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Stalker Film Festival: Protecting the rights of the individual (Radio Svoboda)

posted 18 Dec 2014, 10:23 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 18 Dec 2014, 13:26 ]
10 December 2014

By Lilya Palveleva

Source: Radio Svoboda

On 10 December, the XX International Human Rights Film Festival opened at the House of Cinema 

Stalker is a film festival with its own style and traditions. It does not aim for glamour, and is not at all pompous - things that are typical of other major Russian film festivals. Stalker is distinctly democratic. Even the tickets are free. Along with screening movies and documentaries, the Festival hosts discussions of serious problems related to fundamental human rights. The Festival opens each year on 10 December, the day of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the UN.

Usually there is an exhibition in the lobby of the House of Cinema. Last year such an exhibition was dedicated to films banned by the USSR. This year the exhibition commemorates journalists killed in war zones. The Festival president, film director Marlen Khutsiev stressed that the main focus of the festival, however, are the films:

The Festival differs from others in the level of interest shown by the audience. I’ve always tried to point out that in terms of the human rights significance of the films, the most important thing should be the quality of the films. In order to appear in the Festival films should not just be about human rights, but they should be good films.

I tried to broaden the topics for this year’s Festival, to move away from purely political criteria to wider aspects. The protection of a person’s rights includes not only political rights, but also environmental issues, for example. People must be able to breathe clean air and to drink clean water, and so on. Anyway, I tried to make sure that the artistic qualities of the films, and the talents on display there, are also taken into account. 

Photo: Wikipedia

And did you manage to improve the quality of the Festival’s films?

I think I did. We do get interesting work.

Does the audience of the Stalker Festival differ from that of other festivals? Are they funnier, more ready to celebrate events?

You know, I’m not someone who regularly goes to festivals. I rarely go. But I can say that the audience of this Festival is great, it’s lively. “When I approach the microphone to open the festival and see the audience I feel that life is good.

This year the film that opens the festival is the The White Nights of Postman Aleksei Tryapitsyn directed by Andrei Konchalovsky. Before the film, however, there will be a special ceremony to give the Stalker awards for human rights. The head of the press-centre of the Festival Aleksandra Ivanova, stresses that the winners of this nomination are not themselves film professionals:

Traditionally, these special prizes are awarded to the heroes of the documentaries that were screened at the Stalker Festival the previous year. Which means the members of the jury choose not only the winner among the films, but also from among the heroes. They are all documentaries, hence all the characters are real people and they become the winners of awards at the next Festival. 

Photo: Stalker Film Festival

Could you tell us their names?

I can, however, I have to mention that this year there are two winners and one of the winners hasn’t been filmed yet, but I think, it will be done in the near future. This is Yulia Dyakova, a blind singer. She was representing Russia in the final of the Anna German International Festival this November in Warsaw, which is called “We are an Echo of Each Other”. She is a graduate of the philology faculty of Moscow State University and this year enrolled in a course on pop and jazz singing at the Institute of Modern Arts. It’s a real joy to see that this girl doesn’t give up and that in spite of her disability she lives a very active life. She says that her life’s motto is “Difficulties are a sure way to become stronger”. So Yulia will get the Stalker Award for Human Rights”.

The second award will go to Roman Zagoveev, the hero of the documentary film “After the War”. Directors of this film are Evgeny Golynkin and Veronika Solovieva. Roman is also a person with a challenging life. 13 years ago, just before he was discharged from service in the second Chechen war, he received an almost fatal head injury, he was only 19. It was a miracle that he survived and since then he has been fighting with his affliction, with his weakness and despair, trying to learn how to do everything again. The third winner is Evgeny Malenkin, the hero of the documentary “Drug Addicts Diary” directed by Svetlana Stasenko. Evgeny Malenkin is quite a famous person. A lot has been written and said about him. In 2005 he approached the City Without Drugs Foundation and set up his own organisation called “Sober City” to promote a sober way of life and to identify toxic alcohol products on the market in Ekaterinburg. Later he became the deputy director of the City Without Drugs Foundation and worked with many unfortunate individuals, with those whom the Foundation was rehabilitating, and he helped a great many of them.

The names of the winners in all the other nominations will be announced by the end of February. Obviously, the films will be judged as cinematographic art. However, Vyacheslav Bakhmin, a human rights activist and a member of the “presidential council” of the Stalker Festival, says that the main goal of this small and low budget Festival is fundamental and different, it’s unique.

Our Festival is also an opportunity to talk about complex issues related to the rights of various people and various rights. And the points of view about one set of rights or another can vary. There are a great many problems in Russia. The problem of the rights of migrants and refugees is very serious. As a result of recent events we have received a huge number of people who left their country to escape the war.

Do you mean Ukraine?

Yes, Ukraine. Other major issues concern prisoners, and the rights of children, especially those in institutions. 

Are human right defenders facing any new challenges?

There are enough challenges for us! In general they derive from policy within the country. There are a great many legislative initiatives which are intended in the main to limit the work of human rights organisations. And there is no end to these initiatives. They probably want to remove certain important issues – for example related to criticism of government, issues of current policy – from the realm of the non-profit sector and human rights organizations. This threat is real and is quite substantial.

In that case, could the Stalker Festival be considered as support for human rights defenders?

The main goal of the Festival is not so much to support human rights defenders as to be an educational event. A Festival that informs a wide audience about human rights problems and tells them that these issues concern everyone. The Festival tells people that each one of us can in one way or another become a victim of a human rights violation. And moreover that issue of human rights penetrates every aspect of our lives. This educational purpose seems to me to be very important and serious. In any case, the Stalker Film Festival is not an event that can in principle defend human rights organisations. It doesn’t have the tools to do it.

Translated by Olga Cable