Human rights on the big screen

Posted on Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Malala wearing a patterned headscarf sits with both hands resting under her chin.

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani activist for female education, is the subject of one of the films at a film festival hosted by uOttawa’s Human Rights Research and Education Centre. Photo: UN Photo/Mark Garten

By Linda Scales

The Human Rights Research and Education Centre (HRREC) at the University of Ottawa is using the allure of the big screen to educate the community about a serious human rights issue. From December 1 to 4, 2016, the Centre’s fourth annual Human Rights Film Festival will screen five international documentaries and films on violence against girls and women, including He Named Me Malala, the acclaimed documentary about Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai, a young Pakistani activist for female education. 

This year, the festival is also supporting the annual 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence campaign and its theme From Peace in the Home to Peace in the World: Make Education Safe for All. “We wanted to participate in the campaign again and the theme allowed us to choose five great films illustrating different aspects of this global problem. It is a happy coincidence,” said HRREC assistant director Viviana Fernandez.

Housed in the uOttawa law school, the  HRREC has been around for 35 years and as such, is one of Canada’s and North America’s oldest human rights centres. With a triple mission of research, teaching and outreach, it approaches human rights issues from a multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary perspective by attracting educators, researchers and students from the faculties of Common Law, Civil Law, Arts and Social Sciences.

The 16-day volunteer-led campaign was started in 1991 by the Center for Women’s Global Leadership. Today, more than 4,114 organizations in approximately 172 countries participate. This is the second time the HRREC film festival has supported the campaign, which begins on November 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and ends on December 10, which is International Human Rights Day. Here in Canada, a third day is solemnly acknowledged during that period: December 6, 2016, is the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence against Women, marking 27 years since the massacre of 14 women studying at École Polytechnique in Montreal.

“One of the Centre’s goals is to show a wide array of different human rights topics to the community, which can open their eyes to different problems,” says Fernandez. “Through this initiative, we can reach out to different partners and spread the word to others.”

Admission to the film festival is free, with all films being shown in the Alumni Auditorium (University Centre). The other films are: From Far Away Shores, Le monologue de la muette, The Trials of Spring and Vie Sauvage. After each screening, special guests will be on hand to discuss the film with the audience.

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