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Five Brilliant Short Movies Which Deal With Human Rights Issues

Talking about human rights through the medium of film is one of the most effective ways to point out a specific humanitarian issue or human rights crisis. A short movie is any movie which lasts less than 40 minutes and is, therefore, not long enough to be considered a feature film. Although short movies date a while back, they have become quite popular in recent years due to their compactness and the ability to convey a powerful message in a short period of time. That said, short movies are also a tool many human rights defenders use to raise awareness about a particular human rights issue and inspire social changes.

We have selected five amazing short movies which deal with an array of human rights topics and concerns – from the rights of the disabled to environmental issues. Each of these art pieces lasts for about half an hour or less and is definitely a must-watch.

1.      Angela

Directed by Botand Püsök (2015) Romania | 33 min

“Angela” is directed by a young Romanian director and has won the hearts and minds of the viewers on different documentary film festivals in the past couple of years. This short movie deals with the issue of discrimination towards the Roma people in Southeastern Europe and the everyday struggles they face. The story is set in the Romanian region of Transylvania where the majority of the population is Hungarian speaking. The viewers follow a young Roma girl (Angela) as she is preparing to give birth. She discusses her relationship with God, the gender roles in her communities, and the difficulties that Roma girls encounter during their upbringing.

Along the road, pieces from her disadvantaged past are revealed – the girl was kidnapped to be married, and then taken again by her future husband. As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that the movie “Angela” is not only about Angela. It is about all the challenges that Roma people face in Romania and Hungary as well as elsewhere in Europe, as they try to integrate into local communities.

What is so special about this movie is that it contains raw footage of the everyday lives of Transylvanian Roma and it tries to depict how they cope with living on the margin of the society.

2.      E-Wasteland

Directed by David Fedele (2012) The UK | 20 min

For people in the “developed” Western world, buying new electronic appliances and gadgets and discarding the old ones is a common thing. But, do we ever wonder what happens with our old electronics?

In total, humans produce around 50 million tons of electronic waste every year. Some 200,000 tons of these electronic goods are sent to Ghana in West Africa. Percentage-wise, this could be a small figure, but it is still a lot of waste for a not-so-large, developing country. Many of these electronics are sold and used as second-hand goods, while others are simply thrown away at a dump.

E-Wasteland is a movie set in one of the slums in Ghana which were built around a dump site where many of these electronics end up. The directors follow the people who live in the Agbogbloshie slum in Ghana’s capital Accra. Agbogbloshie is, in fact, the largest electronics (or e-waste) dump site in the whole of Africa.

At the time the movie was made, there were over 30,000 settlers from different poorer regions in Ghana who called the slum their home. These people are largely uneducated, ignored by state authorities, and left with no job prospects or marketable skills. That said, they resort to the waste that surrounds them and try to make a living by recycling it.

In “E-Wasteland,” the viewers are taken on a visual tour through the consequences of unregulated e-waste and failed development policies, as they learn about another defeat of the modern economy.

3.      Machine Man

Directed by Alfonso Moral and Roser Corella (2011) Spain | 15 min

This amazing short film is concerned with issues of modernity and global development in the 21st century. In only 15 minutes, the directors of the film manage to draw our attention to the millions of minimum wage laborers who tirelessly work day and night like machines.

The story follows several workers in Bangladesh, one of the most populous and poorest countries in the world, known for being a supplier of cheap labor. In this small, but crowded country, thousands of people do machine-like repetitive work with their hands. The directors take the viewers on a journey through many different industries. We see women who collect coal and work all day with their bare feet. Young boys who should be in school make bricks. Other children collect and sort plastic bottles for as long as twelve hours a day. Thin, starved men transport heavy sacks.

All of these people destroy their health by working in conditions which must be considered inhumane. Yet, they have no other options as hundreds of employers stay eager to pay the minimum wage for the worst possible conditions.

What this movie shows is that, in spite of the development of modern technologies, producers still hire a large labor force to perform the most difficult of tasks, ignoring their workers’ and human rights.

4.      Girl-Hearted (Mädchenseele)

Directed by Anne Scheschonk (2017) Germany | 37 min

“Girl-Hearted” is one of the few short films which explore the struggles and aspirations of transgender children. The movie, set in Germany, follows 7-year old Nori and her mother as they debate whether Nori is a girl or a boy. In her eyes, Nori was born as a boy, but she has a girl’s heart, which is why it is clear to her she is a girl.

Knowing that her child would be rejected by the community and the society, the mother argued with her son for five years about what he was going to wear to school and how he was going to present himself.

As the story unfolds, the viewers understand it took some time for the mother to understand she never had a son – Nori has always been her daughter. The child’s appearance does not matter anymore – what comes first is that Nori is happy. “Girl-Hearted” rightfully points out the incredibly difficult path of trying to live a life outside the commonly accepted norms. It is already hard enough for adults, yet, this beautiful movie gives us novel insights into how the struggle impacts children.

“Girl-Hearted” came out in 2017 and has already won several international prizes, including the Documentary Feature Film Award at the 3rd Montevideo World Film Festival.

5.      The Glass Man

Directed by We Ra (2013) Myanmar | 20 min

“The Glass Man” is one of the most inspiring human rights short movies. It deals with a topic of monumental importance – the rights of the disabled. While educating the viewers about all the stigma that comes with a physical or mental disability, the movie also leaves us with great optimism in our hearts, knowing that things can be improved.

This movie is a story about a young disabled boy called Kaung Htet. He grew up in Myanmar in poverty. Kaung Htet suffers from osteoporosis, which has led him to break his bones over 40 times since his birth. Still, he continued to live without proper treatment or medication. Since his childhood, he has been treated as odd and different by the members of his community and hasn’t had a chance to develop up to his potential.

Nevertheless, Kaung Htet perseveres. He volunteers as a teacher in a local school, and he gives support and advice to other disabled children and adults who want to improve their lives. The young man feels empowered and is full of hope that others can be empowered, too. In “The Glass Man,” we see an incredible struggle for the rights of the disabled in a small, local community as well as in the entire country. In only 20 minutes, the movie certainly teaches us lessons which can be taken and applied in different cultural contexts.

These are only some of the many fantastic short films which human rights students and professionals can use to educate themselves on a particular topic or region, share with like-minded friends and family, or even play in the classroom or at a meeting. We hope you will enjoy watching them as much as we did!

About the author

Maja Davidovic

Maja Davidovic is a Serbian-born independent researcher and Human Rights graduate. She holds her M.A. degree from Central European University in Budapest, and had previously lived and worked in Greece, Turkey and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Maja mostly researches about women’s rights, child protection and transitional justice, and has been involved with organizations such as MSF and OSCE, as well grassroots initiatives. You may follow her on her newly-made Twitter profile @MajaADavidovic, where she aspires to open discussions on a variety of human rights-related issues.