IWB was at One World Romania 2015
Between the 16th and 22nd of March, Bucharest hosted the 8th edition of One World Romania, the biggest documentary festival dedicated to the human rights in Romania. The four cinemas that hosted the documentaries: Cinema Pro, Cinema Studio, Cinema Elvira Popesco and Horia Bernea Studio of the Romanian Peasant’s Museum (Muzeul Țăranului Român) were named Kino-Maidan. In this context the world “maidan” no longer stands for an urban feature, but it has a symbolical value as a public space where people gather to discuss their problems and to be together.
The festival’s kick-off took place at Cinema Pro, where not an empty seat was left. A diverse crowd first watched an artistic moment from The Institute of Change’s repertoire, after which representatives of the organizers and sponsors gave opening speeches.
After the introduction ceremony, the first documentary that aired was Our Terrible Country. The subject of this documentary, the crisis in Syria, was of great interest for me. The film discusses the journey between Douma and Raqqa, taken by a young photographer, Ziad Homsi, and Yassin Haj Saleh, a well-known Syrian dissident writer. Yassin spent 16 years in prison in the 1980s and is one of the leading intellectual figures of the Syrian uprising. Their journey to Raqqa gave us the opportunity to see the destruction that Syria suffered during the civil war, a state that cannot be described by books or journal reports. Also this is one of the first documentaries that shown the havoc created by ISIS, described by Ziad Homsi as: We used to have only one enemy, the regime. Now we have thousands.
The second documentary that I had the opportunity to gain new insights from was The Chinese Mayor. The subject refers to the former imperial capital Datong and its mayor, Geng Tanbo. His plan to change the future of Datong is by turning it from one of the most polluted cities in China to a cultural and touristic destination. But this plan created its own downfall: tearing down tens of thousands of houses and relocating a quarter million people to a new neighborhood, built in a forest nearby. For two years Tanbo does a great job managing the situation, talking to every citizen who encounters a problem. After he gets reelected, being that he was the only candidate (a scene that stirred laughs in the cinema), Tanbo is perceived as a threat by his superiors and is relocated to another city. Thus he has to leave his plan behind and his grand plan of Datong stagnates under the new mayor.
One of my favorite movies, Lord of War with Nicholas Cage, is based on the life of Viktor Bout, also the central figure of the next documentary that I had the privilege to watch, The Notorious Mr. Bout. He was one of the arms dealers that fed the African wars of the 90s. He was jailed after a set-up by the DEA (US Drug Enforcement Agency) in 2009 in Thailand and sentenced for 25 years. The narrator of the film is Viktor Bout himself, and the documentary is crafted from home videos that the arms dealer made for himself. The film presents the life of Viktor Bout, from a young officer in the Soviet Army, to his years as a big business man in the shipping industry, transporting all kind of goods (including weapons) in Africa, until he went broke in the post 9/11 period. After the screening, the audience had the opportunity to talk with Mr. Tony Gerber, one of the directors of The Notorious Mr. Bout (the other one being Maxim Pozdorovkin). They talked about the fine line between moral and immoral, about legal and illegal, starting from the fact that Viktor Bout did not care about what his airplanes were transporting, as long as he would get the money for the shipping. The conclusion that could be formed on the basis of the film and the discussion, is that is good is not always legal, and what is bad is not always illegal.
Probably the most impressive documentary that I have seen at the festival was Unearthed, which follows the story of Jolynn Minnaar, a director from South Africa. She finds out that her homeland, the Karoo Desert, could be used for shale gas explorations. According to her country’s media the shale gas exploration would bring new jobs, economic development and energy independence. But the negative effects of this exploration got little attention and her own research remained without result. Unexpectedly, Jolynn gets an invite from a person in Pennsylvania, US, to see with her own eyes the disasters that shale gas explorations produce. But once she arrives in the United States, her contact gets paid to stay silent and Jolynn starts the investigation on her own. Unearthed is a really complete documentary about the fracking industry that kept the audience in the cinema breathless, especially because shale gas is also a problem that concerns the Romanian civil society.
During the last day of One World I saw two documentaries. The first one was Sahia Reloaded, a series of films produced by the Alexandru Sahia Cinema Studio in the communist period. The eight short documentaries passed through 20 years of Romanian communist history and were addressed to the reality of those times. Some of them focused on the Romanian industrialization, such as the workers community from a factory that lived like a big family (Tehnică nouă, oameni culți/New Technology, Enlightened People) or problems like the pollution caused by cement factories (Fabrica de împachetat fum/The Smoke-Wrapping Factory). Also, some of the films presented, like De-aș fi cowboy…/If Only I Were a Cowboy… or Cei mici despre lumea mare/The Young Ones Talk About the Grown-up World, were showing the impact of globalisation which even had its effect in the communist world. But the short film that impressed me the most was Pe malul Ozanei/On the Shore of the Ozana. Its subject was the social realities experienced by the students from the Agricultural High School from Târgu Neamț. While waiting for the railroad to be build to take them to other cities, they were learning about the ”degrees of freedom” of a tractor.
After that I went to see Killswitch at the New Cinema of the Romanian Director at the Romanian Peasant’s Museum. The film was created from interviews and news footage about two of the most prominent figures of internet freedom. The first was Aaron Swartz, a prodigy of the internet industry that became famous after the SOPA case and ended in a tragic death. The other one is former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, a traitor for the government of the United States, but a hero in the internet sphere. Snowden’s activity led us to the question: if the NSA affirmed that 90% of the information stocked is useless, why does the agency keep track of all that information and does not focus its attention to the 10% that is useful for their national security agenda, so they could prevent cases like the Boston Marathon Bombing. Killswitch challenges you to a debate regarding the internet freedom and where should the authorities be placed to keep national security, but also to not prevent the liberty of the individual to access information or to have his own privacy.
One World Romania was for me a great, new, unusual and a refreshing experience. I was really glad that I had the opportunity to see so many young people in Romania interested about causes like human rights, protecting the nature and the environment, awareness to tolerance and other causes. Actually I could say that One World offers me another hope for the future of my country.