Updated: May 29
In 2014, Oleg Sentsov was a pro-Ukrainian activist in Crimea, peacefully protesting Russia’s occupation of the peninsula. Some believe it’s this work that motivated the Russian security service to arrest him on the night of May 10, 2014. Sentsov says that while he was detained, he was tortured, threatened and forced into a confession that ultimately saw him charged and sentenced to 20 years in prison. Sentsov has since been released, and two weeks ago, he joined a cohort of 28 participants from around the globe at Picture People’s 16th Cinema, Human Rights and Advocacy (CHRA) Summer School in Venice, run in partnership with the Global Campus of Human Rights. The Summer School ended last week, but along the way, students had a chance to learn directly from directors and human rights advocates like Sentsov. “We never know of which heroic actions we are capable of before we find ourselves in a situation where they are necessary,” he told this year’s participants in a conversation centered on director Askold Kurov’s film, “The Trial: The State of Russia vs. Oleg Sentsov.” Set amidst the 78th Venice International Film Festival, this was just one of many impactful experiences CHRA participants enjoyed and learned from this year’s programme, which focused primarily on creating social change for children and young people. The programme included numerous film screenings, workshops and Q&As with a variety of experts in their respective fields.
In addition to their conversation with Sentsov, participants watched films including “The Price of Free,” focused on child labor and the award-winning Cenzorka (107 mothers) and had the chance to speak to both directors. In addition, this year “Tu Me Ressembles (You Resemble Me),” was produced by CHRA alumna Elizabeth Woodward and directed by Dina Amer. The film is a dramatisation of the life of Aït Boulahcen who was falsely reported as Europe’s first female suicide bomber after the 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris.
"In ‘You Resemble Me,’ director Dina Amer takes on one of the darkest issues of our time and deconstructs it in an intimate story about family, love, sisterhood and belonging,” Woodward says. “It was an incredible journey producing this film alongside Dina and I could not be more proud that this story will be shared with the world."
Egbert Wits of EngageMedia, was an addition to this year’s programme and his session focused on strategising for social impact. The programme also welcomed back Kelly Matheson from Witness and Christopher Hird from Dartmouth Films, the former offering guidance on advocacy and video for evidence and the latter on producing social impact documentaries. Woodward wasn’t the only CHRA Summer School alumna who was able to share their work with this year’s cohort. Two others — Hayat Aljowaily and Alessandro Ienzi — were at the festival with their work. Ienzi, who wrote and directed a theatrical performance titled, “My Name is Patrick Zaki—45 Days,” shared with us his thoughts on seeing his work come full circle. The theatrical piece is currently on tour through Europe.
“I took part in the Summer School in 2020. It was a wonderful experience that allowed me to deepen my knowledge on advocacy strategies and to improve my skills in this field,” he says. “It is thanks to the course I managed to create Human Freedom 21, a yearlong program promoting climate justice, LGBTQ rights, freedom of expression, migrants' rights and children's rights. … I am quite convinced that studying and meeting good professionals can really help in doing better project and being better humans.”
Aljowaily, who served as assistant to the director for the film, “Amira,” echoed that sentiment, sharing her thoughts on the impact of film for advocacy.
“As someone whose interest and passion for film comes from seeing the power it can have on changing society, working on a film such as ‘Amira’ has been an incredibly rewarding experience,” she says. “Getting to watch it at the Venice Film Festival and witnessing the seven minutes of standing ovation, was a great reminder of how much films can affect people — and hopefully — lead to positive change in the world."
Throughout the 10-day programme, this year’s students had their own chance to make a difference, working in groups on visual projects for change. This year’s cohort focused on topics ranging from indigenous people and illegal deforestation in Brazil, the rights of intersex individuals, Syrian refugees in Lebanon, child marriage in Nepal.
We can’t wait to see what our participants accomplish next.