As already announced, the International Social Action Film Festival took place in Berlin on October 11th. In spite of the gorgeous weather and a huge rally advocating stronger data protection that came marching along Wilhelmstrasse right at the festival venue, a small but highly committed group of spectators came to see the many movies on human rights and social entrepreneurship and to discuss with the representatives of organizations, directors and journalists.
Berlin as a pilot project
The (short) films shown in the Social Entrepreneurship section, some of which had been financed and selected for the festival by the Skoll Foundation, will also be shown all over the world on February 9th, 2009. The Berlin festival was a sort of pilot project for this first event, which will take place simultaneously at different venues in different cities of the world. All movies focus on the work done by selected social entrepreneurs – people who have identified a social, ecological or cultural emergency and who are trying to remedy it using whatever means they have available. The film festival intends to showcase the impressive work they do, and often very effectively.
Of the eleven shorts shown in the Social Entrepreneurship section, I was particularly impressed by the movie on Youthbuild. This is a US organization that works with young people and drop-outs living in ghettos in renovating vacant, derelict buildings in their neighborhood. But the young people build much more: their self-esteem, for one thing, and they learn specific, practical and organizational skills in various crafts. The organization International Bridges to Justice founded by Karen Tse impressed me no end (recently, the American Bar Association recognized her work by the International Human Rights Award). Strengthening legal structures in autocratic countries (and not only there) is one of the very important fields for social change in these nations, in addition to education.
“Too much mousse au chocolat”
The initiatives and their backers that were presented in the short movies we saw are extremely impressive. I could go on and on, about CIDA from South Africa and the Renascer Child Health Organisation, whose work with mothers in children in the terribly poor North-Eastern part of Brazil reminded me of one of the most moving books I have ever read (Nancy Scheper-Hughes, Death Without Weeping). But after eleven of these movies, I understood what Renate sitting next to me was saying with her comment, “I have the same feeling now that I get after too much of a good mousse au chocolat”.
True, the movies showed committed, effective organizations that could be a role model for all of us. But if I want to truly believe in a project, the movie presenting it has got to be more than just an image campaign. Eleven films and not a single rough edge anywhere, social change as one long triumphal procession of success. Yes, I know, it’s important to show people that something has worked well. But I would have appreciated insights into the obstacles, the setbacks and the contradictions that I know inevitably come with this type of work.
Sponsorship of the unglamorous kind
The chaos of real life was the focus of the two movies by Petra Dilthey and Uli Schwarz. In their film “3 Kinder, 2 Paten und ein Baby” (Three children, two sponsors and a baby” (which can be found here, as can many other films by UP-Productions), the directors from Munich documented their experience as the sponsors of three Indian children living in Vijayawada (Andhra Pradesh), a project that is promoted and organized by the sponsorship organization Care&Share. Sponsorships are one of the most popular forms of developmental aid by private citizens – we at betterplace assist a number of functioning, small and larger organizations such as the Azioni “Niños Felices” in the Dominican Republic. In the first half year alone, Germany saw € 100 million transferred to sponsorship organizations (source: GfK Charity Scope). After my children were born, I also became a sponsor for two children with Plan International, if only to introduce my kids to the circumstances in which children in other cultures grow up.
For three years, Petra Dilthey and Uli Schwarz have been visiting the children they sponsor; in their film, they provide us with differentiated and credible insights into the “help” they give. Thus, one of the children receiving their support seems to have moved out since quite a long time. The boy does show up when they come to visit and is given great support by his sponsors for his schooling. But at their return the following year, they see that they have been disappointed in their expectations: the boy is to be found on the soccer field much more frequently than in school.
What is the conclusion drawn by this carefully researched and self-reflective study? In spite of their expectations having been disappointed, and notwithstanding individual cases of mismanagement, the sponsors / directors support the organization and in fact have founded a German association in the summer of 2008 to promote Care&Share, so that the organization has an even stronger support base. Because even if help is characterized, like any other intervention, by contradictions and obstacles, the positive aspects govern for all concerned: extremely disadvantaged children are given schooling, a stable environment and thus, a new sense of self-esteem.
In closing, one final sentence about War/Dance, the movie about child soldiers in the North of Uganda, which closed the festival: go see it or watch it at home. It is a fantastic movie and will be available on DVD next month.