Artists in Geneva focus on global suffering

Film director Rithy Panh with FIFDH president Isabelle Gattiker

To mark its 15-year existence, the International Film Festival and Forum on Human Rights (FIFDH) in Geneva is expanding beyond cinema and featuring a range of other artistic forms.

This content was published on March 10, 2017 - 09:00
Frédéric Burnand in Geneva,

Notable artists at the FIFDH this year, which starts on Friday and takes place as usual during the Human Rights Council’s main session in Geneva, include Abdul Rahman Katanani (whose work is on display at the gallery Analix Forever) who lives in the Palestinian refugee camp at Sabra and Chatila.

The installations of Mounir Fatmi from Morocco, the president of the jury for fiction films, question Muslim traditions, and the New York photographer Debi Cornwall takes a withering look at the Guantanamo detention camp.

Abdul Rahman Katanini in front of his exhibit Resilience at the gallery Analix Forever. It is a row of olive trees with barbed wire as foliage

All of these artists feature faces, destinies and intimate moments from global injustices and atrocities, going beyond the figures and findings of the United Nations.

“Opening up to other artistic forms enables us to explore new territories, new audiences and to touch a range of people,” said festival president Isabelle Gattiker.

It’s the same approach that pushed the Franco-Cambodian director Rithy Panh – a guest of honour at the festival – to construct an installation that accompanies his most recent film, Exil, which is in competition at the festival.

Uncomfortable subject matter

Over the past 15 years the FIFDH has attracted more and more people, despite the uncomfortable subject matter.

“One of the keys to the festival’s success is that it’s in Geneva, the human rights capital,” Gattiker explained. “It takes places during the main session of the Human Rights Council. This enables us to showcase the themes tackled within a UN environment.”

In a time of fear and upsets, even more people are expected this year.

“For the activists, filmmakers, artists and defenders of human rights, there’s an extraordinary appeal in coming to Geneva,” she added.

“In a crumbling world, people have an increasing desire to get together and express their outrage, but also to find ways and possibilities to engage and act. There’s a dearth of places where people can meet other people from different backgrounds.”

But how does one preach to those who aren’t already converted? “Cinema remains the key method of reaching everyone. Cinema brings people together by telling stories. It allows us to put ourselves in other people’s shoes and to see the world differently,” Gattiker said. 

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