FILM BY REX BLOOMSTEIN
How does a cartoonist deal with the threat of imprisonment for caricaturing his president?
How does a comedian survive being sent to a labour camp for telling a joke?
How does a poet deal with the impact of being tortured?
How does a musician survive exile for performing a song?
«Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.» Article 19, Universal Declaration of Human Rights
I have made many human rights films. Indeed, this has been one of the major themes of my work as a film maker. It has become increasingly clear to me as I have made these documentaries that one right fundamentally underpins so many of the stories I have explored – the right to freedom of expression.
I believe the right to criticise, to challenge authority, to say unpopular or controversial things is of profound importance because it is often these questioning voices that most need to be heard.
That we have international declarations, covenants, and treaties enshrining our right to free expression is vital in order to set a standard for all societies to aspire to – but what does it actually mean to the individual artist, writer, singer, cartoonist, who faces censorship, threats, imprisonment and even torture?
This is what AN INDEPENDENT MIND is about.
It seemed right to explore this theme in a feature length documentary in 2008, the 60th anniversary year of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
From a research list of well over a hundred different cases from all over the world I chose eight different characters. These stories follow one from another. They are not inter-cut, each is self-contained and each character speaks for themselves. There is no commentary. I have endeavoured to be non-judgmental, to present each individual to the audience as they presented themselves to me.
Freedom of expression is a cornerstone right but it is not an absolute right. Under international law, it is subject to restrictions on certain grounds, such as national security, morality, protection of an individual’s reputation, or incitement to violence.
But these limits and restrictions are rarely clear-cut. How are they defined? How open to abuse are they? Should freedom of expression include the freedom to say unpopular things? Is freedom of expression a luxury in the modern world?
Through AN INDEPENDENT MIND I want to encourage our audience to reflect on these questions by seeing people who are actually dealing with the consequences of living their lives as artists and thinkers. This is a film that allows us to glimpse their realities as people who are exploring, confronting and commenting on their societies. Through them, I hope we can reflect on the importance of freedom of expression, its complexities and challenges and limits.
What then do these encounters say about the state of freedom of expression today? Do they add up to a universal statement? Do they reveal the nature of repression? What do they say about the need to express ourselves? Do they make us recognize limits?
I wanted this to be as global an exercise as possible. It would have been easy to focus on certain parts of the developing world, while ignoring our own Western democracies. But we are also seeing a gradual erosion of this freedom in the West through the broadening in scope of what is deemed ‘unacceptable speech’.
This is an age of extraordinary mass communication, when all the different forms of modern media should, on the face of it, be giving an opportunity for anybody to freely express themselves, yet Article 19 seems to be an area that is increasingly bitterly contested.
AN INDEPENDENT MIND is a film for our time.
How do you deal with the threat of imprisonment for drawing a cartoon of your president? How do you survive being sent to a labour camp for telling a joke? What is the impact of being tortured for writing a poem? Or of being forced into exile for singing a song?
These are some of the stories you will encounter in AN INDEPENDENT MIND, a unique feature-length documentary inspired by one of the most fundamental and controversial of human rights: Freedom of Expression.
Enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, freedom of expression is one of the most fundamental rights of all. It is the very cornerstone of democracy and underpins the values of any ‘free’ society.
But with the emergence of new threats that challenge the balance between the security of the state and the freedom of the individual, it is increasingly coming under attack.
AN INDEPENDENT MIND begins with quoting Article 19 as the ideal encapsulated in the Declaration. It then presents the realities faced by a succession of characters attempting to exercise their right to freely express themselves in different parts of the world.
Through these encounters, the film explores in human terms the importance and complexities of freedom of expression and its acceptable limits.
The approach is direct. There is no commentary. Each character relates his or her own story. Each is self-contained and is not inter-cut with the others. Eight individual voices that together magnify one profound central theme.
By asking what it takes to be a cartoonist in Algeria, a comedian in Burma, a poet in Syria, a journalist in Guatemala or a protest singer in Ivory Coast, director Rex Bloomstein underlines to us how fortunate we are in the free and democratic West.
But it’s not all so comfortable.
The revelations of the sex blogger in China, the Basque rock group in Spain and the British revisionist historian will challenge your assumptions about the right to freedom of expression and focus your mind on one of the most urgent and relevant debates of modern times.
Above all, it is a film that will make you reflect – on the importance of the free dissemination of knowledge, opinion, art and, significantly, its limits.
It is guaranteed to get you talking…
Reggae singer Tiken Jah Fakoly was forced to flee into exile in Mali after his popular protest songs about corruption and neo-colonialism in Africa prompted a series of death threats in his native Ivory Coast.
Two members of the Moustache Brothers comedy troupe were jailed for five years – including months in a hard labour camp – because they performed for Burma’s pro-democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi.
Sex blogger Mu Zimei attracted an audience of millions after writing in graphic detail about her numerous conquests. The Chinese authorities deemed her too risqué, banning the sale of her book and closing her blog.
Continuously hauled before the Algerian courts for his satirical cartoons, Ali Dilem has over 20 criminal cases to his name and has been sentenced to a total of nine years in prison. So far, he has managed to stay out of jail through repeated appeals.
Basque rock band Soziedad Alkoholika faced two years in prison after being prosecuted for allegedly praising ETA terrorism and humiliating its victims in the lyrics of some songs.
Radio journalist Marielos Monzón’s courageous reporting on human rights issues in Guatemala has led to several death threats against both her and her children.
Poet and journalist Faraj Bayrakdar spent 15 years in a Syrian prison because of the political nature of his writing. He was subjected to regular and severe torture and sought asylum in Sweden after his release.
Writer and historian David Irving was jailed for three years by an Austrian court in February 2006 for two speeches he gave in 1989 in which he denied that key events during the Holocaust had occurred.
For further updates on these and other characters, visithttp://www.anindependentmind.com/anindependentmind
About the director:
Rex Bloomstein began his career as a documentary director with the BBC in the U.K. in 1970 with cinema verité ‘All In A Day’ studies of British life.
His has exposed realities of prison life and addressed aspects of the British penal system previously closed to public scrutiny. These include films such as ‘The Sentence’, ‘Release’, ‘Prisoners’ Wives’, ‘Parole’, ‘Lifers’ and ‘Strangeways’ which won two British Academy Awards: best documentary series and best single documentary. In 2001 BBC2’s Timewatch commissioned ‘Strangeways Re-Visited’.
Over the years, Rex Bloomstein has produced and directed a number of acclaimed historical studies for television: ‘Traitors to Hitler’, ‘Martin Luther King – The Legacy’, ‘Auschwitz And The Allies’, ‘The Gathering’ and ‘Attack On The Liberty’. Many have been committed to exploring Holocaust orientated topics: ‘The Longest Hatred’, a trilogy charting the unique history of Anti-Semitism and its manifestation in modern society, broadcast in over twenty countries worldwide; ‘Liberation’ which featured the stories of Allied soldiers who were the first to enter the Nazi Concentration Camps, part of Channel 4’s season of programmes marking the anniversary of the end of the Second World War; and ‘KZ’, described as the first post-modern Holocaust documentary, which explores the legacy of Austria’s Mauthausen concentration camp and its impact on visitors and residents today. In 1997 the 12th London Jewish Film Festival featured Rex Bloomstein’s films in a day-long retrospective.
Another major concentration of Rex Bloomstein’s work has been to highlight the abuse of human rights. This began with a two hour film in 1984, ‘Human Rights’, which explored the global struggle against human rights violations. The film that followed, ‘Torture’, was an examination of how this tragic phenomenon continues in contemporary society. ‘Roots Of Evil’ was a major three-part series exploring why acts of terror and destruction seem endemic in the human condition.
To mark the 40th anniversary of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1988, Rex Bloomstein conceived and produced a new series for the BBC called ‘Prisoners of Conscience’. This featured the stories of individual prisoners from around the world. The series ran for five years and featured more than sixty prisoners, of whom over forty are now free. Presenters included Sir Yehudi Menhuin, former Prime Ministers Lord Callaghan and Sir Edward Heath, Sting, Glenda Jackson, Tom Stoppard, Phil Collins and the former hostages John McCarthy and Brian Keenan. ‘Human Rights, Human Wrongs’, a week of 10-minute programmes on human rights themes then evolved, and were broadcast annually. These were presented by amongst others, Sir Anthony Hopkins, Salman Rushdie, Arthur Miller, Helen Mirren, Meryl Streep, Isabelle Allende, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Catherine Deneuve.
Rex Bloomstein is a film maker of powerand passion who is still engaging broadcasters and distributors with his unique, hard hitting, unembellished explorations of life. ‘Lifer – Living With Murder’ was broadcast in 2003, and ‘Kids Behind Bars’ was broadcast on Channel 4 in August 2005.
‘An Independent Mind’ is his second theatrical feature film.