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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

movies do matter (just ask the Tunisian police who refused to protect artists and filmgoers they don’t like)

Imagine: Moviegoing as a human rights issue.

While we sit on our asses arguing over whether the soulless emptiness of Transformers: Dark of the Moon makes it a worse movie than the nonsensical cartoonishness of Green Lantern, and while people are walking out of Tree of Life because they don’t want to deal with movies that aren’t spoonfed to them, there are filmmakers who have to fight for their freedom of expression, and moviegoers who come under attack for attending a movie at all. From Human Rights Watch:

Tunisia: Police Inaction Allowed Assault on Film Screening

(Tunis) – Police were slow to respond to violent protesters who broke into a Tunis cinema showing a controversial documentary on June 26, 2011, and who attacked theatergoers, Human Rights Watch said today. The dismissive response by the police to requests for assistance was a failure to protect the right to free expression, Human Rights Watch said.

Several dozen protesters forced their way into the screening of a film on atheism in Tunisia, Secularism, If God Wills. The film was part of a cultural evening at the AfricARt Cinema, sponsored by the Arab Institute for Human Rights and organized by Closing Ranks (Lam Echaml), a collective of Tunisian associations and creative artists. The evening’s program, called “Hands Off Our Artists,” was presented in support of Tunisians who have been assaulted, threatened, and denounced by persons who consider their artistic creations offensive to Islam.

“Tunisian police should have moved quickly to protect the audience and organizers of the film,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The government – including the police – have a duty to protect the right of Tunisians to create and view art, whatever its point of view and however offensive it may be to others.”

The police nearby were aware of the threat to the film screening but took no action to deter violence and responded to the attack without urgency, Human Rights Watch said. Police who visited the scene before the protest suggested to the organizers that they cancel the film, the organizers said, rather than move to protect the cinema from potential violence. Artists who tried to summon the police when the attack began said they were met with dismissive comments about their purported opposition to the former government and the security forces.

There’s a lot more at HRW about the violence and the opposition to creative expression.

Ideas are dangerous. The people in power know this. It’s a shame that here in the West, where we supposedly have all-but-unfettered freedom of expression, there is no interest in a widespread, mainstream exploration of those wonderfully dangerous ideas, either on the part of filmmakers or filmgoers. The freedoms that other people put their lives on the line for are so taken for granted here that we don’t even bother to use them.

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