By Andrew L. Urban
“China leads the world in internet users. Yet due to strict censorship policies, it is also the world’s biggest prison for bloggers and cyber-dissidents.” I came across this sentence as a caption for a video trailer on the Resources Page of the Human Rights Arts & Film Festival (HRAFF), which launches this week (May 8, 2013) and tours Australian capital cities for two weeks.
The image of a young Chinese man standing in a green field with an iPad made me think about the power of images in the context of the pursuit of democracy. (One of the most obvious, well known examples is the lone figure with two shopping bags standing defiantly in front a tank in Tiananmen Square in June 1989.)
The trailer is for a multi award winning doco titled High Tech, Low Life, which follows two Chinese citizen reporters who are treated as threats to national security.
Phrases like “social stability” are used to justify strict censorship; authoritarian regimes often use the anodine language of the insincere bureaucrat to cover their determination to control their people, and it’s important that we see them mouthing such absurdities. The moving image is a powerful communications tool, and in this context, the facial expressions and body language of those in front of the camera add resonance and texture to the words. We have a visceral response to moving images, which is why cinema has become the world’s most common form of art and entertainment.
Australia’s HRAFF is an important event in that it brings together and showcases many films that provide information and insight on subjects that need to be widely known. Democracy shines in the sunlight of transparency and free flow of information – even, or perhaps especially, when the information is bad news about democracy.
As well as moving pictures, HRAFF showcases still images, as in its exhibition titled Requiem. “Captured by both Cambodian and foreign photographers, Requiem documents Cambodia in its last death throws, before the country fell to the Khmer Rouge on April 17th 1975. Once in power, the Khmer Rouge had no need for publicity, no call for the media who they targeted indiscriminately. Most were ambushed summarily, executed or marched into captivity. Requiem is a collection of their photos, the photos they sacrificed their lives to take.”
We should take time to feel uncomfortable about aspects of our world; we should make ourselves open to emotions that are triggered by such words and such images, because however tolerant democracy is, it should not make us tolerate injustice, oppression, violence and the trashing of human rights – anywhere.