Burkinabè Rising: The Art of Resistance in Burkina Faso
Our 2018 documentary, , aims to raise awareness of the amazing artists, activists, and educators living and working in Burkina Faso—and also to inspire viewers to take action in their own countries. In October 2014, a massive popular insurrection in Burkina Faso led to the removal of Blaise Compaoré, a dictator of twenty-seven years. Inspired by the revolutionary spirit of Thomas Sankara, the Burkinabè president who was killed in a 1987 coup d’état led by Compaoré, the people of Burkina Faso are now using music, film, ecology, visual art, and architecture to propel forward their message of resistance.
In its first few months of release, the film screened in over forty countries and began to elicit encouraging from audiences around the globe. These range from viewers in Burkina Faso itself, where audiences reported being inspired to see their own experiences reflected on screen, to responses from international audience members, many of whom had not previously been familiar with Burkina Faso but who left drawing parallels to their own situations.
The film profiles many creative and resourceful groups working proactively to create change. Among them, director iara lee is personally supporting Deux Heures Pour Nous, Deux Heures Pour L’Afrique, which is a student activist organization led by Serge Bayala at the University of Ouagadougou. Their provides more information about their work. Another group that you can support is , which has worked with a number of in Burkina Faso to defend food security and preserve traditional, sustainable agriculture practices. to visit the page about agroecology in Burkina Faso from the Cultures of Resistance Network.
Photo courtesy of Qu’on Sonne & Voix-Ailes.
Life Is Waiting: Referendum & Resistance in Western Sahara
Four decades after European rule gave way to Moroccan occupation, Western Sahara remains Africa’s last colony. With the 2015 release of , we hoped to raise awareness of the plight of the Sahrawi people and their nonviolent movement for self-determination. So far, the film has screened in over 140 cities in more than eighty countries around the globe. It has also won awards for Best Documentary and Best Mid-Length Film at film festivals in places ranging from Zimbabwe to Bolivia.
All over the world, our film is starting conversations between audience members and spreading awareness of the creativity and perseverance of the people of Western Sahara. But more than that, Life Is Waiting is helping people draw connections between their own struggles and that of the Sahrawis. After a screening in Kashmir, an attendee wrote, “There was a good discussion on the film: its similarities, dissimilarities, and relevance to the Kashmir freedom movement.”
But while audience feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, some governments have not reacted quite as well. In Lebanon, Belgium, and the United Arab Emirates, authorities cancelled scheduled screenings after being pressured to do so by the Moroccan government. These were not isolated incidents: Morocco’s diplomatic efforts to block the film fit a pattern. These efforts sometimes backfired, however, because event organizers used the censorship attempts to draw more attention to the issue. In some cases, such as in Australia and Benin, screenings faced threats of cancellation but still took place. We are outraged that the film was not shown everywhere that was originally intended, but we remain determined to use these bans as motivation to book even more screenings and increase our commitment to raising awareness around the world of Morocco’s occupation of Western Sahara.
Another exciting aspect of our solidarity with the Sahrawis was contributing the foreward to a book honoring Mariem Hassan, the legendary Sahrawi singer to whom we dedicated Life Is Waiting. Titled “,” the 2017 book chronicles Hassan’s inspiring career. For decades, she used music to spread awareness of the struggle for self-determination in Western Sahara around the globe and left a legacy that continues to inspire creative resistance today.
We are proud to continue these efforts at the , where we help people get involved in solidarity groups and stay informed on the situation. The network also supports human rights and resistance art in Western Sahara through organizations like the .
Photo courtesy of iara lee.
K2 and the Invisible Footmen
Our 2015 full-length documentary highlights the lives of the indigenous porters who help facilitate treks up K2, the world’s second-highest peak at the border between Pakistan and China. Despite being paid at rates far below those received by international expedition leaders, the porters do some of the most difficult and dangerous work. By showing the film at festivals and cultural centers around the globe, we hope to spread the word about their poor working conditions and low wages. To date, the film has shown in over 175 cities in almost eighty countries. It has also won almost twenty awards, from the Best International Film at the Pakistan Calling Film Festival to the Best Film on Man and Mountain at the Ladek Mountain Film Festival in Poland to the Best Film at Brazil’s Rio Mountain Festival.
At a time when many people hear only negative news about Pakistan, we are proud to use this film to show a different side of the country, focusing on the resilience of its people and the beauty of its environment. As one viewer wrote after a screening, “Thanks for showing the world a different picture and highlighting the most neglected issue! The picturesque mountains, the snow-capped peaks, the deadly crevasses, the simplicity, and the plight of the porters and Sherpas were indeed overwhelming!” For others, the film’s message hit closer to home. Asif, a porter’s son from Pakistan, wrote this message after attending a screening: “It was great, especially for me because I’m a porter’s son and very proud of my father. He always struggled to earn money from his job for our educations. Unfortunately, my father now suffers from knee pain and will need an operation. He has told me the stories of K2 and your film depicts these stories as they are in reality.”
In January 2018, , a chapter of the Care Foundation, one of Pakistan’s leading educational NGOs, screened the film in London to increase awareness and raise funds that went towards education for children in Pakistan. We’re thrilled that our documentary was able to help young people access education that they would not have otherwise had the chance to receive!
While the film helps spread the word, our sister foundation, the , is working to get people involved in advocating for the rights of porters. One organization doing particularly strong work on this issue is , which helps train porters and mediate labor conflicts.
Photo courtesy of Shah Zaman Baloch.
Banning Cluster Bombs: The Campaign and the Treaty
On February 16, 2010, the international campaign to ban cluster bombs achieved a historic victory when it reached the thirty ratifications necessary to enter into force. On August 1, 2010, the agreement to ban cluster munitions became binding international law, and over 100 countries have signed on. Caipirinha Productions partnered with the to use our film, , as an organizing tool at the international ratification conference in Santiago, Chile. During the June 2010 conference, participants from ninety-eight governments and over 120 civil society members met to discuss how to expand and strengthen the treaty. Our film was translated into Spanish and edited to reflect a Latin American regional focus, while a 30-second preview version was also created for the gathering. The films were shown in downtown Santiago at CMC’s open air installation and to campaigners from over fifty countries, and a major theater played the short film as a trailer before its feature films. As Conor Fortune, then the Cluster Munition Coalition’s Media and Communications Officer said, “[t]he videos were a huge hit with CMC campaigners in Chile.” Since the conference, more governments have signed and ratified the treaty, and the international movement to ban cluster bombs continues to grow.
Photo courtesy of the Cluster Munitions Coalition.
The Suffering Grasses: When Elephants Fight, It Is the Grass that Suffers
In May 2012, director iara lee participated in a press delegation to the Turkish refugee camps housing Syrian exiles, where she interviewed those who have been most affected by the bloody conflict. Some who fled to the camps identify as militants, others are committed to nonviolent tactics, and many more are just trying to live in peace without repression. Interviewees disagreed on many important issues, such as the decision of some actors to take up arms and whether the international community should try to topple the regime. Out of this experience, Caipirinha Productions released a documentary called , which argues that, in the end, any understanding of the Syrian conflict and its costs should be rooted in recognizing the humanity and suffering of these refugees.
Since its launch, The Suffering Grasses has at film festivals internationally, as well as on university campuses and in community venues. The film, along with director iara lee’s article at the , has provoked spirited about violence and nonviolence in the Syrian revolution. Groups such as the and have collaborated to host screenings and encourage debate, and the film was used at a fundraiser to help displaced families in refugee camps get through the harsh winter. Viewers who have attended screenings of The Suffering Grasses have gone on to by sending medical supplies to the country, amongst other measures. Foreign policy expert Phyllis Bennis says that the film is “powerful, comprehensive, and includes all the key contradictions and complications of the Syria crisis.” At the 2012 Elevate Festival in Graz, Austria, lee was for the International Award for her advocacy for nonviolence and peace in Syria and beyond.
Photo courtesy of Cultures of Resistance Films.
Breaking the Silence: Congo Week
The Democratic Republic of the Congo’s (DRC) wealth of mineral resources continues to be a curse, fueling an ongoing conflict that has claimed the lives of over 5 million victims. The United States government has not taken the diplomatic steps in the region that could help temper the conflict, while North American and European electronics corporations have consistently used conflict minerals from the Congo to manufacture the technology that we use every day. has taken up the short film , and has used it as the official promotional video for its annual week-long festival, which is an international effort to raise consciousness about the devastating situation in the Congo and mobilize support on behalf of the people of the Congo. FOTC encourages members of its network to screen this and other CoR shorts in their local branches’ gatherings. As Maurice Carney, Executive Director of Friends of the Congo said, “The CoR shorts are invaluable in portraying Congolese as agents of change in the face of enormous challenges and human suffering.”
Photo courtesy of Friends of the Congo.
Battle for the Xingu
The Xingu, a tributary of the Amazon that is home to over 10,000 indigenous people, has for years faced threats from the Brazilian government to build what would be the world’s third-largest hydroelectric dam. If carried out, the dam would destroy the biodiversity of the Xingu River basin and deprive these people of their rights to a sustainable future. iara lee and the Caipirinha team were in Altamira for the Xingu Alive Encounter—one of the largest-ever gatherings of indigenous Brazilians—to witness the determination of the Amazon people to protect their way of life. The short film that came out of this, , was taken up by leading advocacy group , which hosted a screening of the film. The organization also posted the film to its website, allowing people interested in becoming more informed to learn about the issues at stake. Director iara lee wrote a piece at the about the negative impacts mega-dams are having across the globe. Later, lee and the CoR team wrote an article about the Belo Monte struggle for the WITNESS blog. Since releasing the film, the movement opposing the dam on the Xingu has only escalated, and the Caipirinha team continues to be involved.
Photo courtesy of International Rivers.
Cultures of Resistance Feature Documentary
In 2003, on the eve of the Iraq war, director iara lee embarked on a journey to better understand a world increasingly embroiled in conflict and, as she saw it, heading for self-destruction. After several years, travelling over five continents, iara encountered growing numbers of people who committed their lives to promoting change. From Iran, where graffiti and rap became tools in fighting government repression, to Burma, where monks acting in the tradition of Gandhi take on a dictatorship, to Brazil, where musicians reach out to slum kids and transform guns into guitars, the Cultures of Resistance feature documentary explores how art and creativity can be ammunition in the battle for peace and justice. The feature documentary continues to in large and small venues all over the world. Linda Kennedy, a reporter for BBC World Service’s The Strand, was on hand for the film’s screening in Beijing: “This is a country where state run media showed very little of the Arab Spring uprising…. This kind of documentary is effectively beautifully photographed news…. I think the best way of describing [the response to the film] is that the audience–there must have been a hundred people or so in this venue–was moved.” Elsewhere, when the film screened in Beirut, an audience member remarked that the film “helped put a perspective on our lives in Palestine and give us hope that we are a part of a global movement to end occupation everywhere.”
Photo courtesy of Cultures of Resistance Films.
Footage from the Attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla
Since as far back as 2005, the Israeli government has imposed a blockade on the people of Gaza, restricting basic goods to civilians as a way of punishing their elected government. After Operation Cast Lead, in late 2008 and early 2009, medical and reconstruction supplies were withheld entry into the Gaza Strip, thus paralyzing citizens’ efforts to rebuild their communities and lead healthy lives. In an act of nonviolent civil disobedience, people from all around the world organized the Gaza Freedom Flotilla to deliver needed humanitarian supplies and to challenge the illegal siege on the Palestinian territory. The Israeli military responded by attacking the convoy in international waters and killing nine passengers. Cultures of Resistance director iara lee was one of hundreds of participants in the Gaza Freedom Flotilla. Despite the Israeli government’s thorough efforts to confiscate all footage taken during the attack, iara lee’s crew was able to they captured, which lee released to the world at a major press conference at the United Nations in New York and hosted by the United Nations Correspondents Association. The video was used by major news organizations around the world and was featured in outlets including , , and .
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Focus on Iran: Tehran Ratz & Iran Inside Out
Like any undemocratic government trying to stifle dissent, the Ahmadinejad regime in Iran has tried to repress controversial artists. Particularly in the context of a broad-based pro-democracy movement, the avant garde work of contemporary Iranian artists poses a great threat to the regime by challenging the political and cultural status quo. Despite the regime’s best efforts, whether these artists’ work appears on the streets of Tehran or in the galleries of New York, their impact will not be muted. Cultures of Resistance filmed the work of Iranian artists in both world cities. Our short film profiles the museum’s exhibit that featured work by 56 Iranian artists living both inside the country and throughout the diaspora. CoR collaborated with the exhibit’s co-curator Sam Bardaouil, who led us on a tour of the exhibit’s five sections, explaining themes that ranged from consumerism to sexuality to the suppression of ideas. In another short film, , we hear a street-art duo discuss their efforts to use graffiti to challenge the legitimacy of the Iranian regime and to change international assumptions about their country’s people. The , which advocates for a commitment to diplomacy between the U.S. and Iran governments, highlighted the films on their inSight blog. As NIAC , the artists’ work and the films themselves are powerful for their “relentless questioning of assumptions and challenging of the stereotypes, whether it is in Iran against its government or on the international level, against the preconceived ideas about a particular country or a global issue. And for a time when a non-violent democratic movement is the only option for the Iranian youth, what better tool than art to carry the cries of a nation for democracy?”
Photo courtesy of Cultures of Resistance Films.
The Rape of the Samburu Women
For more than fifty years, England has maintained military training facilities in the Samburu region of its former colony, Kenya. Women from various indigenous communities filed more than 600 official rape claims against British soldiers. Despite the overwhelming evidence, Britain’s Royal Military Police (RMP) cleared all soldiers of wrongdoing and have quashed past efforts to seek justice for these women. Our short film, , features the voices of some of the victims and explains how they have worked to rebuild their lives. The film also attempts to reinvigorate appeals for justice. Since its release in March 2011, the film has been shown widely online, used by a number of local campaigners, and even inspired a local human rights group to investigate the claims and initiate rape-prevention efforts.
Photo courtesy of Cultures of Resistance Films.