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May 18, 2009 | by  | in Film |
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2009 Human Rights Film Festival

Putting Homelessness into Focus
Directed by Charlie Bleakley
New Zealand (2008)

This 20-minute documentary film was a part of the Human Rights Film Festival 2009, and does exactly as the title suggests—putting the situation of homeless people in New Zealand under the camera focus.

When someone talks about homelessness in Wellington, most would immediately think of the iconic homeless figure Blanket Man, who is a familiar sight on the streets of the city. Indeed, the film opens with a shot of Blanket Man himself, sitting on Courtenay Place. This highlights the fact that while homelessness in New Zealand appears to affect a selected well-known group, the reality is that homelessness is far more prevalent within our own local streets than what most people realise. Homelessness is the majority of the time a hidden problem that affects thousands.

Putting Homelessness into Focus
seeks out those who work with the homeless, research homelessness and those who have experienced homelessness, in order to highlight this oft-ignored problem. The film also explores the different situations that lead people into homeless situations.

The documentary raises the issue of shelter being a basic human right. The film candidly interviews people who have experienced being without a home, and at times includes some poignant moments. One person interviewed is Graham Anderson, who had been homeless for 25 years in Wellington, who says “If you’re a human being, you should be counted,” a point the film reiterates often to emphasise the human rights violation that is occurring every day in this city.

While watching the film I found myself asking why these people have not just taken advantage of welfare benefits and state housing that are available in New Zealand. However my thoughts were counteracted by the film, arguing that some people simply do not have these options available to them due to the differences in circumstance which lead people from all walks of life into these situations. Putting Homelessness into Focus discourages collective judgment of ‘homeless people’—whether someone is fighting an addiction, been kicked out of home, being physically or sexually abused in their pre-existing home, the Human Rights decree ultimately states that all people deserve to have their basic human needs met.

The film offers no solid answer to a complex problem; however it is a noble attempt to break down many assumptions and misconceptions that society has towards the homeless.

Kicking It

Directed by Susan Koch and Jeff Werner
USA (2008)

Kicking It, which also screened as part of the Human Rights Film Festival, is a documentary that focuses on seven men’s struggles to participate in the Homeless Football World Cup.

The Homeless Football World Cup was started in 2003 in Austria, after an international network of Street Papers found a ‘language’ to unite homeless people around the world in the form of a football tournament.

The film follows the men’s progress from all parts of the globe—Ireland, Spain, Afghanistan, USA, Russia and Kenya in particular, as 48 nations prepare to participate in the 2006 Homeless World Cup to be held in Cape Town, South Africa.

Despite being from different cultures and circumstances, they all have one common factor—they are passionate about football. Each man has his own story to tell. Najib from Afghanistan has battled with life under Taliban rule, and Damien, from Ireland, has been on the streets fighting a drug addiction. In Spain, a 63-year-old alcoholic has lost everything but is still passionately playing soccer. In Russia the subject of homelessness is taboo, so winning the World Cup will give them the exposure they need gain their nation’s attention.

An interesting choice of narration is presented by Colin Farrell, who also gets screen time at the beginning and end of the documentary. Although in terms of the narrative he is insignificant, he would have been useful in giving the film wider exposure.

The documentary follows a typical format of sport films, capturing the intensity of determination, the joys of winning and the anguish of loss. Heartwarming moments are also found when Najib from Afghanistan finds love in a fellow female competitor from Paraguay, which is used as a tool for exploration between cultural differences.

One question the film does not address is how these people, who could not afford a house, could have afforded to travel to South Africa for a sports tournament. In the discussion forum after the screening (held after every screening at the festival) it was told that the New Zealand team gained funding for the 2008 Tournament in Melbourne through donations via the Wellington City Council and private sponsorship. However, the documentary itself fails to answer this crucial element.

Despite this the film delivers on its purpose to highlight the global problem of homelessness by offering them hope for a new life through the unification of sport.

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  1. plz cancidar ,Title: The Hunted – In search of home and hope
    Language: English
    Country of production: India
    Year of production: 2008
    Duration: 29 minutes
    Director: Shaji Pattanam
    Production: Open Innovatus
    Synopsis: Aborigines seldom count in the total scheme of things. Even in a state like Kerala, a global model with its high levels of literacy, education and healthcare, they remain marginalized. The South Indian state, which pioneered land reforms, was blind to the plight of the tribes, evicted from their habitat by corporate planters. Their protest was put out by 18 rounds of firing on February 19, 2003. A revisit to Muthanga five years after the cruel repression.
    Shaji Pattanam was the sole cameraman to find his way to the killing field in the wilderness cordoned off to other journalists. He recorded the events until the armed policemen turned to him. He too was brutally beaten up but hid the tapes from his attackers. The footage refuted the official version and created a public outcry against the murderous onslaught against the helpless tribe. He has been following tribal issues across Kerala.

    Previous festivals: Cinema de Reel, France; Al-Jazeera International Documentary festival, Doha, “STEPS” International Rights Film Festival, Ukraine; One World International Film Festival, Czech Republic; Human Rights Documentary Film Festival (Docu days), Ukraine, International Documentary Film Festival (Kerala) India.

    Director: Shaji Pattanam
    A television journalist who has worked in three major four news channels in India. Shot several short films and documentaries and associated with a few motion pictures. He is also an award-winning cameraman and wildlife photographer. shaji.pattanam@gmail.com, mob 09895470611

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