Timor-Leste PM To Attend Opening Of Human Rights Arts and Film Festival

James Floyd and Fady Elsayed in My Brother The Devil
James Floyd and Fady Elsayed in My Brother The Devil

The Prime Minister of Timor-Leste, Xanana Gusmão, will join filmmakers Alex and Tanya Meillier at the opening of the sixth annual Human Rights Arts and Film Festival in Melbourne on Thursday May 9th.

The opening night documentary, Alias Ruby Blade, features PM Gusmão’s wife, Kirsty Sword Gusmão, and chronicles her transformation from aspiring documentary maker to resistance operative, and her romance with the future leader of the new nation of East Timor.

There will be a Q&A session on the night, and the festival will also go on tour to Sydney, Canberra, Perth, Brisbane and Alice Springs, showcasing a vibrant combination of film and art exploring human rights issues and campaigning for social change.

The Lowdown Under got a sneaky peek at what’s on offer, and here are our three top picks.

MY BROTHER THE DEVIL

This stunning debut feature by writer/director Sally El Hosaini explores the complex issues of race and sexuality, set against the backdrop of gang violence and drug dealing in the rough London borough of Hackney.

James Floyd is a revelation in the lead role of Rashid, an Arab British young man of Egyptian hertiage. He tries desperately to shield his younger brother Mo (Fady Elsayed) preventing him from following in his footsteps, but when an unexpected alliance leads to a sexual awakening, the brothers are turned against one another.

My Brother The Devil is powerful stuff, shot with a keen eye and told with a deft understanding of the complex subtleties of family relations, peer pressure, heritage, tradition and independent thought. It’s also nail-biting, with a constant undercurrent of fear keeping the viewer on the edge of their seat.

The central relationship between the brothers is gripping stuff, and they’re ably assisted by a strong cast that, for the most part, is made up of non-professional actors, lending a greater sense of social realism. A cracker of a film chock full of talent to keep an eye on.

LOVE FREE OR DIE

Macky Alston’s powerful documentary Love Free Or Die follows Gene Robinson, the world’s first openly gay bishop to be consecrated. Hoping to change the church from within, asking them to practice what they literally preach, love and acceptance, the New Hampshire-based Robinson faces outright hostility from within the ranks of the US Episcopal church and the Anglican community globally.

Traveling to London for the once every 10 years Lambeth Conference, an Anglican tradition, Robinson is banned from attending any official events, and British clergy are asked not to host him in their churches. One firebrand, Giles Fraser, denies this request, but in one of the film’s most firey scenes, a clearly-shaken Robinson is condemned during the sermon by a vocally-aggressive heckler.

The documentary does perhaps relies too heavily on pro-LGBT rights voices within the church and beyond, but there are enough insights into the hypocrisy at play here to fire up debate. Perhaps most touching is the rock-like support of his quietly strong, long-term partner Mark Andrew.

Even as some major successes are gained, the inevitability of a damaging schism within the church tempers this sense of progress with an underlying despair over a battle that may well be a long time in the winning.

IN THE SHADOW OF THE SUN

The closing night documentary relays the harrowing tale of albinos in Tanzania. Faced with terrifying violence and crippling social stigma over the colour of their skin, they are often demonized and hunted for their limbs, which are seen as omens of good personal fortune.

Director Harry Freeland spent six years following the lives of several albinos, including social rights campaigner Josephat Torner and several persecuted children who just want to live a normal life, going to school like everyone else without receiving merciless beatings or death threats.

It’s a compelling and at times harrowing exploration of the after effects of a series of brutal murders, and the chilling influence of witch doctors perpetuating superstitions. The terrible irony that these Tanzanians face extreme prejudice because their skin is white is not lost on the audience.

The plight of one young girl, held ‘for her own protection,’ in what is effectively a concentration camp, who confides she’d rather go outside to die than live her days behind a wall, is heart-breaking. And yet there is plenty of hope here too, as Torner overcomes the physical struggles that are a part of albinism and travels the country spreading his message of acceptance.

Stephen A Russell

www.hraff.com.au