UNAFF: Democracy through Documentary

Oct. 26, 2012, 12:45 a.m.

How do you change the world? For the filmmakers, viewers and visionaries behind the United Nations Association Film Festival (UNAFF), human rights issues are exposed and illuminated one shot at a time.

In 1998, Stanford lecturer and film critic Jasmina Bojic founded UNAFF to honor the 50thanniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Fifteen years later, the festival attracts filmmakers from all over the world, hosting screenings for 10 days at venues throughout the Bay Area.

Past themes, all drawn from various articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, include “The Values of Tolerance” and “Blue Planet, Green Planet.” This year, Bojic chose “Human Dignity” because she wanted to, in her words, “come back to the essence of humanity.” Drawn from a pool of 670 submissions, the 70 selected films cover renewable energy, cyber crime, looted art, human trafficking and modern slavery, among others.

For co-directors and co-producers Kathy Berger and Ines Sommer, their film “Beneath the Blindfold,” which focuses on the rehabilitation of torture survivors, represents “a perspective that we don’t usually see in print or broadcast media.” Documentaries such as this one are used to start a dialogue, to challenge mainstream sources and to “give voice to people who are marginalized.”

Tenzin Seldon ’12, a Rhodes scholar and Tibetan-American activist, is featured in “State of Control,” which tells the story of the Tibet/China struggle with a focus on Internet freedom. The film highlights how Seldon’s Gmail was hacked by unidentified sources in China, which spurred Google to question its business dealings in the nation in 2010.

Stanford students and faculty are behind the camera as well. Seven of the filmmakers are associated with the University, among them, Professor Kristine Samuelson and her student Sarah Berkovich M.F.A. ’13, who both had films screen this week.

Yuriko Gamo Romer M.A. ’97 screened her film “Mrs. Judo: Be Strong, Be Gentle, Be Beautiful,” which details the story of Fukuda, a 99-year-old Japanese woman who attained judo’s highest rank despite gender discrimination.  Both Romer and Fukuda will be in attendance at the screening this Saturday. Romer is one of 55 filmmakers who have traveled from all over the world to participate in the festival and join the discussion about human dignity through film.

For Bojic, it comes back to her students. “I strongly believe that images, and in particular documentaries, can change how students think about the world.  From what they see on the screen, they will be inspired to go and search for the truth.”

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