By Heenali Patel
On Friday 27 March, the Frontline Club partnered with the London School of Economics to host a series of films for the 7th annual LSE Literary Festival. The external screening, at Lincoln’s Inn Fields, was packed out with members of the public for a night of short films exploring the foundations of identity and place. The five films took the audience on a journey to far flung corners of the earth, from rural Turkey to the Arctic Circle. While striking in their different visual styles, each shared a common thread by providing intimate snapshots of the lives of displaced individuals, traumatised and trapped in alien landscapes.
By Isabel Gonzalez-Prendergast
On 25 February, a panel of experts convened at the Frontline Club for a discussion on the war in Afghanistan and its ongoing legacy. Chaired by BBC Afghanistan correspondent, David Loyn, the debate spanned the period from 11 September 2001 to the present day.
By Javier Pérez de la Cruz
“What World Stories and the Why Foundation are doing is bringing very important, powerful documentaries to greater attention and to international audiences,” said Richard Porter, controller of BBC World Service English, on Tuesday 24 February at the Frontline Club. The event marked the launch of the World Stories series, an international documentary initiative, and featured a screening of one of the organisation’s most recent films: My Afghanistan – Everyday Stories of Bombs and Bullets, by Danish filmmaker Nagieb Khaja.
By Georgia Luscombe
On Monday 23 February, a screening of Tomorrow We Disappear transported an audience at the Frontline Club in rainy central London to the vibrant Kathputli slum in Delhi. The film follows the families of acrobats, magicians, painters and puppeteers resident in the artist colony of Kathputli as they battle the authorities who have sold their land to private developers. This screening of Tomorrow We Disappear, a sensitive and genuine depiction of the inhabitants of India’s “tinsel slum,” was followed by a Q&A with directors Jimmy Goldblum and Adam Weber.
The filmmakers began the discussion by commenting on their masterful use of sound and lighting in the film. “We really took our time from a technical perspective,” Weber said. In order to capture truly natural moments, the filmmakers planted microphones throughout the slum. “We would walk around covertly to collect audio,” Goldblum explained.
“In documentary, it’s really important to understand the obstructions you’re working with… we had to have a very tactical approach.”
The bright colours of the puppets and costumes of the artists and performers, along with the warm Indian sunlight, awarded the film a cinematic quality which would have been difficult to recreate in another location. The directors explained how they went to New Delhi to start filming after realising that the mystic place of Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children was in fact real. The story of the residents of Kathputli was one “that spoke to us on so many levels.”
Goldblum explained how the filming had to take place over several years as they conducted initial interviews, identified the origins of the characters and the story, then watched the conflict unfold with the Raheja developers. “We would leave and we would edit for basically a year,” he said. “We were constantly creating and destroying our movie until we got something that was emotionally honest.”
An audience member wondered how two American documentarians had succeeded in creating such an emotionally honest documentary about a culture of which they were not a part. Weber and Goldblum suggested that the universality of the experience of the Kathputli artists, whose cultural heritage was in the process of being eroded by modernisation, made it possible for them to accurately portray their story.
Goldblum also paid testament to the translator on their second trip to New Delhi, a fellow American who had been fascinated with Indian culture since the age of fourteen, which enabled them to establish a “peer to peer” relationship with the artists. The translator’s “respect for the culture allowed us to build relationships on the ground,” Goldblum explained.
Despite the language barrier, Weber described how “over time we got so comfortable with them… that we picked up a way of communicating.” The film pays witness to heated disputes amongst the artists about how best to deal with the threat of their homes being destroyed. It also offers a snapshot of the incredibly personal moments of its protagonists, such as a young boy entertaining himself by bringing his puppets to life in a dimly-lit room.
“Sometimes it [the language barrier] works in your favour,” Weber explained. “The camera sort of disappears… and characters are just living out a scene very genuinely in front of us.”
“I think our outsider status worked,” Goldblum added.
Although only around 300 of 3,000 people have moved into the ‘transit camp’ (temporary accommodation whilst the slum is renovated into modern flats), the situation in the Kathputli colony remains tense as its inhabitants refuse to leave their homes. The bulldozers have not yet arrived but small incidents often turn into full scale police raids.
For more information on the Kathputli colony and Tomorrow We Disappear, visit the film’s website here.
By Francis Churchill
Although the latest wave of violence has ended, the suffering in Gaza has not. This was the story that director Hernan Zin wanted to tell with his new film Born in Gaza, which held its UK premiere at the Frontline Club on 20 February.
Born in Gaza weaves together the testimonies of Gaza’s youth, in order to paint a picture of the devastating impact of the ongoing conflict. Zin interviews children who have lost their homes, their livelihoods, and their family members, as well as those who have themselves been injured by Israeli shelling during repeated attacks in the summer of 2014.
In an emotional and inspiring interview at the Frontline Club on 19 February, little more than two weeks after his release from an Egyptian prison, Australian journalist Peter Greste spoke of his experience of being incarcerated for more than 400 days for nothing more than doing his job as a journalist.
Greeted by a standing ovation, Greste took to the stage, beaming to the crowded room and waving to friends and colleagues. It was Greste’s first visit to London since he was released on 2 February under a presidential decree that allowed for the deportation of foreigners accused of crimes on Egyptian soil.
Facing up to what was originally a seven-year sentence had changed him as a person, said Greste, but he felt empowered to have discovered that the limits to what he could endure were beyond what he had ever expected.
By Richard Nield
Photo credit: Richard Nield
In a week in which Egypt sent F16 jets into Libya in response to the broadcast of an Islamic State video showing the execution of at least a dozen Egyptians, the Frontline Club held a timely event examining the reasons behind Libya’s slide into civil war.
The event was held on 18 February, a day after Libyans marked the fourth anniversary of the revolution that brought an end to the regime of Muammar Gaddafi after almost 42 years in power.
But there is little for Libyans to celebrate.
“The speed of Libya’s unravelling has been quite extraordinary,” said Mary Fitzgerald, a journalist who has reported from Libya since February 2011, and contributor to a recently published collection of essays entitled The Libyan Revolution and its Aftermath.
By Alexandra Sarabia
The plethora of technology now available to communicate different forms of journalism, across a variety of platforms, has allowed journalists more freedom in their storytelling process. This is the driving force behind Me-Mo, a new multimedia magazine created by award-winning freelance photojournalists, Manu Brabo and Fabio Bucciarelli, in partnership with web-developing group, Libre.
On Tuesday 17 February, Brabo and Bucciarelli, along with Libre president Matteo Dispenza, convened at the Frontline Club to discuss the genesis of Me-Mo and to share their thoughts on the future of visual storytelling. The two photojournalists also presented their work on the Libyan revolution, which is featured in the magazine’s recently released first issue. The event was chaired by Paul Lowe, course director of the Masters Programme in Photojournalism & Documentary Photography at London College of Communication, University of the Arts London.
By Olivia Acland
On Monday 16 February, the Frontline Club hosted a screening of Jocelyn Ford’s debut film Nowhere to Call Home, which documents the extraordinary journey of Tibetan farmer Zanta as she battles prejudice and sexism in order to provide her young son, Yang Quing, with an education.
Zanta is widowed at the age of twenty-eight, and is left at the mercy of her tyrannical in-laws, who do not want their grandson to go to school. She consequently escapes to Beijing in order to offer Yang Quing a better start in life than she herself was given, stating that “without education, he’s no different from a yak.” Nowhere to Call Home follows Zanta as she is victim to blatant racism in China and struggles to navigate the oppressively patriarchal Tibetan society from which she hails, in which women are systematically silenced and bullied.
By Antonia Roupell
Not a seat was free on Tuesday 10 February at the Frontline Club, as a panel of experts convened for a discussion entitled Embedding with Aid Agencies: Editorial Integrity and Security Risks. The ideas of intention and interpretation dominated the evening, with the panel’s arguments and audience comments exposing a relationship of disconnect and simultaneous dependency between aid agencies and journalists. What happens when the two work together? The pros, cons, irritations and limitations experienced by both sides made for a lively debate.
By Javier Pérez de la Cruz
International coverage of the Democratic Republic of Congo often focuses either on scenes of horror playing out in the eastern parts of the country, or the urban chaos of its capital, Kinshasa. “For me, it was also this whole middle ground of the daily life: a post office worker, a fireman, somebody working at a railway station,” said director Kristof Bilsen in the Q&A that followed the preview screening of Elephant’s Dream at the Frontline Club on Monday 9 February.
By Agnes Chambre
The Frontline Club was at full capacity on Wednesday 4 February, as a panel of experts discussed the implications of Boko Haram’s presence in West Africa in the lead up to the Nigerian presidential elections on 14 February.
The panel included: Bala Mohammed Liman, a doctoral candidate at SOAS specialising in the intersection of conflict and identity in Nigeria; Funmi Iyanda, a Nigerian producer, journalist and talk show host; Mike Smith, a foreign correspondent with AFP and former West African bureau chief; and Alex Perry, a contributing editor at Newsweek‘s international edition and author of The Hunt for Boko Haram. The discussion was chaired by Nigerian journalist at the BBC Peter Okwoche who, by way of an introduction, commented that the panel knew “Nigeria even better than me, which says a lot!”
By Graham Lanktree
A year since revolution erupted in Ukraine has marked increasingly violent changes inside the country. Yet the transformation remains unfinished and it is uncertain where the conflict and efforts to reform corruption will go next as fighting intensifies across the east of the country.
To discuss the future of Ukraine, and whether 2015 will see an end to the conflict, BBC correspondent Gabriel Gatehouse moderated a conversation between leading experts at the Frontline Club on Tuesday 4 February. Panelists included: acclaimed Ukrainian writer and commentator, Andrey Kurkov; Chatham House Russia and Eurasia Programme research fellow, Orysia Lutsevych; former British Ambassador to Ukraine from 2002-06, Robert Brinkley; and Tonia Samsonova, a London correspondent for Echo of Moscow.
By Ratha Lehall
On Friday 30 January, the Frontline Club hosted a screening of Casablanca Calling, which was followed by a Q&A session with director Rosa Rogers and producer Hilary Durman. The documentary focuses on three Morchidat: women who work in schools, prisons, mosques and communities across Morocco to educate the population about the true meaning of Islam, with a particular focus on the role of women. The Morchidat provide support and advice to women and girls, many of whom are experiencing difficulties at home or at work. The training of women in this capacity was an initiative implemented by King Mohammed IV of Morocco as part of a series of legislative reforms which strengthened the rights of women, and assigned them greater protection under family law. The Morchidat were first introduced in 2006, following the Casablanca bombings of 2003, partly in response to concern over the way religion was being taught and interpreted within many mosques around the country.