That wonderful biennial documentary festival, Film Southasia, is back in Kathmandu with its usual eclectic and profound selection of documentary films from the region. It starts in full force on the 3 October, with films playing through to the 6th at the Kumari Hall in Kamal Pokhari where tickets are available at Rs 50 a piece on location.
This year I have been lucky enough to preview two of the films playing at the festival, both of which are thought provoking and one of which in particular is devastating in its portrayal of the last few, intense months of the 26 year long conflict in Sri Lanka which ended in 2009 with the decimation of the Tamil Tiger separatist rebels by the Sri Lankan army.
No Fire Zone
No Fire Zone chronicles the last bellicose attack on the Tamil dense north-eastern region of the island by the Rajapaksa regime led by the two brothers, Mahinda, who continues to be the head of state today, and his brother Gotabhaya, who was made Defense Secretary during the crackdown by his nepotistic and ruthless brother.
While it is true that Sri Lanka was able to end its debilitatingly long conflict in a few short months, the cost at which the army succeeded in defeating the rebels was intolerably high. While mainstream media spewed government propaganda claiming that no civilians were hurt during the siege on the north-east of the island, the truth is actually the horrifying opposite. No Fire Zone is named thus because it chronicles, through anecdotal and video evidence, the targeted onslaught of the government’s forces on areas deemed 'No Fire Zones' and more particularly on hospitals tending to the wounded even while they carried the banner marking them clearly as being part of the Red Cross.
Skeptical? Well, any intelligent watcher should be when faced with such grave accusations. However, in addition to being brilliantly put together, and narrated by the grave voice of Rufus Sewell, No Fire Zone is journalistically sound, every statement made in the film regarding human rights violations being backed up with searingly violent footage corroborated by expert forensic scientists.
As tens of thousands of Tamils are displaced during the conflict and are left with nothing, the government-sanctioned army continues to abuse these homeless refugees, shelling them with heavy artillery, and raping and disappearing women suspected to be Tamil Tigers.
It has been a long time since I have seen such a visceral and violent documentary, and yet, even though I paused while watching to collect myself on several occasions, I firmly think that No Fire Zone is an absolute must see for all of us who have faced conflict in our own homeland. Unfortunately No Fire Zone and two other Sri Lankan films Broken and The Story of One were pulled from FSA at the last minute due to pressure from the Sri Lankan government.
Expecting – a short but poignant documentary about a couple, the Afghani Jawed and the Kosovar Dashurije, who meet and fall in love in a refugee camp in Belgium -brings us into the reality of a world that is (thankfully) not our own. Young, imminently expecting a child, and without legal work-papers, the two are fighting off penury in a country where they sought refuge from violence and discrimination in their own conflicted homelands.
Unsentimentally observed but sympathetic, Expecting gives us a window into the lives of people whom we would perhaps ordinarily never meet, filling in with colour and compassion the situations of thousands of such political refugees all over the world who are fighting their individual battles to try and gain a better life for themselves, and more importantly their children.
Go to film South Asia for experiences such as these from films that will widen your horizons and wrench at your heart – but with good reason.
Watch trailer of No Fire Zone
3-6 October, QFX Kumari