Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Speech by SASOD's Secretary at Loyola Documentary Film Festival Launch

Loyola Documentary Film Festival 2014
Launch Ceremony, December 11, 2013
Impeccable Banquet Hall
Georgetown, Guyana

Honourable Minister of Culture, Youth and Sport, Dr. Frank Anthony, Head of the Roman Catholic Church in Guyana, Bishop Francis Alleyne, OSB, Father Justin Prabhu, SJ, other members of the Roman Catholic Diocese, special invitees, members of the media, ladies and gentlemen, good morning to you all. I am indeed honoured to speak with you today on this occasion of the launch of the Loyola Documentary Film Festival, organised by CatholicTV. First, I would like to congratulate the Catholic Church in Guyana on this ground-breaking initiative. Our fledgling film-making industry needs these kinds of initiatives to encourage its development.

Documentary film-making is an important genre of film-making as it provides an avenue to share real-life stories through the powerful medium of film. But not only is the contribution of documentaries to film-making good for the art form, it is also an instrumental tool in our work on addressing social, economic and cultural issues in Guyana. I was particularly pleased to see that the objectives of the Loyola Festival include documenting livelihood issues of the rural and urban poor, exposing situations that affect survival and human rights, and advocating with policy makers for changes in policies, and with social leaders for changes in practices. In this regard, documentaries are a invaluable medium in public education to reach people with visual narratives to which they can relate. Documentaries also contribute to the evidence base which decision-makers often need to build the case for policy changes.

In my own experience, documentaries are effective at highlighting issues of the poor and vulnerable who are often forgotten. At the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD), we started using video as a form of documentation for human rights violations when the Guyana Police arrested 7 male-to-female transgender persons for cross-dressing over a 48-hour period in February 2009. With a small camcorder, SASOD was able to respond quickly to record the testimonies of these transgender victims who suffered a range of human rights abuses at the hands of the Guyana Police, including denial of their rights to be informed of the reasons for being arrested, not being allowed to phone calls or contact lawyers – these are all basic rights under the Guyana Constitution. Beyond that, they were kept imprisoned over the 72-hour constitutional limit, and mocked and abused by the police who held them in custody. When they were brought before the court, then acting Chief Magistrate – now Judge – Melissa Robertson, told them that they were men – not women – and that they need to “go to church and give their lives to Christ.” This video documentation contributed to SASOD's first documentary, produced 2 years later in May 2011 by local journalist Neil Marks, aptly titled “My Wardrobe, My Right” - which is a 20-minute feature which highlights the life stories of Peaches and Gulliver, 2 of the transgender women who were arrested during the police crackdown. A preview of “My Wardrobe, My Right” is available on the SASOD YouTube channel. Since then, SASOD has produced several other short video documentaries where lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Guyanese share their experiences of social stigma, economic disadvantage and exclusion, which make them even more vulnerable to human rights abuses. The fact that same-sex intimacy and cross-dressing are criminalised also makes it difficult for LGBT Guyanese to access equal protection of the law, which is also a protected right in the Guyana constitution. SASOD is also currently working with Neil Marks and Mark Murray to produce another 20-minute feature on the “Double Stigma” faced by sexual and gender minorities living with HIV in Guyana. It is slated for release in January 2014, and hopefully we will be able to submit it to the inaugural Loyola Documentary Film Festival for your consideration. :)

Documentaries allow us to put real names and faces to our work to end poverty and discrimination in Guyana. In addition to the videos on LGBT human rights issues on the SASOD YouTube channel, I want to encourage everyone here to look at another local documentary on YouTube called “Tin City Voices” which boldly depicts the issues affecting the urban poor in the Georgetown's ghettos. The poor and the marginalised can no longer be ignored or made invisible to the general public and our policy makers, as documentary film-making provides us with a powerful tool to reach millions with personal experiences and visual evidence. And with the undeterminable reach of the internet, our audiences need not be confined to local film festivals or national television. If international 'naming and shaming' is what it will take to effect change, then, as social advocates, we also need to embrace these methods to bring about real change for the poor and the powerless who are depending on us to represent them.

Once again, I want to congratulate CathoicTV and the Catholic Church of Guyana for this innovative venture. If I'm not mistaken, I believe this is the first, local documentary film festival in Guyana, so hats off to the Catholic community for blazing a new trail in the local film industry. I also want to encourage the private sector to come on board, and support the industry. Resources are also needed to make good films.

Thank you, and best wishes for a successful festival. I look forward to attending and seeing the new local documentaries on these issues. 

Zenita Nicholson

Secretary, SASOD Board of Trustees 

No comments: