The Take One Action Film Festival returned to Inverness, once again falling on a weekend that I’m working so I could only squeeze in two films again this year. Handily, I’m once again managing to add to my documentary feature film tally with these films even if I wasn’t able to lean quite as much towards the environmental films as I would like. Though Ghost Fleet is secondarily about environmental issues because it is over-fishing of waters close to Thailand that caused the boats to have to go out further and further out for longer and longer periods in the first place.
Facing the Dragon
Facing the Dragon follows the parallel stories of politician Nilofar and broadcast journalist Shakila, in post-US-withdrawal Afghanistan as they struggle to balance the responsibility they feel to the people they represent against the need to keep their children safe from harm. Both threads of the film really underline the fragility of democracy and the position of women in Afghanistan, alongside the constant danger that all politicians and journalists in the country face but which is even more intense for women in public life.
Director Sedika Majadidi is an Afghani woman herself, so understands intimately the pressures both her subjects face as women in public life. (This creates a certain solidarity and trust between director and subject that makes for a much more intimate portrait of both women.) Having spent a substantial part of her childhood and youth in the US she also has enough of an outside view to allow her to step back from the details of these lives and show how they fit into the bigger picture of life in Afghanistan.
My only real criticism of this film was that the copy that was screened in Inverness had terrible audio quality. There was a coating of hiss and crackle over almost the entire film that hung over it like an aural cloud of dust.
Ghost Fleet follows the work of the Thai NGO Labour Defence Network whose work started in trying to protect children from being drawn into sweatshop labour, and has evolved through helping men who’ve escaped from slavery in the fishing industry – mostly getting compensation for horrible industrial injuries – into straight-up rescuing people. We mostly follow Patima Tungpuchayakul one of the organisation’s co-founders, as she travels to various islands in Indonesia to try and bring home formerly enslaved fishermen home. Patima has this really calm presence – perhaps born of her certainty that this is the work she’s meant to do – that makes her a very reassuring presence, both to the former fishermen and to us as viewers. One of the strengths of her work is the trust built with the communities of those islands, the people who live around the predatory companies bases, who know how dangerous they are, often disapprove of them but feel helpless to stop them.
There something utterly heart-breaking about those men who’ve escaped from enslavement only to be stranded in Indonesia for decades, who’ve built lives and made families, yet remain desperately home sick. Their longing for home is almost palpable, but having lost most of their native tongue, many of them feel that they cannot possibly go. The question that comes up time and again is ‘do you want to go home?’ The three men they bring back from one island demonstrate the range of reactions to that question, the first man seems resigned as though he has nothing to lose either way, the second man is conflicted – reluctant to abandon the family he has made there, desperately longing for the home he left behind – while the third man is eager and delighted – literally jumping at the chance to return home.
The director of the Take One Action film festival does little introductions before all the films and she was careful to warn us that this film would be distressing and that we might find it hard-going. As a film about modern slavery it was indeed a distressing topic, and a deeply moving film, but I also found it to be an intensely hopeful film. I’ve had quite an intense couple of months documentary wise and while I’ve seen a lot of very good films many of them left me feeling sad, angry or both at once. This film however, left me feeling inspired and empowered, which I guess is the whole point of this film festival in the first place.