The Dual Nature of Film and Photography in Promoting Justice

The panelists of today’s discussion, organized by the Mission of the Netherlands and the Vera List, engaged in a passionate debate regarding the ways in which film and photography can promote justice as well as violence.

Ms. Nossel set the scene by illustrating the “haunting power of images” with accounts in history when media was used to stir public response. However, with more individuals uploading self-produced films onto the internet to avoid censorship, the question of whether such “haunting” is enough to ignite action, especially in Syria.

Immediately following, five short clips produced by Abounaddara Films, an independent advocacy group, were shown. Each of these films featured a single shot of a person recounting their experiences and reflecting on the emotions the felt. The people they filmed were from different sides of the regime ranging from a mother who lost her son, a man who wanted once sought retribution, to a terrorist fighter himself.

Charif Kiwan, the maker of these films, explained that his work is meant to counter the dangerous stereotypes that the media has instilled on the public. Unlike the media, he believes that it is essential to respect the dignity of people, which is why he chooses to present the bare and vulnerable humanity of his subjects.

Susie Linfield expanded the discussion with the idea that film and photography can act as a two-edged sword. Such as with the tactics used by ISIS, highly emotional propaganda can be put to manipulative uses. She concludes that through the democratization of media, pictures and films can now be used by anyone for any purpose. She also remarks how as media becomes more democratized, people have fewer answers for what is to be done. In other words, she feels that media should not only expose but also prompt action.

Meeting:  Freedom of Speech, and Responsibility of Representation: The Films of Abounaddara as Tools to Enact the Right to the Image
Date & Location: 16 June 2015; 13:15-14:30;  Conference Room 6, UN Headquarters, New York
Speakers: Suzanne Nossel, Executive director of PEN American Center; Charif Kiwan, Representative for Syrian filmmakers collective Abounaddara; Susie Linfield, Director of the Cultural Reporting and Criticism Program at NYU
Written By WIT Representative: Melissa Chan
Edited By WIT Representative: Parth Shingala

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