The 2009 Human Rights Film Festival

hrffposterThe Human Rights Film Festival is in its fifth year of supporting and raising awareness about various human rights causes around the world. The theme this year is freedom, which is demonstrated in each of the eleven feature films and five short films on show. The Festival gives people the opportunity to watch films that give insight into the lives and work of do-gooders, philanthropists and other exceptional human beings, and show how communities facing huge problems are able to pull together and work for a better future.

Festivals such as this one are really important because, in the increasingly global society that we live in, it is important to better understand what is happening in countries and communities around the world, that are now closer and more interconnected than ever before. The films shown provide a way for people in relatively liberated countries, like New Zealand, to learn about the lives of others and become motivated to support human rights movements. Watching films is something that can be enjoyed by all, so the Human Rights Film Festival offers a great opportunity to bring the attention of ALL New Zealanders to the real issues facing our world.

Flying on one engine, directed by Joshua Z. Weinstein

Review by Meredith Paterson

child_surgeryFlying on One Engine portrays a complex character, Dr Sharadkumar Dicksheet. At age 78, Dr Dicksheet’s main purpose in life is to perform free facial surgery on India’s poorest. Every year he holds massive plastic surgery ‘camps’ where up to 700 children are treated for cleft lip and other facial deformities. This work has earned him eight nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Dr Dicksheet has improved the lives of thousands, yet his own life hangs by a fragile thread. He has survived cancer of the larynx, two heart attacks and is partially paralyzed from a car accident. At any moment an aneurysm could burst resulting in instant death. Yet, he stubbornly continues operating, performing 76 operations in twelve hours with no breaks. It is little wonder that in India he is revered as a god.

Filmmaker Joshua Z. Weinstein spent two years filming the doctor in his New York apartment and at his Indian plastic surgery camps. The film successfully shows all aspects of Dr Dicksheet’s personality; his determination to keep operating and expand the camps, his bitterness of the Nobel committee’s ignorance of his charitable work, even his extreme stubbornness and crass remarks. Above all, we see the courage shown by a mortal man who knows his time is running out. On the film’s website Weinstein states, “I knew that on a certain level Flying on One Engine would have to be a film not only about one man, but gracefully accepting your own mortality.”

In Flying on One Engine, the director presents many conflicting issues. Money is the main problem. Here is a man with celebrity status, who is worshipped as a God, who has had streets named after him and yet lives off a social security benefit in Brooklyn. He prefers India, but must live in the USA to get crucial surgical materials on which he used to spend $50 000 every year. Charitable work is costly. Thankfully the camps now have sponsors.

Dr Dicksheet’s health is another paradox in the film. He can hardly walk three flyingononeenginesteps on his own, is without a larynx and breaths out of a tube in his neck. With every meal he must take a bowl full of pills. The title of the film is based on his own seriocomic description of his state, “I’m a four-engine plane running on one engine. If that goes, we crash.” Dr Dicksheet refuses to slow down to prolong his own life. If anything, the camps are more ambitious than ever.

The film also touches on the issue of religion. Dr Dicksheet’s nurse insists that he is a living God. He himself considers his yearly trips to India as pilgrimages. He says “the operating theatre is my temple and I see god in my patients.” It is not that he is a living God, but that his strength of mind overcomes his bodily limitations.

We must not assume Dr Dicksheet is a saint. The film presents a complex man who at times is not very likable. However, the film is a clear and honest statement of his determination. The message for us is to stop letting limitations stand in our way.

Next page - Review of Journalists and Kicking It, and some ideas for taking action.

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One Response to “The 2009 Human Rights Film Festival”

  1. Jen B says:

    I saw Kicking It and it was awesome! Do you know if it is going to have a general release and be screened in the mainstream cinemas?

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