How do young people in various parts of the world today look at humanity and conflict? Given a chance, how would students of film schools address this theme? And what would they seek to communicate?
These are some of the questions that led to the making of five short films - produced by UNESCO - and screened at the Reel Intercultural Dialogue in New Delhi recently. The dialogue was part of Open Frame 04, a week-long international festival of documentary and reality films organized among others, by the Public Service Broadcasting Trust (PSBT). The Reel Intercultural Dialogue focused on "youthful takes on humanity and conflict".
"For the filmmakers, these are their last student films - or their first professional films," says Gustavo Montiel, executive producer of the series. To find them, UNESCO sent invitations to film schools across the world, asking for scripts. Eventually, they selected one script from each region of the globe - Asia-Pacific, the Americas, Europe, Africa and the Middle East; and the package of five shorts includes films from India, Mexico, Romania, Burkina-Faso and Israel.
The filmmakers were asked to work on the question of conflict and resolution between communities. They were also asked to make films without dialogue - to ensure that their message could be delivered without translation, and would be as universal as possible.
Universal, however, does not mean identical. According to Montiel, "Any attempt to unify us, be it through language, systems, methods or beliefs, will only diminish the wealth and complexity of our differences. To know these differences, to communicate them and perhaps to strengthen them, is a fundamental objective for our contemporary world, which can be summarized in the word 'understanding'."
Within this set of broad parameters therefore, the filmmakers - two women and three men, all between 25 and 30 years of age - have produced a very diverse range of work, both in style and content.
'Wild East', the Romanian offering by Iuliana Constantinescu, is a stunning cinematographic meditation on emigration. Its hero finds himself on an island of ghosts and, through a series of flashbacks, realizes that he had drowned when trying to swim across a river to escape his country. It is the darkest of the five films, and abstract though it is, it communicates a sense of hope towards the end.
Equally subtle, but entirely different in style, is Dani Rosenberg's 'The Red Toy'. Set in Jerusalem, the Israeli film follows the journey of a small red music box, which, to begin with is given by a schoolboy to his teacher. Later, the music box is confiscated by soldiers, left with a vendor, and sold to Japanese tourists. Then, via an Arab woman and a Jewish boy, it comes back to the schoolboy who began the cycle.
The film ends with a shot of the young boy looking straight into the lens of a surveillance camera, both confused and defiant. In Rosenberg's words, "The easiest scene to film was...the surveillance cameras, through which I could observe reality without any interference of my own, like a fly on (a) stone wall, watching, as though it were a different planet, a city, my city, struggling determinedly to continue with her life."
The Mexican 'Los Vecinos' (The Neighbours) by Paulina Del Paso, is a witty story of the conflicting noises that collide in a tenement, including a saxophone, a television and a sowing machine. Slowly, the volume of noise increases and culminates in an explosion. It concludes with how the tenants react to the accident, and how their noise transforms into music.
Meanwhile, dance is the theme of Alade Djamihou's '1 ou Le Circle de Danse' (1 or The Circle of Dance), from Burkina-Faso. A young man wins a tribal dance competition but, instead of humiliating his competitor, embraces him and creates a triumph in which both participate.
Finally, Sundhakar Reddy's 'The New Beginning', which has won a Special Jury National Award, uses a kite fight between two young boys as a metaphor for communal tension. To Reddy, it was "obvious, in India, that the communal issue best fitted UNESCO's theme".
According to Reddy, 27, a graduate of the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) in Pune, "When we know a problem exists, but we only think about it without addressing it, then the problem won't go away." Reddy, who is originally from Hyderabad, says he has imbibed our volatile communal atmosphere. His film views the issue through the eyes of children - who are quick to fight, yet understand equally easily the need for compromise and cooperation.
The end, in which the two boys smile broadly at each other and race home, may be overly optimistic given how convoluted and raw the conflict between Hindus and Muslims has become in recent times. However, as Reddy says, what is important in a film (whether based on fact or fiction) is "how you want to interpret it".
This applies equally to the director and his audience - and the audience at Open Forum seemed more than ready to grant credibility to the resolution Reddy offers through his two protagonists.
For Montiel, the advantage of working with student filmmakers was that "The young are much closer to the essential human experience...it is a question only of training their observation and memory skills." As we grow older, he says, we become accustomed to "conforming our thoughts".
In today's increasingly cynical societies, the hope with which these five young filmmakers have concluded their works is perhaps far less naï¿½ve, and far more non-conformist than it seems.
UNESCO hopes to disseminate the Reel Intercultural package as widely as possible through television, educational institutions, the internet and film festivals. After all, as Montiel believes, "With young people, there is always the possibility of change...and of revolution."
(The films can be viewed online at: www.unesco.org/webworld/cc/reeldialogue. To request a DVD, contact: Rosa Maria Gonzalez, Communication Development Division 1 Rue Miollis, 75732 Paris Cedex 15, France. Tel: 00 33 1 456 84211; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org)