Movies of the Week: Women Make Movies

Instead of a single movie this week, I have decided to present three from Women Make Movies. From their website, “Women Make Movies is a multicultural, multiracial, non-profit media arts organization which facilitates the production, promotion, distribution, and exhibition of independent films and videotapes by and about women.” WMM provides not only distributional and promotional resources but has also been offering training in film making to women since 1972. They have a fantastic catalog of documentary and fictional works by women from all around the globe, who aren’t afraid to ask the hard questions, particularly about warfare and human rights. I have so far seen three films from their collection that have left a significant impression:

1. My Daughter the Terrorist – Sri Lanka’s bloody and controversial civil war with the Tamil Tigers separatist group has left many dead, and the country in turmoil. The Tamil Tigers are largely branded a terrorist group after a series of suicide bombings and political assassinations. Beate Arnestad manages to get behind the Tamil lines of control and interview several women who are part of the rebel movement. What results is a complicated portrait of a victimized ethnic minority who suffer from abuse and attacks by the Sri Lankan military juxtaposed with almost matter of fact explanations of the need for suicide bombings that smacks of brainwashing. Interviews with mothers of Tamil fighters brings a human dimension rarely seen in discussion of warfare. My Daughter the Terrorist is a document of the complicate nuances of warfare and ethnic conflict.

2. The Sari Soldiers – From 1996 to 2006, Nepal experienced a bloody civil war which left more than 13,000 people dead and displaced another 150,000. Maoist rebels and democratic revolutionaries fought a protracted military and political battle against a corrupt Nepalese Monarchy. Julie Bridgham managed to gain access to all sides of the conflict, including female Maoist rebels, democratic student activists, village matriarch victimized by the Maoists, members of the Nepalese Royal Army’s female brigade, and a heart wrenching series of interviews with a lower caste mother, whose 15 year old daughter had been raped and killed by the Nepalese Royal Army. All sides are able to tell their stories against a backdrop of a society in turmoil.

3. Iron Ladies of Liberia – Liberia suffered under a series of conflicts between warring factions for more than 20 years, culminating in Charles Taylor’s brutal dictatorship. The war was eventually brought to aclose by that Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace movement, which consisted of nothing more than groups of women praying in front of government and military buildings. Eventually, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf became the first African female head of state, and was able to bring stability to what was once one of the most ineffective governments on the planet. Siatta Scott Johnson and Daniel Junge follow Sirleaf through her daily dealings with shaky politics, rioting former military members demanding pensions, and the eventual burning of the Presidential Palace. Amazingly and without hesitation, Sirleaf confronts armed men with histories of guiltless killing and violence with nothing more than words and a firm, but open ear. It’s amazing to watch.

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About Peter Larson

Assistant Professor of Epidemiology at the Nagasaki University Institute for Tropical Medicine

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