SFF'12 Panel: How Independent Docs are Changing Change

About midway through the 2012 Sundance Film Festival here in Park City, UT, and I wanted to highlight a few panels and documentary films showcased for those interested in the point where independent film and political activism meet.  Many of the documentaries selected to screen this year and related panel discussions coalesce around a common theme of activism and change.  Links to specific films to watch for below, but first video of two panels streamed live at Sundance.org this week:

Prof. Drew Westen, Sen. Barbara Boxer, and author Magaret Atwood discuss the importance of activists telling a story in the fight against income inequality (highlights only), and The Power of Story: How Docs Changed Change (full session) moderated by CNN's Soledad O’Brien with panelists Robert Redford (Sundance Founder); Sheila Nevins (HBO Documentary Films); and Nick Fraser, (editor of BBC’s Storyville) comparing the art of doc filmmaking with the strategy of successful political activism.  Watch:

Some of the documentary films screening at the festival that reflect the theme of story telling and change:

Just a handful of the films and discussions taking place I wanted to share (see the full line up here).  I have been seeing docs at the festival for the past 17 years, and this is the most concentrated and cogent I've seen the category and panel discussions get in relation to not just the stories the filmmakers are trying to tell, but the relationship between those stories and grassroots activism. To say the overall themes of Occupy Wall Street, revolution, reclamation, and income disparity are present at the 2012 festival would be both obvious and an understatement. 

Watch for them to see a larger theatrical or cable tv release later this year.


Egyptian Elections: Five reasons to stick with the process as uncertainty follows recent vote

Political parties with clear Islamic identities appear to be gaining a majority in preliminary results from Egypt’s first round of parliamentary elections: the Muslim Brotherhood backed Freedom and Justice Party has around 40% of the vote and a further 25% went to the more extreme Salafi, An-Nour party. While the Brotherhood and the FJP have pledged to respect democratic principles and the rights of other Egyptians, the Salafis are explicitly hostile to the rights of women and minorities and to freedom of expression.

These parties believe that the law of God is superior to that of men and that they are in unique possession of the authoritative interpretation of the divine will. Their apparent strength is bad news for human rights in Egypt, but it should focus the minds of those who wish to see Egypt’s democratic transition move forward.

Here are five reasons not to give up on Egypt’s democratic transition at the first hurdle:


There's more...

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Egypt Detains Mubarak and Sons. The interim government of Egypt has detained former Hosni Mubarak, who apparently suffered a heart attack, and his two sons. A statement posted on Facebook by Egypt's top prosecutor read "The prosecutor general orders the detention of former President Hosni Mubarak and his sons Gamal and Alaa for 15 days pending investigation after the prosecutor general presented them with the current state of its ongoing investigations." More from Al Jazeera.

UK Unemployment Drops. The latest unemployment figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show the under-25s and women workers are bearing much of the pain in Britain's jobs market, while average earnings continued to lag behind inflation. But economists were encouraged by an unexpected fall in the total number of people out of work, which cut the UK's jobless rate from 8 percent to 7.8 percent. Still one in five Britons under the age of 25 are unemployed. The full details in The Guardian.

Opposition Leaders Arrested in Uganda. Opposition politicians, including Dr Kizza Besigye and Mr Norbert Mao, were arrested yesterday morning and charged hours later with alleged incitement to cause violence and failure to obey lawful orders. The opposition in Uganda has mounting a walk-to-work campaign every Monday and Thursday in solidarity with Ugandans suffering under the weight of sharply rising fuel and commodity prices. President Yoweri Museven has close ties to the American Christian Right. All Africa has more on the story.

The Gambia Calls on the US to Prosecute Terry Jones. The government of the small West African country of the Gambia has called on US goverment to prosecute as soon as possible, Terry Jones, a pastor in Florida church for recently burning a copy of the Qur'an. In a strongly worded statement indicating the Gambia government's position on Monday, Ebrima O. Camara, the secretary general and head of the civil service on behalf of the Gambia government described the act as heinous, bigotry and provocative. The full text of the protest note can be read at All Africa.

Inflation in India Darkens Outlook. With the latest figures show Indian inflation galloping at 8.31 percent, Kunal Kumar Kundu of the Asia Times looks at the policy options and their implication for the fast growing Indian economy.

Libya Group Calls for Qaddafi's Exit. The newly formed international "contact group" on Libya calls for Colonel Muammar Qaddafi to stand down as the country's leader. The BBC has the full story.

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Japan Raises Nuclear Crisis to Highest Level. Japan raised the crisis level at its crippled nuclear plant Tuesday to a severity on par with the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, citing high overall radiation leaks that have contaminated the air, tap water, vegetables and seawater. More on this story from the Mainichi Daily News and from the BBC.

In related news, Japan's Economic minister says the damage to the country's economy from last month's earthquake and tsunami is worse than first thought. Economic minister Kaoru Yosano said the blow to the Japanese economy is "larger than our original expectations" which were originally estimated at $295 billion dollars. The International Monetary Fund has lowered its 2011 economic growth forecast for Japan, the world's third biggest economy, from 1.6 percent to 1.4 percent. But one economic research company (Capital Economics) says Japan's economy may shrink by 1.5 percent this year. The Voice of America has a full report on the economic impact while Germany's Der Spiegel files a story comparing the northeast of Japan to the Roman ruins of Pompei.

The Libyan Conflict. The rebel held Libyan city of Misurata has come under heavy fire hours after Gaddafi said he would agree to a ceasefire. Meanwhile, Alain Juppé, the French Foreign Minister, says alliance should be doing more to take out heavy weaponry targeting civilians in Misurata. More from Al Jazeera.

Côte d'Ivoire President Urges Reconciliation. In a television address to the nation, President Alassane Ouattara calls on fighters in the Côte d'Ivoire to lay down their arms and promises dignified treatment for Laurent Gbagbo now in custody. The story in The Guardian.

Hosni Mubarak Hospitalized. Former Egyptian President currently under house arrest at his resort home at Sharm el-Sheikh on the Sinai Peninsula has been hospitalized. No details yet as to the cause. Mubarak is 82. Meanwhile, Egypt's Prime Minister Essam Sharaf on Tuesday said that legal steps were underway to probe veracity of charges of corruption and excesses against the deposed leader. The Times of India files a report.

Inflation in the UK Drops Unexpectedly. The Bank of England reported  that Consumer Prices Index (CPI) rate of inflation in the United Kingdom was 4 percent in March, down from 4.4 percent in February. The figures came as the British Retail Consortium (BRC) revealed the biggest sales drop in its 16-year history, with total sales in March dropping 1.9% on a year ago. The full story from The Independent.

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Clashes in Tahir Square. The Egyptian military and police stormed Cairo's Tahir Square to remove protesters who were demanding the trial of former president Hosni Mubarak and the removal of Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi as interim head of state in a pre-dawn raid. Al Jazeera reports that at least one person was killed with scores injured. The violence came after a huge protest drew thousands in the square on Friday. Yolande Knell of the BBC filed this report:

This is the latest worrying sign of tensions between the ruling military and supporters of the 25 January revolution who are becoming increasingly impatient with the pace of change.

There is growing anger that remnants of the former government, including the ousted President Hosni Mubarak and his family, have not been charged with corruption. Some blame the former Defence Minister, Field Marshal Tantawi, who is head of the Supreme Military Council. He was very close to Mr Mubarak.

Reports that the army has arrested and tortured demonstrators that have circulated in recent weeks and the fact that military trials continue add to the mistrust.

The armed forces insist they were simply enforcing a curfew when they moved into Tahrir Square overnight and that they are meeting their promises of reforms and justice.

Protests in Syria Leave 37 Dead. A Syrian rights group said on Saturday that state security forces orces killed at least 37 people during Friday's demonstrations in cities across the country. The National Organization for Human Rights said in a statement that 30 people were killed in the southern city of Deraa, the epicenter of protests. Another three people were killed in the central city of Homs and three others in Harasta, a Damascus suburb, as well as one in Douma. This makes Friday the deadliest day since protests erupted against the iron-fisted dynastic rule of Bashir al-Assad three weeks ago. Syrian activists are now calling for daily protests against the regime. More from Haaretz.

More Protests, More Deaths in Yemen. More clashes erupted in Yemen especially in the flashpoint city of Taez. Agence France Press reports that thousands of protesters massed in Al-Hurriya (Liberty) Square in Taez, south of Sanaa, calling for those behind the deadly shooting of protesters to be held to account and for President Saleh to go. As many as 100,000 people marched. Medics said Yemeni security forces shot dead four protesters and wounded 116 in the flashpoint city in clashes that erupted on Friday and carried on into the next morning. On the regional scene, Yemen recalled its ambassador to Qatar, state news agency Saba announced, after a call from the Gulf state for President Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down.

A Dry March Leaves Fear of a Drought in Southern Britain. Southern England and Wales have had their driest March since 1961, with each area having only a quarter of the expected rainfall. The driest region, East Anglia, had only 15 per cent of its normal precipitation in its driest March since 1929, and the second-driest since records began in 1910. Water UK, the umbrella body for the water companies in England and Wales, says there is "currently no concern about water supplies, but we are keeping an eye on things after what was a very dry March". Britain last rationed water in 1976. More from The Independent.

Elections in Djibouti. Djibouti's president, Ismail Omar Guelleh, garnered 80.58 percent of votes cast in the country's elections on Friday, according to provisional results out today. The result would give him a third term in power in the small strategically located Red Sea state, where the opposition initially boycotted the ballot and tried to start Egyptian-style protests in February. The interior Minister, Yacin Elmi Bouh, said that Guelleh's rival, Mohamed Warsama, got 19.42 percent of votes cast in the election, which had a 69.68 percent turnout, according to Reuters. Just over 152,000 people are registered to vote in the small Red Sea state which has the only US military base in Africa and the largest French army camp on the continent. There are approximately 2,200 US troops stationed in Djibouti and the Pentagon hopes to locate the headquarters of AFRICOM there. Human Rights Watch said that the US-funded Democracy International election monitoring organisation was expelled from Djibouti in March. The government said the body had failed to maintain its neutrality in the run-up to the vote.

Bombs Mar Nigeria's Legislative Elections. Nigerians finally went to vote in most areas in the twice-delayed National Assembly elections on Saturday, but the exercise was marred by bombings and violence in at least three states. In one incident, up to 25 people were reportedly killed. Bombings were reported in the northern states of Bauchi, Kaduna and Niger, areas where Christian-Muslim tensions have long simmered. A full round on Nigeria's elections from All Africa.

More Atrocities Reported in the Côte d'Ivoire. Ivoirians who have fled across the border to Liberia have reported incidents of rape, sexual abuse and murder to NGOs and human rights groups working in Grand Geddeh and Nimba counties. Children in villages in Liberia's Nimba County have told field workers at NGO Equip that they were forced to watch as their mothers were raped and then killed. In several cases, the children themselves were then sexually assaulted. A woman told Equip staff she was forced to watch while armed men raped her four-year-old daughter. Most attacks have taken place outside villages as people tried to flee, or at checkpoints, refugees said. Refugees say sexual assaults have been committed by both armed supporters of Laurent Gbagbo and of Alassane Ouattara, as well as militia members at checkpoints, and to a lesser extent, opportunists who have preyed on refugees' vulnerability. Last week, at least 800 people were reportedly killed in inter-communal violence in the western part of the country, as rival forces continue to battle for Abidjan, the country's largest city and commercial capital. There are new reports that hundreds more have been killed in fighting on the outskirts of Abidjan. Gbagbo, who disputed Ouattara’s internationally recognized victory in the Nov. 28 presidential election, remains in a bunker with his family and senior aides but has used a lull in the fighting to mount a counter-offensive against the Republican Army of Alassane Ouattara. According to the BBC, Gbagbo forces launched two mortars and a rocket at the residence of the French ambassador in Abidjan yesterday prompting French helicopter gunships to respond.


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