Leila Mustafa, in a photo by Jean-Matthieu Gautier, during the recording of
Leila Mustafa, in a photo by Jean-Matthieu Gautier, during the recording of "9 Days in Raqqa". Photo: Disclosure.
It's All True Festival poster 2021. Photo: Disclosure.
It's All True Festival poster 2021. Photo: Disclosure.

En 2021, the É Tudo Verdade Festival is once again far from movie theaters, due to the pandemic. Held in an entirely virtual format, this year's edition features digital sessions until this Sunday, April 18, the day of the awards ceremony. If, on the one hand, the nostalgia for the physical environment of cinemas is a setback, the strong point of a festival available on the web is access. To watch the movies just enter the website www.etudoverdade.com.br. There, go to “Programming”; by clicking on the desired film, the visitor will be directed to the festival's page on the Looke streaming platform, and then just start the film. Among the 69 selected for this year's festival, the films 9 Days in Raqqa, Thousand cuts e Vicenta are some that deserve to be seen. Although they have different temporalities and productions from different countries, the three are covered by common themes, dear to contemporary political debate: women's rights, freedom of the press and the importance of journalism for the maintenance of democracies.

9 days in Raqqa

the title of 9 days in Raqqa refers exactly to the time given to French journalist Marine de Tilly to meet Leila Mustafa, the current mayor of Raqqa.

Ccaught first by the Islamic State in March 2013, the city was the scene of major conflicts during the war. Eventually, the group extremist expelled both opposition supporters and Assad regime Of region. There, they proclaimed the creation of a caliphate under the law of Sharia and, in 2014, made Raqqa the new capital in Síria.

It was only on October 17, 2017, that Kurdish military leaders announced that the city had been liberated and IS had been expelled from the region. It was at this moment that Mustafa became involved in politics, starting his participation in the civil councils. Growing up among the chiefs of the tribes that dictated the orders in Syria, she became mayor at just 30 years old. An engineer by training, Leila spearheaded the reconstruction of her city and was also imbued with the task of reconciling within this devastated area. “The important thing is that now we are free from the nightmare that is the IS, but we remember what we went through, and living in constant fear… Our people deserve more than that, in fact”, confesses Leila.

Leila Mustafa, in a photo by Jean-Matthieu Gautier, during the recording of "9 Days in Raqqa". Photo: Disclosure It's All True.
Leila Mustafa, in a photo by Jean-Matthieu Gautier, during the recording of “9 Days in Raqqa”. Photo: Disclosure.

In the documentary, directed by Xavier de Lauzanne, the mayor is introduced little by little. With each day that Marine spends with her, more pieces of her story are entrusted to the viewer, in the same gradual way that Leila reveals them to the journalist. Thus, Marine occupies a twilight zone between interlocutor (and narrator) and supporting character, our intermediary until the character of her book. As an adjunct, the journalist's own anxieties appear on the screen: the farewell to her family, the concern for her safety, the language barrier, the emotional consequences of establishing a link with her portrayed. "Leila is so young… It's a short time, very little time for a biography. But in this context, how many lives has she lived?”, she asks herself, coming to the conclusion that perhaps her private life is being sacrificed in the midst of her political duty: “Your personal life does not exist, your car is a target… Leila move on without worrying about yourself.”

As mayor, her first decision with the Culture and Archeology Committee was to restore the central square – a place that became known, at the height of the caliphate’s presence, as “the crossroads of death” – and its memory. “We no longer recognized the streets we used on a daily basis”, Leila tells Marine.

In the city, more than 2019 landmines left by IS were also cleared and by mid-300, XNUMX residents had returned to the city. Although stabilization occurs gradually, Marine recalls, at the end of the film, that after the expulsion of IS, Raqqa was being forgotten by journalists, and by international aid.

Thousand Cortes

if in 9 days in Raqqa the threat is that of extremism, in Thousand Cortes, by director Ramona S. Diaz, it appears materialized in the populism of Rodrigo Duterte, president of the Philippines since 2016.

Both films are situated under the umbrella of journalism, and its protection. However, while the former allows for a less hardened Marine approach from Tilly and Leila Mustafa, the latter takes the form of classic reporting, with inserts of data, graphics, news and archival footage – some being shock footage. These tools help to better understand the complex narrative of Duterte's growth in the Philippines, his hateful politics and the attack on the media, in particular, Rappler, a news site founded and led by journalist Maria Ressa, both indigestible to the dictator. His pursuit of Ressa and his vehicle was wide open when, last year, the journalist was arrested for violating controversial “cyber defamation” legislation, although the text that would have led to the conviction had been published six months before the law took effect.

Maria Ressa by Molses Saman, for TIME magazine. Photo- Magnum Photos : TIME Magazine.
Maria Ressa by Molses Saman, for TIME magazine. Photo- Magnum Photos : TIME Magazine.

Since Duterte's election and the start of his drug war, the Rappler has been denouncing the president's abuses; “The war on drugs became a war on the poor… We had a team that went out every night and returned home having counted at least eight dead bodies at night,” says Maria. The main banner of his government ended up resulting in 12 deaths, many of poor people and users of illicit drugs, but who had no connection with trafficking. The journalist recalls that “everyone who questioned these murders on social media was automatically banned.” 

Pia Ranada, sector manager of Malacanang Palace for the Rappler, has covered Duterte since his time as mayor. She points out that already at this time there was a reputation for being an “iron fist”. Patricia Evangelista, investigative reporter for the portal, emphasizes, in the documentary, the precise link between this aspect and the election of the president: “There have been other presidents and other governments, and their lives [the population] have not improved. Duterte arrives and he offers not only change, he offers revenge. 'Whoever did this to you, I will finish him'”.

Common to other populist governments, Duterte offered an image of someone excluded from elite political circles in Manila, considered marginalized, “an insignificant politician”. Another similarity is the attack on the media; in a speech by the president to the Union, Duterte accused Rappler of forging its identity and being a company run by Americans (Maria is Filipino, but grew up in the US). “A week after the president did this, we received our first subpoena”, Maria reports, and recalls: “I received an average of 90 hate messages per hour”. On another occasion, addressing Pia, Duterte says that “reporters are free to criticize, but they will go to jail for their crimes”.

In light of this, Rappler began gathering data and investigating accounts attacking the media. Thus, Ressa and his team found a hate machine, which used fake accounts, militants and people hired to carry out coordinated online attacks. “26 accounts can influence up to another 3 million,” Ressa explains, trying to illustrate the scale of the danger. To denounce this to the world, Maria embarks on a frantic journey of international meetings that – much like Leila Mustafa – almost nullifies her private life. In 2018, the journalist was named one of the people of the year by Time magazine, garnering some international support.

In the United States, in one of the encounters recorded in the film, she states: “I think that, first of all, what happens in the USA happens to the rest of the world. To resolve this, action must be taken and I will give two reasons for this. I spent time with Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Christopher Wylie. The whistleblower said they tested tactics on how to manipulate you in our country. And in other countries in the southern hemisphere. If it worked in our countries then they would import to theirs”. His warning is for the “death by a thousand cuts” that democracy has been suffering. "When there are enough cuts, democracy will be so weak, it will eventually die."

Vicenta

The story told in the Argentine Vicenta, a film by Dário Doria, begins in 2006, with the title character discovering that Laura, her youngest and mentally handicapped daughter, had been raped by an uncle and was pregnant. Together with Valeria, the eldest daughter, Vicenta must ensure that Laura can have an abortion. After all, being a child, how could I already be a mother?

Still from "Vincent". Photo: Disclosure.
Still from “Vincent”. Photo: Disclosure.

The documentary wins momentum now, considering that in December 2020 Argentina approved legal and safe abortion for pregnancies up to the 14th week. The decision was won after many years of struggle, and the case “LMR v. Argentine State” contributed to boost it.

The documentary's theme is substantial and urgent, but its format also deserves recognition. The film is entirely made with puppet animation and its story is told by a narrator (Liliana Herrero) who does not address the audience directly; omniscient and omnipresent, she converses with Vicenta instead. With the writing and recording well executed, this element of the film becomes an ace for storytelling and gets around one of the barriers to its character: the fact that its protagonists did not want to appear in it. "ÇHow to make this story visible without the two main tools of documentaries, the interview and the direct recording?”, asked the founder and director of the festival, Amir Labaki. 

The film follows the entire process of Vicenta, from the discovery of Laura's pregnancy to the labyrinthine process with the State, “the next few weeks will be back and forth in court. For Laura, missing school; for Valeria and for Vicenta to miss work. Go and come back. Back and forth, once and a thousand times.” From the filing of a complaint in 2011 to the UN human rights committee to the act of public redress to the MRL in December 2014.

The response presented read: “The UN Human Rights Committee in April 2011 considers that the State’s lack of diligence in guaranteeing the legal right to a procedure demanded only by women constituted, in the first place, a violation of the right to equality. It considers that the obligation imposed on the MRL to continue her pregnancy constitutes cruel and inhuman treatment”.

With that, the committee concluded that the state should repair Laura, including compensation, and take steps to ensure that violations of this type do not occur in the future. In response, the State should present measures to that effect within 180 days. Finally, in 2014, the reparation arrived, eight years later, and the narrator asks Vicenta: “How long does an uncle's abuse last? And the institutions? How long does a Vincent day last? And a year? And eight?”

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