11 May 2015 Rebecca Harkins-Cross


At first glance, the Human Rights Arts and Film Festival (HRAFF) looks like gruelling viewing: sexual violence, racism, poverty and corporate greed are just some of the topics tackled. Remarkably, what resounds across these films is not suffering, but instead an unshakable human spirit.

Powerful opening night offering I Will Not Be Silenced follows Charlotte Campbell Stephen, an Australian Aid worker living in Kenya, who has been battling through Kenya’s legal system for seven years to convict the men who gang raped her. Meanwhile, she campaigns to help Kenyan women seek justice. Similarly emotionally taxing but enlightening is Pervert Park, a documentary about sex offenders in Florida. Candid interviews give voice to the (often tragic) stories of those branded as monsters, examining a legal system that disregards rehabilitation.

My HRAFF highlight is Ivory Tower, a multi-faceted look at the student debt crisis facing America. It traces how universities moved away from their utopian roots to a consumer model, creating unsustainable debt for institutions and students alike. Also notable is Marmato, which documents the struggle between Colombian villagers (whose homes sit on a massive gold reserve) and the Canadian multinational buying the land out from underneath them, and Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten, which celebrates Cambodia’s rock and roll musicians who were largely decimated by the Khmer Rouge (as covered in Ed#474).

HRAFF kicks off in Melbourne on 7 May before touring nationally. For more information visit

Rebecca Harkins-Cross, The Big Issue Film Editor

This article first appeared in Ed#483.