The UNHCR Refugee Film Festival Creates a Bridge of Solidarity Between East and West

The 11th edition taking place in Japan focuses on stories of refugees in Europe in order to sensitise Japanese people to this issue

September 22nd, 2016
Silvia Muci, CD News

Over almost one month (September 17th to October 23th), thirteen movies about refugees’ lives are being shown in several Japanese cities (Tokyo, Sendai, Osaka and Sapporo) and in 16 schools around the country.  

The initiative of the Refugee Film Festival organized by UNCHR (the UN Refugee Agency) dates back to 2006, and has become more and more important over the years. For each edition, documentaries and dramas about refugees, stateless persons, Internally Displaced People (IDPs) from all over the world are selected, but the festival in itself doesn’t imply any competition amongst the participants.

The reason why the festival takes place in Japan is that this country is not very involved in accepting refugees into its borders. In fact, just 27 asylum seekers were accepted last year out of almost 8,000 applicants. Ironically, Japan is also one of the most important donors to the UNCHR.

Thus the aim is to increase awareness throughout Japan about the current situation in the rest of the world. This detachment is actually quite understandable if we take into account the fact that this country is both geographically far away from Europe and politically different above all to countries in the Middle East and Central European area.

That’s why the thirteen movies scheduled are mostly about stories taking place in countries like Syria, Germany and Italy - like the documentary “Fire at Sea”, which shows the audience the difficulties of people coming to the Italian island of Lampedusa. The power of its images made it win the Golden Bear Award at this year’s Berlin International Film Festival.

But the movies tell us stories from other countries as well. The Belgian documentary “The Man Who Mends Women-The Wrath of Hippocrates”, for instance, is about the activity of Doctor Denis Mukwege in Congo, a gynecologist and activist who helped a tremendous number of women who had been raped during the internal conflict in the country, which lasted around 20 years.

The famous documentary “The Salt of the Earth” - directed by Wim Wenders - about the Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado will be projected as well.

This edition of the Festival seems to be particularly powerful and capable of spreading strong messages to people. When the situation becomes too hard to bear, only art can help to turn suffering into beauty, and prevent people from losing hope in the future. 


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