On 28 March 2015, the Romanian movie Toto and his sisters by Alexander Nanau won the Objectif d’Or, the first prize at the Brussels’ Millenium International Documentary Film Festival. The nine-year-old protagonist who lives in extreme poverty in a predominantly Romani urban ghetto in Bucharest is left alone with his sisters while his mother spends years in prison for drug trafficking. The camera follows the child and his two older sisters, struggling to find new hope against all the odds. The result is a powerful movie which does not disguise the harsh reality of the ghetto but avoids fatalism and leaves the viewers amazed at human resilience.
The United Nations Team in Brussels has cooperated with the Millenium Film Festival since its foundation in 2009, providing it with financial and moral support. Its name and vocation is related to the Millennium Development Goals, but the scope of the documentary films shown at the festival has always been much broader, covering also subjects which are intimately linked to human rights. Since 2010, the UN Human Rights Office has been supporting the festival financially and awarding the Special Prize for Best Human Rights Message. This year, Regional Representative Jan Jařab represented the UN in the International Jury of the Festival.
While the winning film addressed several important issues from the perspective of rights of the child, the Special Prize for Best Human Rights Message was awarded by the jury to an Israeli movie, Do you believe in love?, by Dan Wasserman. The film tells the fascinating story of a woman with a severe disability who continues to work as a traditional Jewish matchmaker – also for other persons with disabilities. The tough but humane central character as well as other persons with disabilities emerge not as victims or objects of pity, but as empowered, unique personalities in a brilliantly made film – a film that is moving, entertaining and inspiring, without ever being didactic. The award was handed over by Deputy Regional Representative Paul d’Auchamp.
The prize for Best Development Content went to The Chinese Mayor, a vivid portrayal of the pitfalls of development in contemporary China. The film centers on the dynamic personality of a mayor whose over-ambitious project leads to the forced evictions of thousands of residents. The film succeeds in avoiding stereotypes because its central figure is not a classical grey bureaucrat. He impresses the viewers by his directness and even his accessibility, but his top-down methods ultimately fail: he is removed from office and his grandiose project saddles the city with astronomic debts. It can be viewed as a personal drama, but also as a plea for a much more sensitive, human-rights-based approach to development – one where the envisaged beneficiaries’ views are truly taken into account.
The jury chose also to give a special mention to Congolese gynecologist Denis Mukwege who is the central figure in the Belgian documentary The man who repairs women. Dr. Mukwege, a humanist physician who has helped to restore the lives of thousands of victims of sexual violence, has also called consistently for the end of impunity of perpetrators.
The screenings of over 70 high-quality documentaries gave room to several discussions over the films and their themes. Two UN agencies participated in discussion with the public. Dagmar Schumacher, Director of the UN Women office in Brussels, was a speaker after the screening of Candles in the wind, a documentary about the struggles of women farmers who are losing their lands to multinational corporations in Punjab, India. Thierry Lucas (UNEP) took part in the discussion following Sud Eau Nord Déplacer, a film on the consequences of a gargantuan project by Chinese authorities to shift water sources from the South to the North of the country.
The Festival showed how the arts – documentary movies – can bring a vivid, real-life dimension into the discussion of many of the issues that are being dealt with by the United Nations worldwide.
1 April 2015