returned to Cuba). He didn’t produce his first film until he was in his forties, but the indefatigable Cuban director more than compensated for lost time. In a film career which began with the triumph of the Cuban Revolution in 1959 and continued until his death in 1998 at the age of 79, he directed nearly 700 films. Lacking formal training, Alvarez was tapped to direct the Cuban Film Institute’s (ICAIC) newsreel division Noticiero ICAIC. The choice was one of political utility and little artistic ability was expected from the novice director. Yet over the next 30 years, Alvarez supervised the production of nearly 1500 weekly newsreels and in the process transformed a banal and wholly utilitarian genre into a veritable laboratory of radical innovation.

Although he produced works of nearly every conceivable length, it is surely in the short film that his audacious talent is most impressively manifest. His mastery of this form is a product of the unique circumstances of his film education at ICAIC. Working under extremely tight temporal and material constraints, Alvarez became a master of improvisation. He combined the use of limited found materials-archival footage and photographs-with a dynamic graphic sensibility, bold and unexpected music-image pairings, and a highly contemporary use of rapidly paced editing. Fusing the avant-garde with popular culture, he sought to synthesize a filmic style as revolutionary as the changes then sweeping his society. As Alvarez moved from the highly condensed newsreel into longer documentaries, he would only deepen his exploration of radically motivated experimentation. The resulting films were always political, often didactic. They could be playful or deadly serious. They were borne of rage, bitter irony and an almost limitless solidarity. They could be raucous or silent, brief or monumental, laconic or verbose. They were prone to tangents, but could be as eloquent as poetry. They never sought perfection. They were never made with posterity in mind. They were made for the here and the now. They showed the world to be forever changing and changeable.

What is striking, even today, is the manner with which they successfully balance goals we tend to regard as irreconcilable. They are at once highly experimental, yet completely accessible. They were produced by a state-financed collective, yet register an unmistakably personal vision. They were produced without regard to posterity, yet they reverberate with a timeless vitality. And Alvarez used every means at his disposal, which meant that frequently the films were made with next to nothing at all. “Give me two photos, music and a moviola…” he said, “and I’ll give you a movie.” And what a movie it would be.

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Death Penalty

This month the UN General Assembly are due to meet to discuss the moratorium on capital punishment. I have been trying to get news of this, but so far have failed to do so. If any of you have come across anything please let me know. In the meantime here is an excellent piece from HANDS OFF CAINE published on 30th August 2007.

“It is only a few weeks from the presentation of a resolution on the Universal Moratorium on Capital Punishment at the UN General Assembly by the European Union, an initiative that was inspired by Italy, Hands Off Cain has released its 2007 Report on Capital Punishment in the world, and the picture it paints is chilling.

Notwithstanding protests and humanitarian initiatives, many countries of the world still execute children. And in 2006 the number of countries that employ capital punishment increased from 24 in 2005 to 27. In 2006, there were at least 5,628 executions as compared with 5,494 in 2005. Capital punishment still exists in many Islamic regimes, in some democracies, and even in a European country (Belarus).

Among the 51 countries that still employ capital punishment, China, Iran and Pakistan take the record for executions: at least 5000, 215 and 82 respectively. In 2006 in Iran, seven minors were executed. The United States have put to death 53 people, slightly less than the year before. Between June 30th, 2005, and June 30th, 2006, five executions took place in Belarus. However the surprise comes from Africa, the continent of tribal struggles and uncontrollable genocides. While it is true that there were 80 documented executions in 2006, a sharp increase on the 19 of 2005, it is also true that numerous countries are in favour of the resolution on capital punishment, as Prime Minister Romano Prodi revealed in the introduction of the Hands Off Cain Report.

The Prime Minister describes the commitment in Africa as extraordinary, citing that South Africa, Mozambique, Angola, Senegal, Liberia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda (whose people have recently witnessed the most serious violations of international human rights) have joined our global campaign. Confirming this is the recognition given to Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda, with the prize of ‘Abolitionist of the Year 2007’. It was awarded by Hands Off Cain as an acknowledgement to the person who, more than anyone else, committed themselves to the moratorium on capital punishment and the abolition of the death penalty. Kagame is also the author of the Report’s preface, in which he notes that ‘Rwandans have defeated the leadership responsible for the genocide (the Hutu), the State and the culture of impunity’.

According to Hands Off Cain, ‘the abolition of the death penalty and the support of the campaign for the Universal Moratorium on capital punishment are acts of extraordinary symbolic value. Rwanda has symbolically demonstrated to the world that it is possible to break the absurd cycle of revenge, and that justice and legality aren’t achieved with capital punishment.