Maruah, Singapore’s human rights group, asked me to help publicise their upcoming film-and-discussion event on 10 December 2010. The featured film will be The Way I See It: Stories on Human Rights, made by Art for the World in collaboration with the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Here is a film, made for showing around the globe, intended to be “accessible to the largest possible audience” according to its publicity material, and the most striking thing about the event is that our dick-shrinking, cunt-cramping, boot-licking censors have rated it R21.
Even if you have no interest in human rights, you may want to go and see the film, just to find out why the hell they think human rights is unsuitable for impressionable young Singaporean minds. No, not just the young. Even 18 – 20 year-old National Servicemen, called to arms to defend the country, are not allowed to watch a film about human rights.
The Way I See It: Stories on Human Rights is a 1-hour 20-minute long collection of short stories made by 22 well-known filmmakers from around the world and shot in more than 15 countries. The stories are inspired by the six themes of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: culture, development, dignity and justice, environment, gender and participation.
Some of the shorts will hit you in the stomach, for example the ones from New Zealand and Russia, leaving you angry. Others, such as the segment by China’s Jia Zhangke, are visually arresting while posing questions about our right to clean air: How do we commute, eat or even fall in love, without it? Or even pose for a family portrait?
Then there are those that are more subtle, or derived from more complicated situations, and not so open to easy answers. That by Etgar Keret and Shira Geffen (Israel), for example, looks at the arbitrariness and absurdities stemming from various rules imposed in the name of security, which may well do more to undercut one’s dignity than promote our security; while Iranian Saman Salour’s segment begins with little girls in hijabs, but ends with them playing soccer. Along the way, the question is posed why we have certain expectations of boys and different expectations of girls.
Females are not the only ones imprisoned by gender constructions, males are too, as can be seen in “Mobile men”, a contribution by Thailand’s Apichatpong Weerasethakul. Filmed just on the back of a pick-up truck, he explores what men find themselves doing to establish and flaunt their masculinity. That said, I don’t know if my interpretation is the intended message, because this one and many of the shorts are open to different interpretations (especially Murali Nair’s, which has an unexpected fantasy quality about it). That however is what makes the entire film so interesting: Every little segment opens a thought-provoking window.
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The Way I See It: Stories on Human Rights was brought in by the Singapore Film Society, who are arranging this screening in conjunction with Maruah to mark this year’s Human Rights Day.
- Date: Friday, 10 December 2010.
- Time: 20:30h Registration and ticket collection; 21:30h Film screening followed by post-film discussion.
- Admission: Free, but prior registration is required as seats are limited.
- Venue: Level 5, The Cathay, 2 Handy Road.
To register, please fill in the form provided by Maruah at http://bit.ly/maruahfilm . Because of limited seats, Maruah cannot reserve more than 4 seats per person. You will receive an email in response, which will state clearly whether your request is confirmed, or you are on the waiting list. If it is confirmed, you need to pick up your tickets at the door on the day of the screening no later than 21:00h, otherwise the tickets will be released to those on the waiting list. Tickets will be issued on a “best available seat” basis, says Maruah.
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I asked Caroline Lim, Executive Committee Member from Maruah: Why do you think a film like this can help the development of human rights in Singapore? Referring to the rights (“articles”) enumerated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, she said, “it’s a way to see how these articles that appear dry on paper, actually have a life, a reality of their own.”
“The film shows how rights are lived and acted out in people’s lives.”
Or more accurately, not lived and denied, in my view. Including the right to watch a human rights film, if you’re under 21.
As for how Singaporeans currently perceive this question of rights, Braema Mathi, Maruah chair, thinks Singaporeans “are opening up more to discussion,” with increasing space for it. Even the term “human rights”, she noted, is used more openly now, though she concedes that there is a long way to go.
“We haven’t yet reached the stage where we fully fathom what this really means at the individual level and at the community level. It will take time.”