Hollywood mogul Sam Goldwyn believed movies should be for entertainment only. “If you want to send a message,” he said, “try Western Union”. (That doesn’t pack as much zing now we don’t send telegrams, but you get the idea.) But the titles featured at this year’s Human Rights Arts and Film Festival can’t be dismissed as just well-meaning morality tales.
These are dramas and documentaries from all around the world, from the land disputes of indigenous Peruvians to migrant youth culture in London’s council flats. There’s also Walk Away Renee, the new film from Tarnation’s Jonathan Caoette, further exploring his relationship with his bipolar mother while on an unpredictable road trip.
The closing night film, In The Shadow of the Sun, is a plainly constructed but extremely affecting doco about Josephat Torner. He’s an albino man living in Tanzania, where albinos are hunted down, dismembered, and their body parts sold as grisly good luck charms. Torner travels from village to village explaining that he’s not subhuman or supernatural. You’ll never forget the way he smiles, holds up his little finger, and says owning it won’t make anyone a millionaire.
But there’s also an antidote provided to this kind of inspirational tale: Informant. What made radical activist Brandon Darby work with the FBI to convict other young protestors? The documentary lets Darby explain his actions while slowly introducing competing versions of the facts. Even the usual re-enactments are deconstructed as you watch. Informant is a mesmerising study of what’s required to believe you, alone, can change the world. Ego can fuel activism – or poison it.