Near and Far
United Nations Association Film Festival bridges the world’s issues with local audiences in surprising ways.
Thursday, November 8, 2012
Former Coast Guard Seaman Kori Cioca chokes back tears as she reads aloud a suicide letter. “A mother, brother, sister and husband should never live with knowing the horrible acts upon me,” she says. “Find peace in knowing that the body left behind doesn’t consume my soul. I am free now and I’m not afraid. I’m ready to soar.”
The thing that makes this already unsettling scene all the more intense: The letter she’s reading is her own.
In the documentary The Invisible War, Cioca and other former service members describe sexual abuse at the hands of their fellow soldiers – men they considered not only brothers in arms, but brothers. Many struggled with thoughts of suicide when they were offered little or no help from the military.
Cioca didn’t kill herself, but she’s still picking up the pieces of her life. At one point in the film she pulls out the knife she carries at all times. “You always have protection with Jesus, but sometimes you need just a little bit more,” she says.
Violence against women is one of several themes in this year’s 13th annual United Nations Association International Film Festival, presented this weekend by the UNA’s Monterey Bay chapter. Though many of the documentaries spotlight global issues, there’s also a surprising domestic focus that will invite viewers to re-examine what they think they know about their country.
• • •
Half a million women have been sexually assaulted in the U.S. military. In combat zones, a woman soldier is more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed in battle. When rape is punished, the consequences are often minimal.
“You’ll see a guy get five years for drugs, and two weeks for rape,” one expert says.
Another UNAIFF movie, The Mobile Cinema, tells the story of how a group is using film to change the dialogue around rape in The Democratic Republic of the Congo. In one scene, hundreds gather in front of a portable movie screen set up on a sprawling field in rural Congo. Some have journeyed miles by foot to see Fighting the Silence.
The film, screened across the country in settings like this, is meant to stimulate discussion about Congo’s pervasive problem, a crime often committed by soldiers. After watching Silence, audience members are interviewed.
Some are disgusted and dismayed.
“The child in that film has the same age as my child,” a soldier says. “If I was the father, I would have taken a month of vacation to take revenge.”
Others offer only chilly resignation and misguided advice. To the women of the audience, one man says: “Some of you were dressed inappropriately.”
But the overall message is one of hope – that screening the film will bring other assault victims out of the shadows and start a shift in attitudes and actions.
While Cinema elevates the power of media as a social justice tool, in Miss Representation it’s a corrosive force.
The American documentary targets this country’s media machine, the constant bombardment of images from ads, television, magazines and movies. It is a far subtler form of violence against women, but one no less worthy of examination.
The film, one of 12 screening in downtown Monterey, begins with a flurry of statistics: American teenagers spend 31 hours a week watching TV, three hours watching movies and 10 hours online. Then it cuts to what they’re seeing: submissive and scantily clad women in music videos; toddlers dolled up for beauty pageants; headlines that pan the fashion choices of women in politics rather than their policies.
“Girls get the message from very early on that how they look – their value, their worth depends on that,” says feminist author and filmmaker Jean Kilbourne. “And boys get the message that this is what’s important about girls.”
The film is narrated, written and directed by Jennifer Newsom, actress and wife of California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom. Some of the hardest-hitting interviews are with teenagers, who betray deep-seated anxieties. There are also interviews with highly successful women, like Condoleezza Rice and Katie Couric. In one scene, Couric looks back on the revealing outfits of her early news days and wonders if she was at the forefront of a damaging fashion trend for female TV journalists.
The festival’s films spotlight some of the world’s biggest problems from a bottom-up perspective: an 11-year-old boy forced to move from his East Jerusalem home for Israeli settlers, Pakistani women who suffer brutal acid attacks and then are given reconstructive surgery. The festival’s mission is to show documentaries that “wake up, educate and mobilize viewers around critical global issues.”
And, as some of this year’s picks show, those global issues can be planted firmly here at home. For an event designed to connect people around issues and across borders, that sounds like a good start.
THE 13TH ANNUAL UNA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL starts 7pm Thursday, Nov. 8, and continues 7pm Friday and Saturday, Nov. 9-10, and 1:30pm Sunday, Nov. 11. Golden State Theatre, 417 Alvarado St., Monterey. $5/day, free for students with ID. Visit www.unamontereybay.org for a complete schedule.