The following is a reflection by IPJ Program Officer Debbie Martinez, following WorldLink’s 16th Annual Youth Town Meeting and the Human Rights Watch Film Festival.
“I believe that the full power of media has yet to be discovered, and we are the generation that is going to discover its fullest potential as a voice for activism and global change” — a bold statement I jotted down on the afternoon of January 24th. The speakers: Marian Dorst, from La Jolla High School, and Isaac Hortiales, from Instituto Mexico Americano Noroeste, as they stood in front of over 700 of their peers from all parts of San Diego and Baja Mexico at WorldLink’s 16th Annual Youth Town Meeting.
The topic of the day was “Changing Worlds: Media’s Power and Influence.” From the newspaper to the Internet, from photography to film, the potential of old and new media took center stage at this year’s WorldLink youth conference at the IPJ.
Later that evening, the Human Rights Watch (HRW) Film Festival had its opening night at the San Diego Museum of Photographic Arts. The festival featured several thought-provoking documentaries, including Reportero, a film that follows the dedicated staff from the Mexico-based newspaper Zeta. Contrary to other local papers, Zeta focuses on exposing the violent realities of oftentimes sensitive and controversial topics, such as the extraordinary rise in organized crime throughout the country. As a result, many Zeta journalists have been targeted and some killed.
As I sat listening to the question-and-answer period with Zeta reporter Sergio Haro following the film, I could not help but think of Marian and Isaac’s message. We are part of this powerful generation, and it is incredible to witness current acts of global education and activism through the use of various media outlets. As Jennifer Gigliotti, a master’s student in the Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies, commented, “I was pleasantly surprised at the amount of people that gathered to watch and support these films. It is wonderful to see that these are people educating themselves on the happenings of the world despite the discomfort this awareness can sometimes bring. … These are films everyone needs to see.”
Throughout the weekend, the film festival featured other powerful and revealing documentaries, such as the Academy Award-nominated The Invisible War, which exposes the angst and trauma experienced by women in the U.S. armed forces who have survived rape and other forms of sexual violence committed by fellow service members. In the film, many of the brave women who came forward were met with an overwhelming absence of support and redress from the U.S. Department of Defense. In several cases, the perpetrators were not investigated or convicted, and many continued to rise through the military ranks.
Afarin Dadkhah Tehrani, another master’s student in the school, expressed, “It was an emotionally intense experience. I was both frustrated and heartbroken about what these women had gone through, and how it had severely affected their lives forever. … The documentary was very eye-opening for me personally in terms of the gravity of gender issues and the integration of gender-sensitive lenses in the development of peace.”
Echoing Afarin, watching the film was a difficult experience in itself. However, its impact was multiplied as members of the audience, including former and current servicemen and women, initiated a powerful debate about the “epidemic of rape” within the U.S. military. Although some audience members disagreed on specific aspects in the film, it was evident that the documentary successfully brought to light a global concern that often goes unaddressed.
As Marian and Isaac asserted, we are the generation that will utilize media and its strengths to not only educate others and ourselves on global issues, but also exploit its capacity to achieve actual social change and justice in the communities that surround each of us.
The IPJ co-sponsored the 2013 Human Rights Watch Film Festival in San Diego, which also featured the documentaries Call Me Kuchu, Putin’s Kiss, Salaam Dunk and Brother Number One. To learn more, please visit http://ff.hrw.org/san-diego.