Social equity, inclusion, individuality and – in their words – ‘raw truth’ is what the female-led social enterprise Sparkke Change Beverage Company stands for. Those ideals also inform the work of many filmmakers around the world, and at this year’s Adelaide Film Festival, we’re screening more than a handful of films with a social conscience.
“Film is an escape,” says Kim Littler, CAO of Sparkke. “(It’s) a way in which you can experience other peoples’ experiences, empathise with and be disgusted by. Film is my happy place and my sad place, a place I retreat to when I want to feel challenged, safe, or embolden. Film, well made film, means life.”
And for brewer, Agi Gajic?
“It contains this substance that somehow has this ability to connect the most wildly reactive and opposing forces. I suppose film speaks the language of the human spirit, and has the ability to meaningfully convey the beauty of its strengths and sensitivities.”
Both Gajic and Littler believe film can play a role in social change.
“If the narrative of the universal, collective human spirit can’t spur change then what hope have we got?” says Gajic.
“Telling stories is the best way to affect change. Whether that be through a moving picture, a piece of sculptural public art or a confronting documentary,” adds Littler. “(Films have) made us aware and active – driven to affect social change where we can from our humble base.”
Zain, a 12-year-old boy scrambling to survive on the streets of Beirut, sues his parents for having brought him into such an unjust world, where being a refugee with no documents means that your rights can easily be denied. Most of the performers in this Cannes prize-winner are refugees from Africa and the Middle East that play out lightly fictionalised versions of their own experiences. Zain Alrafeea has an extraordinary presence as a street-wise kid who suddenly finds himself caring for a baby. This is the stuff of strong moral outrage, directed with great naturalism by Nadine Labaki, whose Caramel and Where Do We Go Now? established her as a filmmaker with a powerfully resonant voice.
Every day in Morocco 150 women give birth outside wedlock. Under Moroccan law non-marital sex as a crime punishable by imprisonment. Sofia, a young woman from a middle-class family in Casablanca, finds herself in this predicament, even though she is in denial over the pregnancy. The hospital gives her 24 hours to provide the identification papers of the child’s father before informing the authorities. What follows is part social thriller, part social provocation as Sofia and her pragmatic cousin Lena try to hammer out a deal involving family, honour and most importantly, social status. This naturalist drama won Best Screenplay in the prestigious Un Certain Regard section of Cannes.
A Letter to the President
Gender inequality, class divisions and corruption in post-Taliban Afghanistan are exposed in the mightily impressive second feature by female filmmaker Roya Sadat. The gripping tale centres on Soraya, a respected police investigator. As we meet Soraya she is being transported to prison, where execution potentially awaits. Meanwhile, in a plush office in Kabul, a letter written by Soraya lands on the table of the Afghan president. Soraya’s lengthy letter – more like a book – outlines the circumstances of her downfall. The snowballing tale begins with Soraya preventing a woman accused of adultery from being murdered by her husband. Powerful flashbacks show Soraya being pressured by officials and even her politically-connected husband to hand the terrified woman back to her accusers. What unfolds from here is an angry and fearless critique of individuals and institutions that resent women who attain positions of authority or dare to express their right to self-determination. Even Soraya with her wealth and family connections is not immune from oppression, and worse. Sadat’s film is a taut thriller and a bold political statement.
This effervescent romance was banned in its own country as it was being celebrated in Cannes. But then, Kenya is no stranger to homophobia, with same-sex relationships punishable by lengthy jail terms. All the more reason to value the courage of a film like Rafiki, a tale of teenage first love made by Wanuri Kahiui, one of Africa’s brightest female filmmakers. Kena and Ziki long for something more than their conservative society offers young women. Tomboyish skateboarder Kena and non-conformist Ziki, with her flamboyant coloured braids, belong to families on opposite sides of Nairobi’s political divide. When love blossoms they must choose between happiness and safety.
Humanitarian activist and filmmaker Widad Shafokoj (If You Meant to Kill Me) adds to her impressive resume with this marvellous film about the transformative power of sport. In 2016 Jordan hosted the FIFA Under-17 Women’s World Cup. Shafokoj captures the passion and determination of the Jordanian team as they prepare to take their place in the first-ever FIFA tournament held in an Arab country. Coming from different backgrounds, each of the girls has faced a different set of challenges while pursuing their dreams in a game they once thought was only for men. But men have also made a positive difference here. Without her father’s defiance of friends, family, teachers and officials Leen’s amazing talent would likely never have been given the chance to shine. Now they come together to face their biggest challenge. Will Anoud be slected in the final squad? Is Leen ready to take her place with so little preparation time? Can their British coach (and ex-Brentford defender) Robbie Johnson inspire the team to victory? A hit in Jordanian cinemas, 17 is packed with positive girl-power messages, great humour and exciting footage of these spirited young women competing on the world stage. It’s a beautiful film about the beautiful game. Play on!
Memories Of My Body
Internationally celebrated Indonesian filmmaker Garin Nugroho (Opera Jawa, A Woman from Java) tells a poetic tale about the encounter between masculinity and femininity in a human body. Selected for the prestigious Horizons programme at Venice, Nugroho’s sensual film is inspired by the life of Rianto, the famous dancer and choreographer who collaborated with Nugroho on his acclaimed 2017 work Medium and also appears here. The story centres on Juno, a village boy who was abandoned as a child. Strongly aware of both his masculine and feminine sides from a young age, Juno is drawn to a troupe that performs the gender-transcending Javanese dance form of lengger. Gender-fluid Juno’s eventful journey in life and dance is framed against the backdrop of social and political upheavals that have given rise to violence, intolerance and discrimination of those who perform lengger. Nugroho’s visually striking and thematically rich film is a celebration of Javanese dance and an emotionally rewarding tale about finding truth and beauty in one’s own body.
New Year’s Eve 1999 ushered in not just a new millennium but also the presidency of Vladimir Putin. Almost two decades later he is still there, though many of those in his initial entourage are in opposition to him and/or dead. Vitaly Mansky numbers himself among Putin’s early supporters; as head of documentary for Russian state television, he was tasked with making an observational film to underpin Putin’s first bid for election. With close personal access to the new leader and also to Boris Yeltsin, the man who put him there, Mansky gives a closely considered and understated, though no less damning for that, portrait of Putin as the new prince, the man building a fresh tyranny on the ashes of the old. One man’s journey to totalitarian rule is another man’s journey into personal disillusion.
We do well to remember that there is nothing new about being a refugee. Highly regarded German filmmaker Christian Petzold (Barbara, The State I’m In) has adapted a 1942 novel by Anna Seghers, which takes place during the German invasion of France. Petzold boldly sets the action here in a strangely ahistorical present-day Marseilles. Georg is a dissident on the run from occupying forces in Paris. En route to Marseilles he steals a dead author’s manuscript and transit visa. He meets a mysterious woman and their love exists in the shadowy half-life of the refugee, where they exist as phantoms. Transit seizes on the uncanny parallels between historical fact and present-day Marseille to tell a love story set amid escape, exile and a longing for a place one can call home.