Dissident blogger documentary brings Forbidden Voices to London
By Alexandra Glynn
A week after International Women’s Day, women were still very much in the spotlight for the screening of Forbidden Voices, a documentary about three female dissident bloggers at the Frontline Club on Friday 15 March.
Director Barbara Miller’s powerful film follows three women – from Cuba, China and Iran – who defy the restrictions of their countries’ media and fight for the right to freedom of speech. Miller and Farnaz Seifi, the Iranian blogger, were there to talk about the film after the screening.
Following each of the women throughout their daily lives, the film explicitly shows the government crackdowns they face. Cuban blogger, Yoani Sánchez, was publicly labelled a Washington puppet. Seifi, was detained and questioned under duress, and Chinese blogger Zeng Jinyan was intimidated into staying indoors.
When an audience member asked both Miller and Seifi which of the regimes they think is most repressive, both struggled to pinpoint one. Miller said:
“In a way they’re really similar, but in a way they’re really different. For example for the government of Cuba it’s really important to keep this smiley place. Iran and China don’t care so much about the way the world looks at them.”
“I think the role China played is really important as China is the father of censorship and filtering in the world. Countries like my country, Iran, owe most of the knowledge they have for censoring, tracing and filtering to the Chinese Government.”
Miller explained that the process of filming proved very difficult due to the women being put under constant surveillance:
“We filmed in all three countries without permission – it would have been impossible to get the proper journalist permission for filming dissidents. So we visited all three countries as tourists….”
“In Iran it was just the cameraman that went and he was arrested twice in four days. In China we went three times and we weren’t able to film with Jinyan because state security was there day and night, and so in the end she had to film most of the material herself.”
When a member of the audience asked Seifi if she felt there was something particularly different about the blog as a voice of dissidence in repressive societies, she replied:
“Sometimes you feel so alone and ask is it worth it? Is it going to change anything? But I think these new ways of communication help those who try and struggle to make a change to feel like they got recognition. And that recognition gives you much more strength and motivation to continue.”
“All three women said they don’t want a revolution – what they want is change. What their blogs started was a dialogue, and it’s a way of changing the whole way of thinking, discussing and communicating.”
Miller explained that focusing on only women bloggers was not her original intention:
“When I started I wasn’t sure who to focus on, I was looking at male bloggers as well. But I became interested in how blogging gave vocal opportunity for women, for example in Iran, to really speak out in society. Also in Cuba most of the people in politics are men; the same thing in China.”
“I also liked the way women use political blogs in a really personal way – they are just talking about their lives and it’s just the truth. That’s what these regimes find dangerous.”
To find out more information see the documentary website forbiddenvoices.net or search #forbiddenvoices.