The Roehampton Human Rights Film Festival was the first professional project I had to realize at school. I learned a lot from this experience and particularly from team work. From a retrospective look, I am now able to analyze the whole process and to give some pieces of advice if a new festival is organized one day.Roehampton Human Rights Film Festival Poster

We started with the establishment of a program. We needed to choose which human rights issues the festival will cover. That involved understanding the meaning of human rights. It is a concept, described in Human Rights Declaration as «inalienable fundamental rights to which a person is inherently entitled simply because she or he is a human being ». In reality, this definition covers a multitude of areas including women’s rights, children’s rights, integrity rights, refugee’s rights, political, civil, social, economic, cultural rights….

This definition is constantly challenged. Its universalism had been questioned by the philosopher Joaquin Herrera Flores [1] . He describes human rights as a western influenced concept, defined with capitalist values while it should be applied to everyone, and be independent from cultural criteria.

Human Rights issues are so numerous, and even environmental issues are taken into account by some festivals. We had to limit our choice to a certain issue in order to stay coherent. .Finally, our program was heteroclite. Our main aim was to give people clues to help them understand what ‘human rights’ means. We had to interrogate the audience about their own vision. The student competition shew us how the human rights conceptions are different from one person to another.

In Human rights Film festival: Global/Local networks for advocacy, Mariagiulia Grassilli [2] explains that Human Rights festivals ‘aim is ‘to build awareness.’ Like others, we had special guests, speakers and directors to intervene during our festival. That’s why I talked about coherence; in fact, everything went in the same direction. We all wanted to transmit and to receive knowledge about Human Rights.

‘Film can be a particularly powerful medium for human rights education , but again it is important to ensure that a human rights film festival ,for example , has a combination of ‘good news’ and ‘bad news’ messages and also that avenues are provided for people who wish to take further action’.

(Jim Ife: 2009)

Documentaries were numerous in our festival. Usually documentaries are considered as educational tools. They contain the power of cinema in itself. It is called ‘mimetic power’, a term coming from ‘mimesis’ which implies that the cinema reproduces natural mechanisms to perfection. The spectator recognizes himself and his environment in film and this process of identification is used to give people the inspiration to act by themselves. In Human Rights film festivals, documentaries are chosen because their relation to Truth makes them look more reliable to audience, and more likely to provoke a reaction.  There is the idea that the movies and consequently, film festivals have an action in time, which lasts longer than the festival itself.

We, as members of the team, were confronted to this expectation from the audience. We were expected to provide reliable sources of information and movies of quality. I realized, as a floor manager, that people relies on us to give some information about the films. We were guarantor of Truth .If people asked us some questions I assume that it was because the films we programmed touched them. We had this impression for Nostalgia for the Light, but also because we were a part of an institution which provides an access to culture and education. We offered people an opportunity to watch marginal films and to be told about human rights issues to a ‘personal level’ throughout films.

The creators of the festival were seeking to raise awareness about human rights issues in a way that Human Rights Watch’s research and reports could not — in a way that spoke to people on an emotional and personal level as well as on an intellectual and political level. Film is above all about storytelling ‘

(Andrea Holley, deputy director of Human Rights Watch Film Festival)

Did we successfully reach this aim?

Amnesty international intervention was a good tool.  The Q&A’s with Michael Chanan, director of Secret City as well, because both set interactivity between audience and festival’s actors .Thanks to them, Roehampton Human Rights Film Festival became ‘a place’, literally and figuratively, to share knowledge and opinions. This day, it was the gathering point of people’s networks.

Unfortunately, the efforts we put in publicity were not sufficient and we were disappointed about the number of people who turned out. I learned that students constitute a difficult audience to attract because they are constantly solicited. The same night, a great party was organized and we certainly suffered from its popularity.

To conclude I would say that this festival was a great opportunity to develop professional skills. But I only realize now, that building this festival will not have been possible without Human Rights.

Right to assembly,

Right to education

Right to choose and express freely,

Right to share our community’s art and science

[1] Marcelo Figueirido, The Universal Nature of Human Rights : The Brazilian Stance within Latin America’s scenario, The Universalim of Human Rights , Arnold Rainer Springer Editions

[2] Mariagiulia Grassilli , 2012, ‘Human rights Film festival: Global/Local networks for advocacy’, Film Festival YearBook 4 : Film Festivals and Activism, Edinburgh St Andrews Film Studies

Marcia G.Yerman,’Human Rights Watch Film Festival: An Interview with Andrea Holley’, Huffington

Cindy Hing-Yuk Wong, 2011, ‘Festivals as Public Sphere’, Film Festivals: Culture, People and Power on the Global Screen

Jim Ife, 2009,  Human Rights  from below : achieving rights from community development, Cambridge University Press

Yehuda Lerner in Sobibor 14 octobre 1943 16 heures

‘I did not ask the big questions for fear that the answers would be too little ‘ Raul Hilberg

Claude Lanzmann is now 87 years old and we could write pages and pages about his life/lives and all the human rights issues he lingered on. Resistant during WW2, then journalist and editor in Les Temps Modernes (magazine created by Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre in 1945) , he became an international famous filmmaker with Shoah.

Now that I have seen his main movies from Why Israel to Shoah, I can tell that his cinema is unique. His approach of documentary film and his technique evolve and gradually go in depth about questions of identity, memory, origins. The director is nevertheless a controversial figure in documentary film field.

Among all his films, Sobibor, 14 octobre 1943, 16 heures is a singular piece of work: it tells the story of a successfull uprising in Sobibor camps in 1943. Sobibor represents the re-appropriation of violence by Jews, something under-represented in documentary and fiction genre. Respecting his fashion of interviewing, the director shots the witness and stays off-screen, asking precise questions, digging in details in witness memories.

It was the first time that I found Lanzmann’s questions disturbing as well as the witness’ narrative.  Do we need to hear the details of such a bloody initiative? And why does Lanzmann wanted to shot this man’s face, where the satisfaction of revenge can be read? Yehuda Lerner describes the joy to have killed a nazi as a liberating experience both literally and figuratively. Freedom is Lanzmann’s favourite theme, and that’s why he chose to make a film about Jews’ uprising. But it also highlights the mise en scene problem: how the documentary in itself is a mise-en-scene, the mise-en-scene set by the prisoners to catch the Nazis and kill them.

Despite all the investigations he made, he is criticized for never asking ‘why’. Indeed, he never invokes historians in his movies. Lanzmann does not want to rationalize or justify horror.

Lanzmann’s cinema is characterized by his manner of interviewing his witnesses that a lot consider harsh. He uses a journalistic technique called maieutics, that is to say that he seems to oppress people with questions. It is inspired from Plato’s maieutics meant to ‘give birth to truth’ asking questions intelligently. In Why Israel, his first movie, Lanzmann appears several times, he is having discussions instead of leading interviews .Whereas he is, in Sobibor and Shoah, staying in the shade. Lanzmann uses a technique of interview called ‘narrative ‘.The aim is to stimulate the memory and reflection of the witness by asking appropriate questions. The journalist should know the topic before the interview in order to be able to orientate it.  The journalist’s influence on the witness can’t be neutral as he is the one leading the interview. Sometimes, even if the witness starts to cry, Lanzmann insists and carry on, repeating the same question again and again. This technique avoids lapses, omissions and simplification made by witnesses because they think some details are not interesting .This approach often denounced as determination corresponds to a conception of Truth and proves an awareness of the transmission duty. The director believes that we need to see either the tears or indifference on victims and persecutors faces because he wants to shot the impossible narrative .


What certainly disturb us is to be directly confronted to sorrow, to what these people are forced to live with every day. By asking them the difficult flashback effort, it urges us to think in present. After a while, I realized that what remains from this film are these big close-up on Yehuda Lerner face. This is what makes Lanzmann’s films so powerful: his ability to shot faces, to make them remembered. Shooting a single history, Lanzmann opens a ‘Dialogue on morality of violence ‘(Richard BRODY ;2009)

All Lanzmann’s work is based on ethics: ethics of transmission, ethics of looks and ethics of narrative. His relationship to truth was inspired by existentialist thought of Sartre, and Lanzmann declares that he wanted to employ his freedom to serve the Truth. His determination is illustrated by   his way of leading interviews but also by all the travels he made to listen to people testimonies . In Lanzmann’s work ,Truth is not an end but a journey.

[1] Raul Hilberg is considered as the first scholar of Holocaust and the only one who contributes to Shoah. His method of research greatly influenced Lanzmann.

Dreyfus Alain, ‘Solution finale, la fiction du reel’, Slate. Fr .Last access 24/12/12

Forges Jean-François , ‘Le cinéma de Claude Lanzmann’, Institut Français de l’Education

Frappat Hélène, ‘Deux clés pour comprendre Claude Lanzmann’, Les Cahiers du

Lanzmann Claude ,2010,  Le lièvre de Patagonie , Gallimard

Onfray Michel, 2001, L’archipel des comètes, Grasset.

Simont Juliette, « LANZMANN CLAUDE (1925- ) », Encyclopædia Universalis [online], Last access : 24/12/2012.

Torner Carles, 2001, Shoah, une pédagogie de la Mémoire, Les Editions de L’Atelier

‘May changed everything, ‘rien ne sera jamais plus comme avant’ , and nothing changed.’ (Margaret Atack ,1999)

My second blog will be about Coup pour Coup, a film by Marin Karmitz made in collaboration with women workers of a textile factory in Rouen. What came in my mind during the projection was Made in Dagenham of Nigel Cole, a film about a strike launched by Ford’s women workers in 1968 for equal pay. Both tell the story of women fighting for their rights and both reflect a strong “girl power” spirit.But wait. Can we compare an avant-garde film such as Coup pour Coup with a mainstream film like Made in Dagenham?

In this interview, Marin Karmitz explains his desire to “enter” the working-class world , and his willing to realize the film with the workers and not about the workers :

« Je me suis alors aperçu que je filmais les ouvriers de l’extérieur, comme un reporter de l’ORTF. Il fallait aller plus loin, à l’intérieur, changer la place de la caméra, donner réellement la parole, pas la superposer à un discours artistique. Je menais un combat lié à la Gauche prolétarienne: les femmes prenaient la parole, ainsi que les immigrés »

I then realized that I was shooting workers from outside, as an ORTF reporter. We had to go further inside, to change the position of the camera, to really give them voice, not to overlay it with artistic discourse. I led a fight related to the proletarian Left: women spoke, as well as immigrants.’

We can also notice that his formal approach tries to challenge the mainstream way of making film, reminding documentary form while the film is a « fiction », using the workers and not professionals actors.There’s a willing to offer these women a way to express that they can’t access usually .This is even stronger owing to the fact that they are women, a category of the population doubly oppressed. Their fight against their bosses reveals an underlying battle against the patriarchal society in general. Indeed, Karmitz shows with irony women locking themselves in the factory to gain their freedom while their husbands, outside, seems captives of their wives’ decisions, not managing to care for children and houses.

Karmitz and the workers emphasize the double status of the women: between worker and mother.  A subject characteristic of feminist film as explains Jan Rosenberg in Women’s Reflections: The feminist film movement.

Nigel Cole, who considers himself as a feminist, realized Made in Dagenham about an “unknown story” because he wanted to celebrate the courage of these workers. The paradox is that he did this film in a mainstream way, building a glamorous image of the 60’s via music, characters , colors, etc. He had been strongly criticized for his stereotyped characters :

” Autour d’elle, un échantillon représentatif de stéréotypes féminin monte aux barricades: la quinquagénaire usée par la vie qui reprend espoir, le beau brin de fille qui rêve d’échapper à sa condition, la bonne copine sur qui l’on peut toujours compter.. »

‘Around her, a representative sample of female stereotypes storming the barricades: the fifty-something worn by the life feeling hopeful again, the gorgeous girl dreaming of escaping her condition, the good friend on whom you can always rely on... ‘

Thomas Sotinel, June 2011,Le Monde

 Don’t we find the same type of characters in Coup pour Coup? The similarities don’t stop here as we find the same kind of shots:

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These two movies had been made on different purposes, during two different periods: one right after May 68 , during a context of protestation against intellectuals’ power[1] and elite, by a director directly influenced by the New Wave movement, challenging the aesthetic and cultural principles of the ruling class. The other had been made in a conventional manner, looking at events retrospectively. But it still deals about the woman’s emancipation in a working class context, and stages the same type of characters.

The frontier between what is considered as ‘kitsch culture’[2] and avant-garde culture seems to have been blurred trough decades, as we find similarities between these two pieces of work. But I noticed that it can also vary from one country to another as Made in Dagenham could only be seen in France in art film theatres  whereas it seems to have been well-covered in general medias in the UK. (We can imagine that this is also related to the director’s notoriety in both countries.)

More generally, the question remaining is that were the French director and his collaborators already influenced by the ruling-class representation of women workers, which seems to be very likely regarding the post 68 context and their strong willing to struggle against the ruling class and against the bourgeois culture in general. Or, is it this bourgeois culture which had been adapted to stay dominant [3] , including the New Wave and post-68 cinema’s codes in the mainstream way of making films?[4]

[1] Margaret Atack ,1999, May 68 in French Fiction : Rethinking Society , Rethinking Representation , Oxford University Press

[2] According to Clement Greenberg’s early definition of kitsch opposing to avant-garde ‘popular, commercial art and literature with their chromeotypes, magazine covers, illustrations, ads, slick and pulp fiction, comics, Tin Pan Alley music, tap dancing, Hollywood movies, etc., etc…’

[4] Gerard Leblanc, 1980,’Polemic on Coup pour Coup-Cinethique’, May 68 and Film Culture, BFI editions

Jan Rosenberg, 1983 , Women’s reflections : The feminist film movement , UMI Research Press.

‘A people or a class which is cut off its own past is far less free to choose and to act as a people or a class than one able to situate itself in History’ (John Berger, 1972)


Before the projection of Alain Resnais’ movie Night and Fog (1955) ,I must say that I had some interrogations about Resnais’ use of archival images and about how he dealt with the fact that this subject was previously unseen in a French movie in the 1950’s.Can we explain the movie’s success by the interest generated by a taboo subject? It could, at least, have been exploited to inform as many people as possible about Holocaust.

Why are we tempted to watch Holocaust films while we know that we will be confronted to one of the worst part of our History? One of the main reasons could be the desire to find out more about our cultural heritage. In Indelible Shadows, Annette Indorf[1] testifies:

‘It occurred to me that if I, the only child of Holocaust survivors, needed a film to frame the Holocaust and thus give it meaning, what about others?’

(Indorf Annette, 2009)

This is an illustration of one of the main idea in Resnais’ movies: our personal history is related to History. [2]

In this case, the curiosity can’t be separated from the duty of memory. This is precisely what relates directors such as Resnais and Claude Lanzmann: People must know what happened; they have to know the Truth. The problem is how to represent what happened and what is considered as the Truth?

Indeed, Alain Resnais thought that he could not represent the massacre of Auschwitz because he was not a survivor of extermination camps. In a way, the text of the writer and former prisoner Jean Carol gives to Resnais’ images the credit of a testimony. But it also diverts the documentary from its scientific methodical form, turning it into an allegorical tale. While Resnais‘s position is one of an external visitor, Jean Cayrol’s testimony gives to the movie an internal dimension. But within his own text Cayrol himself adopts a critical vision of our memory:

‘As I speak to you now, the icy water of the ponds and ruins fills the hollows of the mass grave, frigid and muddy water as murky as our memory’

(Night and Fog, 1955)

Claude Lanzmann, in Shoah, adopts by many means, as Resnais, a position of external visitor but in a more radical way. He raises the following issue: to what extent can we pretend to know History? Even if we dispose of a lot of archival images recorded whether by Nazis or by Allies, they, by definition, belong to the Past. And History, as John Berger explains it:‘[…] constitutes the relation between the Past and the Present. And Past is the well of conclusions from which we draw, in order to act’.(Berger John, 1972)

That’s why Lanzmann did not use archival images but had preferred the testimony of visual witnesses of the massacres. The memory is transmitted through these people who are the spokespersons of those who died in the camps. In a recording broadcast on a French TV channel in 2010, Lanzmann explains that he wanted to make them die again, but to make them die with us by their side.  The spectators is then, asked to live the journey of the victims through the words of the witnesses.

To take a precise example of the issue raised by Claude Lanzmann, we can take the bulldozers sequence of Bergen-Belsen from Night and Fog which is commonly shown during History classes in French high schools. Are children more aware of the extent of the phenomena after having seen dead corpses? I have to say that I remembered having seen those images, but I could not remember that they were extracted from Resnais’s movie because the film’s purpose had not been explained to me. In my opinion, the issue about Holocaust images is not to hide them or not, but is all about our approach when we show them to younger generations.

However, the most important thing on what these directors agree is the necessity to talk about Holocaust and to build the awareness around the Final Solution. Because it deals with fundamental rights, and to have access to our History is one of them.

 ‘It is a part of mechanism of domination to forbid recognition of the suffering it produces. ‘

(Adorno Theodor.W, 1951)

[1]  Indorf Annette,(2009), Indelible Shadows : Film and The Holocaust Third Edition,NY, Cambridge University Press.

[2] Cf.Resnais Alain, (1959), Hiroshima mon amour