Sunday, March 02, 2008

UN Vienna Forum Part 5: Role of the Arts

In a special session on Thursday evening, a panel discussion with people involved in media and the arts gathered to discuss the role of the arts and journalism in combating human trafficking. The guests and panelists included Guy Jacobson, screen writer for "Holly"; Sangita Myska of the BBC; actress and producer Adi Erzoni; Indian actress Mati Vasisht; and Indian film director and producer Foroz Nadiadwala.

Although I came a bit late from the session on the role of the religious community, I came in time to see the trailer for 'concertagainstslavery' featuring an array of actors, actresses, and musicians banding together to raise awareness. Afterwards, the panelists were given time to speak about their experiences.

Foroz Nadiadwala, Indian Film Director and Producer spoke about how modern media allows for mass reach, and thus messages spread faster. He also stressed that it is important to provide PG films and materials so kids can be educated and sensitized. They presented his work "One life, no price," a spot on human trafficking with Bollywood actor John Abraham, which will be a preview on DVDs and in movie theaters. This spot, which takes the audience through various cases of young people tricked or sold into slavery in India, will be able to reach 1.5 billion people through this method. Mr. Nadiadwala mentioned that they had some initial problems convincing distributors and theaters to cooperate, but the effort is well worth the results.

Sangita Myska of the BBC talked about her experiences making, "Undercover," a special on BBC that uncovered a child trafficking ring in Bulgaria in the summer 2007. The video is available through the link with the title. The reporters actually staged an illegal adoption with a man who was convicted as a trafficker and had already served his jail term, but was back in the business.

This trafficker brought forth four children that he was willing to sell.She mentioned that while filming, they had to take measures in order to ensure the safety of the victims and the protection of the victims' identity. They also worked with local police and NGOs to set up an emergency team in case something happened. The information and evidence were turned into the authorities, but to date, nothing has happened to the trafficker, and no one is sure what happened with the children. The reporters, including Sangita, however, have been threatened.

Indian actress Mita Vasisht talked about her role in the soon-to-be-released "Summer Moon," a film that presents the huge potential of child trafficking victims to recover and go on to lead full lives. The title comes from a 14th century Zen poem. The interesting thing is that real victims have a role in the movie so it is only to be used to sensitize and educate (as opposed to the big screen or public television). Mita said the motivation behind the movie is that there is a stigma attached to children forced into prostitution that they will never be able to reintegrate into society, and this stigma must be dealt with.

Ms. Vasisht stated that using the performing arts to help rehabilitate child victims is a powerful tool. Her activism in the fight against trafficking stretches even to the most basic levels. Mita personally answers calls from young people who have been told they're going to be in a major film. Using her connections as an actress, she crosschecks with these directors, casting officials and responds to the calls letting them know whether or not this offer has any real base. From this experience, she believes there should be an official hotline where young men and women can crosscheck offers to be in films in order to prevent the kind of deception that leads to exploitation.

Finally, the last notes that I have are for the presentation by Adi Erzoni, who was involved in the film "Amazing Grace," which tells the story of a man in the English Parliament who fought
for the end of the slave trade in 1807. Ms. Erzoni says the movie invokes the power of story to incite change, which is an effective way of reaching out to people. There were 58 films about trafficking brought together for Vienna Forum, which were compiled into a booklet that was handed out. The booklet is seen here in the hands of Antonio Maria Costa of the UNODC. UN GIFT Asia has a short list of some of these films.

Additional comments during the open part of session that I thought were interesting include:

• How much film impacts people's and societal values,
• That support is broadly needed to keep the arts going, especially from public and press,

• The film industry should do more to prevent the glamorization of sexual violence.

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