Cinema in a time of renditions: Nairobi hosts film festival

Sunday November 13 2011

“Extraordinary rendition” was not a phrase in public consciousness until the attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York 10 years ago. Undoubtedly, 9/11 was the great watershed moment in global politics in recent times, and one of its effects has been to alter the way governments relate to their citizens.

The US counterterrorism policy of illegal rendition of alleged terrorist suspects to secret detention centres became much more poignant in this part of the world when Kenyan activist Al-Amin Kimathi was detained in Uganda for a year for his alleged role in the July 10 Kampala bombings.

The tensions that play out between the global “war on terror,” which forces governments to employ unusual tactics in the interest of national security, and the need to safeguard basic inalienable human rights will be thrust into the limelight at the 2011 Human Rights Film Festival, to be held in Nairobi from November 14 to 17.

“We are excited to bring the festival to Nairobi, for the first time,” said John Biaggi, Human Rights Watch Film Festival director in New York.

The festival, which has been running for 22 years, will showcase human rights themed films from around the world, including the Kenyan television drama The Team, which follows the salvation-through-sport narrative: An ethnically diverse football team must find ways to overcome their differences and work together to succeed.

Each film will be followed by a panel discussion featuring Kenyan civil society activists who will engage the audience in debating the film’s relevance to the situation in Kenya.

On Monday November 14, the Iranian film The Green Wave traces the Iranian government’s violent and systematic campaign to consolidate power and silence any form of dissent following the disputed June 12, 2009 presidential election. Directed by Ali Samadi Ahadi, the film taps into documentation by Human Rights Watch, which detailed numerous cases of arbitrary arrests and detention, ill-treatment, torture and rape of detainees, as well as serious violations of due process leading to unfair convictions and harsh prison sentences, including death.

Atsango Chesoni from the Kenya Human Rights Commission, Mwalimu Mati from Mars Kenya and Njonjo Mue from the International Centre for Transitional Justice will discuss The Green Wave.

On Tuesday November 15, Luc Côté and Patricio Henríquez’s film You Don’t Like The Truth – 4 Days inside Guantanamo, explores the issue of extraordinary rendition, using seven hours of declassified security camera footage from the Canadian government to show the interrogation of 16-year-old Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen and Guantanamo detainee.

Al-Amin Kimathi from Muslim Human Rights Forum will lead the discussion on the film, drawing from his experience in detention in Uganda, alongside advocate Mbugua Mureithi and Binaifer Nowrojee from the Open Society Initiative for East Africa.

On Wednesday November 16, the Colombian film Impunity, features hearings in which Colombian paramilitary members describe atrocities they have committed as the families of their victims listen and watch the recordings. Through this testimony, footage of the crimes, and interviews with victims and experts, the brutal history of paramilitary violence comes to light. Yet due to irregularities in the justice and peace process, many families express their fear — that they will never know the truth surrounding the deaths of their loved ones, and that the perpetrators will escape punishment.

Christine Alai from the International Centre for Transitional Justice and Margaret Shava from the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission will discuss Impunity. A representative of the embassy of Colombia in Kenya has also been invited.
The festival closes with a behind-the-scenes look into The Team on Thursday November 17, featuring discussions from Mburugu Gikunda of Media Focus on Africa and cast of the drama series.