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Ten human rights defenders take center stage in A Matter of ACT

February 07, 2011

This year's Movies that Matter Festival will once again put the spotlight on ten human rights defenders and ten impressive documentaries featured in A Matter of ACT, the program that highlights the dangerous and important work by, among others, Burmese Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, Russian filmmaker Andrei Nekrasov, extravagant lawyer Alice Nkom

from Cameroon and Indonesian Suciwati Munir. These activists, nine of whom will attend the festival, play a crucial role in the defense of human rights worldwide. Amnesty International's competition program A Matter of ACT is sponsored by Nationale Postcode Loterij.


A Matter of ACT awards two Amnesty International prizes: a Golden Butterfly for one of the human rights activists and a Golden Butterfly for the director of the best documentary film. The jury, presided by activist Bianca Jagger, is further composed of Frans Huijnen (president of the Dutch Equal Treatment Commission), Iraqi filmmaker Mohamed Al-Daradji and American documentary maker Pamela Yates. This year's nominees are:


Aung San Suu Kyi is one of the world's most prominent politicians and leader of the non-violent movement for human rights and democracy in Myanmar (former Burma), for which she received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. The film Lady of no Fear (Anne Gyrithe Bonne) zooms in on her personal life and the sacrifices she makes to attain her goal. TV interviews with Sonja Barend and fellowstudents from Oxford shed light on her life history and her life with her husband and children. In 1988, she left for Burma, saying goodbye to her family. As a consequence, she could not even attend her husband's funeral.


Indonesian Suciwati Munir is the widow of Munir Said Thalib, a human rights activist and founder of KONTRAS (the ‘Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence'). In 2004, he was poisoned on board of an airplane that took her from Garuda to the Netherlands. The film Unjust (Josefina Bergten) sees Suciwati Munir campaigning for justice, side by side with Padma Perera from Sri Lanka and Thai Anghkana Neelaphaijit after their husbands were found dead under suspicious circumstances. The film shows how Asia's legal system is undermined by corruption, intimidation and backlog of cases.


News reporter Palagummi Sainath from India is deeply worried about the high suicide rate among penniless farmers in his country. The film Nero's Guests (Deepa Bhatia) follows Sainath on his investigation into the causes and the lack of media attention for this tragic side-effect of extreme poverty.


Palestinian Ayed Morrar tries to prevent the Israeli wall together with the inhabitants of his native village Budrus. This wall threatens to deprive the village residents of their main source of revenue, the centuries-old olive trees. Even the Israeli soldiers who take ever more drastic measures, cannot stop them. Thanks to Morrar's efforts, the wall is eventually constructed outside of the village. The film Budrus (Julia Bacha) shows that non-violent resistance does indeed bear fruit.


Russian filmmaker Andrei Nekrasov personally investigates the war between Russia and Georgia in 2008, highlighting the Russian propaganda, 'biased' coverage in western media and the human consequences of the conflict for Georgians. When the war breaks out in August 2008, Nekrasov and his wife Olga Konskaya move towards the front line from two directions. On their way, they send each other their footage and exchange their experiences. In Russian Lessons (Andrei Nekrasov), the recent war is linked to the 1993 conflict between Georgia and Abkhazia.


Lawyer Alice Nkom campaigns for the release of incarcerated gays in Cameroon and pleads for equal rights for the gay population. Since 1972, homosexuality is considered a criminal offence punishable by up to five years imprisonment. The extravagant lawyer takes the defence of Lambert, who was arrested together with thirty others in a bar and subsequently thrown in jail. Nkom denounces both the legal system and the prejudices prevailing in society. Cameroon: Coming Out of the Nkuta (Céline Metzger) is a balanced documentary that highlights the consequences of the new government policy on gays and lesbians.


Kenyan Chris Mburu has become a human rights lawyer at the United Nations thanks to the financial support of an anonymous sponsor. Years later, this boy, who in the meantime graduated from Harvard, sets out to find his benefactress, Hilde Back. Through his Hilde Back Education Fund, he now helps poor, inquisitive Kenyan children to go to secondary school. The film A Small Act (Jennifer Arnold) shows how a small act can have a major impact.


Senegalese hip hop queen Fatou Mandiang Diatta (Sister Fa) uses her popular hip hop music to denounce social evils. Subjected to circumcision as a child, she founded the movement Education Without Cutting in order to fight female genital cutting. The lively music documentary Sarabah (Maria Luisa Gambale and Gloria Bremer) follows Sister Fa on her ‘road trip' across Senegal to raise awareness about the dangers of this ancient tradition, which is now prohibited by law.


Environmentalist and priest Marco Antonio Arana, also known as Father Marco, was proclaimed ‘Hero of the Environment 2009' by TIME Magazine. In Cajamarca, one of the poorest villages in the north of Peru, local residents rebel against American mining corporation Newmont's intention to extract gold on their holy mountain, which would harm the environment and the local population. The protesters, led by Father Marco, are threatened, molested and even killed. The thrilling documentary The Devil Operation (Stephanie Boyd) shows what a company is capable of in order to secure its interests.


Radio presenter Yamileth Chavarría campaigns against sexual violence in Nicaragua on her radio show Palabra de Mujer (Womens Voices). Violence against women is a serious problem, yet completely ignored by local police and the judiciary. Together with the local Womens Centre, she developed a program to raise awareness among women and report cases of abuse on the air. In the documentary The Jungle Radio (Susanne Jaeger), women's personal stories and men's way of looking at the subject are presented against a background of music performances by local bands.

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